In cultivation roughly 130 centuries and the fourth most commonly grown cereal grain today, barley is achieving the status of true superfood, all-too often a rank accorded to over-marketed, over-hyped, understudied foods fighting for supermarket shelf space.
What It Does
Based on recent research at Sweden’s Lund University, whole-grain barley reduces appetite and, within three days of daily ingestion, improves blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. As a result, not only can this ancient food help you lose weight by minimizing your between-meals snacking or the amount of food you eat at subsequent meals, but this metabolism booster also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. If you ask us, that’s a win-win-win situation — a nutritional hat trick — in any book.
In a nutshell, this small study had participants eat one slice of barley bread (85 grams of barley kernels per slice) for each of three meals for three days. Then, 11 to 14 hours after the final meal, participants were measured for markers of blood sugar levels, insulin levels, insulin sensitivity and appetite, as well as a hormone that shows levels of inflammation. As it turned out, the barley, thanks to its unique mixture of dietary fibers, had increased gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite positively in a relatively short period.
Because barley is so rich in complex carbohydrates, its benefits for serious training cannot be underestimated. For example, carb up with barley the day before a serious leg workout, and see how you’ll be able to push the edge of your training envelope.
What You Can Do
Study co-researcher Anne Nilsson, associate professor at Lund’s Food for Health Science Centre, explains that the amount of barley used in the study was maximized so as “not to miss any effect,” but most likely “it is not necessary to consume such large portions.” She wanted Oxygen readers to know this, however: “The message must be to try to incorporate barley kernels as a natural part of the diet, e.g., to replace rice, potatoes, pasta and include the grain in soups and stews.”
Swap It! With its rich, chewy, nutty flavor, it also can replace your morning oatmeal (toss in cinnamon and blueberries to add the antioxidant anthocyanins), or stir in frozen mixed vegetables during the last 10 minutes of cooking or broccoli to add the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane for a powerful lunch.
Love to Bake? If your passion is baking and you’d like to try your hand at baking the bread used in the actual Lund study, search “barley” on MedicalNewsToday.com.
Because of its powerful impact on your digestive tract, when you first start incorporating barley into your diet, take your time.
- Begin with small quantities, and increase daily intake slowly as your digestive tract adapts.
- Drink plenty of water to help move along this supergrain.
*If you have celiac disease, you may want to avoid barley because of its gluten load.
Which Barley Is Better?
While nearly all forms of barley contain beta glucan, a potent fiber, not all barley is made equally.
Pearl Barley Most barley found in supermarkets is the “pearl” version. While quite healthy, its outer husk has been removed, along with the nutrient-dense bran and germ layers, in order to facilitate reduced cooking time.
Hulled or Hull-less Barley This grain retains the bran and germ layers, allowing this form, unlike pearled barley, to be considered a whole-grain food that is much more nutrient-dense than its stripped-down relative. Of course, the hulled version must first be soaked overnight and then cooked more than an hour before it can be consumed, but leftovers will remain viable in the fridge at least for a couple of days.
Get It Here! If your local health-food store does not carry the hulled version, you can purchase Bob’s Red Mill Hull-Less Barley directly from BobsRedMill.com or GMO-free Organic Hulled Barley from GrainPlaceFoods.co. (Both are also available from Amazon.)