best natural foods

Health benefits of barley

The health benefits of barley are probably not as well known as the benefits of other whole grains like oats or brown rice.

There certainly is not as much excitement - be it among scientists or the general public - over barley as there was over oats during the 1980s and 1990s.

Back then there was much talk about the soluble fiber in oats helping to reduce blood cholesterol. Yet barley contains more soluble fiber as well as more total fiber than oats. Some scientific studies suggest that barley is even more effective than oats in reducing blood cholesterol.

In fact, barley has more fiber than any other grains. Moreover, the fiber is present throughout the grain, not just in the skin or bran. Sp pearl barley, which has its bran removed, still contains a fair amount of fiber. Click here to learn more about the health benefits of barley from fiber.

The health benefits of barley, are not just due to its content of fiber. To me, barley's most important health benefit is not even "scientific" but has to do with its role in traditional medicibne.

Barley to cool the body

In my main article about barley, I mention that barley is more widely drunk than eaten because it is high in fiber and chewy. There is yet another reason for this.

Traditional Chinese Mecidine has long recognised the health benefits of barley, which is considered a "cooling" food that helps brings down the body temperature. And the best way to achieve this cooling effect is to drink barley water, the water obtained from boiling barley.

This is not just for countering hot summer or tropical heat. More importantly, it reduces internal body heat and can be an effective fever remedy.

The Chinese concept of "heatiness" is not the same as that of a fever associated with illness such as bacterial or viral infection. It could just as well result from tiredness, especially lack of sleep, that makes the body feel hot inside. Or it could be due to eating excessive amounts of "heaty foods" such as deep fried foods, chilli, most spices and chocolate.

There may or may not be other symptoms such as sore throat and dry cough. Also there may or may not be an increase in body temperature. Symptoms like sore throat and dry cough, without fever, are also considered "heaty" and might be helped with "cooling drinks" such as barley water.

Other cooling drinks in Traditional Chinese Medicine include most herbal teas such as chrysanthenum tea and winter melon drink. Note also that "cooling" in this case refers to the effect of the drink and not its temperature. Hot barley water will cool the body - in fact more effectively than cold drinks because hot drinks promote perspiration. Cold drinks are generally discouraged anyway.

Incidentally, beer is also considered cooling - as opposed to cognac / brandy, which warms the body.

Related to the health benefits of barley in cooling the body, barley is considered in Chinese medicine to be nourishing for the liver. All grains with a line down the middle - including barley, wheat, oats and buckwheat, called "mugi" in Japanese - are classified as having tree / wood or "upward rising" energy that nourishes the liver (which, in the human anatomy, is also an "upward rising" organ).

Barley is thus considered helpful in detoxifying the liver and this detox effect reduces body heat.

Barley for diabetes

In Ayurveda, the Indian traditional medicine, the health benefits of barley include a possible cure for diabetes. Ayurveda texts mention a "sweet urine disease", which is presumably same as diabetes. The remedy is to have the patient switch from eating rice to eating barley.

Modern scientific confirms the possible health benefits of barley in helping prevent or even reverse diabetes.

In 2009, Japanese researchers at the University of Tokushima reported that study subjects had lower blood glucose levels if they switched from eating rice to eating barley. Incidentally, barley was traditionally the staple food for the poor in Japan.

Another study by Dutch researchers (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2010) found similar health benefits of barley. In this study, 10 healthy men were made to eat either cooked barley kernels or refined wheat bread for dinner. The next morning, they were given a high glycemic index breakfast comprising 50 grams of glucose. Those who ate barley the night before were found to have 30 percent better insulin sensitivity the next morning after breakfast.

And so on. The health benefits of barley in controlling blood sugar levels has been repeatedly confirmed. I will just mention another study, where barley was shown to do a better job than oats.

The role of barley in controlling blood sugar, however, that if you are on diabetes mediciation, you need to monitor yoour blood sugar level more carefully when you eat barley. You may need to reduce your medication, which will be a good thing.

Barley against fat and cholesterol

While a lot of research has been done on the effects of oats in reducing blood cholesterol, barley appears to be even more effective. Here, most of the studies were done on health benefits of barley beta-glucan, the type of soluble fiber found in barley.

Similar results were obtained in an earlier study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2004. In this study, 25 adults with mildly high cholesterol were fed whole grain foods containing 0g, 3g or 6g of barley beta-glucan per day for five weeks. Blood analyses done twice weekly showed that eating barley beta glucan significantly decreased both total cholesterol and LDL or “bad” cholesterol.

In a 2007 study, Japanese researchers followed 44 men with high cholesterol for twelve weeks, as the men ate either white rice diet or a mixture of rice and high-beta-glucan pearl barley. The researchers found that barley significantly reduced blood cholesterol and visceral fat - that is, fat around the body organs. (Plant Foods and Human Nutrition, March 2008).

Barley for weight control

Finally, the high fiber content means that the health benefits of barley could include weight control.

Studies have been done on Prowashonupana barley, which is a variety of barley with an exceptionally high fiber content of 30 percent, versus 17 percent for most other varieties. These studies show, for example, that Prowashonupana barley slows down digestion and that people given a breakfast bar containing Prowashonupana barley would subsequently eat less during lunch.

Since regular barley still contains more fiber than most other whole grains, particularly brown rice, it would be reasonable to conclude that the benefits would still be felt, though to a lesser extent.

Barley vs other whole grains

The many health benefits of barley do not mean, however, that we should eat only or mainly barley. Each type of grain has its value. For example, different grains contain different types of antioxidants.

There are also general benefits of whole grains - for example, all types of whole grains have been found to help reduce high blood pressure. Barley, however, has been much neglected in recent years - in fact, in recent centuries!

It is time we pay more attention to it.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Kindly leave a comment in the box below.


(5 articles)
Cooking oils
(23 articles)
Diet plans (13 articles)
Fiber (3 articles)
Fish (3 articles)
Grains (17 articles)
Pasta (10 articles)
Pasta recipes
(>40 recipes)
Salt (11 articles)
(11 articles)
Soy products
(14 articles)
Vegetables (1 article)
Water (6 articles)
More sections to come
Natural Cancer Cures
Flu treatments
Stop Trans fats

Benefits of whole grains
'Foods of the gods'
Macrobiotic view of grains
Benefits of barley
Barley water
Chinese barley / hato mugi / Job's tears
Pearl barley
What is millet?
Millet recipes
Benefits of oats
Nutritional value of oats
Steel cut oats
Steel cut oats cooking
Benefits of brown rice
How to cook brown rice
What is sticky rice?
Types of rice