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Barley – An Ancient Super Food Rediscovered!

The natural health researchers at Institute for Vibrant Living (IVL) have investigated the natural healthful properties of barley. Here is their report:


Overview of Barley History

Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet, providing protein, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.  Barley is a whole grain that supplies all of these healthy properties, and it is one of the richest sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber.  It is an ancient super food rediscovered!

Barley is a chewy cereal grain much like pasta with a nutty flavor.  It is lighter in color but bears a resemblance to the wheat berry. Sprouted barley is a rich source of maltose which is a sugar used in making beer and other alcoholic beverages.

Discovered over 10,000 years ago in Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, barley was a food staple for ancient humans and animals, and the first barley wine was made in Babylonia around 2800 BC. 

The Greeks used barley in bread, and it was an important element in the training diets of Greek and Roman athletes.  In fact, gladiators were known as “hordearii,” meaning “eaters of barley.”  

To the ancient Chinese, barley was a symbol of male virility due to its many seeds.  Barley water has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties.


Barley Constituents

Barley is high in selenium, phosphorus, copper and manganese, and its fiber is beneficial to the health in many ways.  It provides bulk and enhances the digestive process which helps to prevent colon cancer and hemorrhoids. 

The dietary fiber in barley also serves as food for “friendly” bacteria in the large intestine.  Good bacteria are essential to the intestinal tract as they crowd out any bacteria that might cause disease.


Barley in Health Studies

Beta glucan, a component of the dietary fiber in barley, helps to lower cholesterol by binding to the acids in bile and removing them from the body.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the fiber in barley affects cholesterol in many beneficial ways.

Twenty-five people with mildly high cholesterol were examined, including premenopausal women, postmenopausal women, and men.  The subjects consumed controlled American Heart Association Step 1 diets for 17 weeks, and after 2 weeks, whole grains were added to the diets along with 0, 3 or 6 g of beta glucan from barley.  

LDL cholesterol was significantly reduced in the subjects consuming 3 or 6 g of beta glucan from barley as opposed to those that consumed none, with the most significant changes occurring in men and postmenopausal women.  However, total cholesterol was ultimately reduced in all groups due to the introduction of whole grains.  

It was concluded that the addition of barley to the diet may help lower total and LDL cholesterol in men and women.


Barley as a Preventative

Eating high fiber foods such as barley may also help prevent heart disease.  A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine examined 10,000 American adults and followed them for a period of 19 years.

People eating 21 grams of fiber or more per day experienced 12% less coronary heart disease and 11% less cardiovascular disease than subjects who ate 5 grams or less of fiber per day.

In general, whole grains are an excellent choice for a healthy diet, but for extra fiber, give barley a try.  Add it to your favorite soups or stews, mix in a little barley flour the next time you make bread or muffins, or toss chilled, cooked barley into a salad for a healthy side dish.


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