A highly versatile and nutritious cereal grain, barley is considered to be one of the healthiest foods in the world. It is a cereal grass that is found growing widely in Eurasia and the Middle East. Adding a handful of barley to soups and stews will not only improve the taste and flavor but also gives a wonderful boost to your overall health. Fermented barley is used as an ingredient in making beer and other beverages. Barley water, which is made from boiling the grain, is used as a traditional beverage in many cultures of the world. In spite of the fact that barley is one of the grains with great flavor providing a myriad of health benefits, it is still overlooked by people. Cooked barley has a nutty taste and a chewy consistency and can be a healthy addition to balanced meals. It is a nutrient rich food that can keep you active throughout the day.
What makes barley healthy?
When compared to other cereal grains like oats, barley is low in fat and calories but high in dietary fiber. It is a wonderful source of vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin K, and B group vitamins like thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate. It also has an impressive list of minerals which includes calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. Barley is also high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that protect the body against the harmful effects of free radicals.
Health benefits of barley
In addition to its many culinary uses, barley is a healthy grain packed with nutrients and has several medicinal properties. Some of the health benefits that you can get out of regular barley consumption are as follows:
Barley and skin health
Barley is found to be tremendously beneficial when it comes to skin health. This grain is a great source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that contribute to the health of your skin. It contains high amounts of the mineral selenium, which is also a powerful antioxidant associated with improving the elasticity of the skin. Eating barley on a regular basis can improve your skin tone and make your skin look smooth and supple. Barley can help prevent inflammation and the zinc found in it has healing properties. This makes barley particularly effective in providing relief from acne and other skin infections. The high level of antioxidants in this grain can inhibit the signs of ageing by protecting your skin from the damaging effects of the free radicals. As a result, your skin looks flawless without any wrinkles, fine lines or dark spots.
Barley offers benefits to your hair too
Just like keeping the other parts of your healthy, it is important to look after the health of your hair as well. Without proper care of the hair, you may suffer from hair loss, thinning of hair, dandruff, premature graying and many other problems. Barley is a storehouse of nutrients that are vital for maintaining strong, healthy and beautiful hair. Barley contains good amounts of copper that helps in the synthesis of melanin, a pigment that provides color to your hair. The other nutrients in this cereal such as thiamin, niacin and Procyanidin B-3 are beneficial in stimulating healthy hair growth and also in preventing hair loss.
Barley promotes intestinal health
Barley is an excellent source of dietary fiber, a nutrient that is beneficial for your health in numerous ways. One important benefit of eating fiber rich foods is that it promotes regularity by adding bulk to stools and reducing the transit time of the waste matter. This helps in preventing digestive conditions like constipation and also lowers your risk of developing hemorrhoids and colon cancer. The dietary fiber in barley also promotes the growth of the friendly bacteria in your gut that play an important role in protecting your health by eliminating the more dangerous disease-causing bacteria from the intestinal tract. These friendly bacteria ferment the fiber and produce butyric acid, which is a short-chain fatty acid that forms the source of fuel for the cells of the intestine, thus maintaining proper health of the colon.
Barley aids in weight loss
Whole grains such as barley are made up of complex carbohydrates that provide energy without adding extra calories. Barley has the ability to suppress your appetite and the high levels of dietary fiber in it fill you up and prevent you from overindulging in high calories foods. Besides the high fiber content, barley is low in sugar and fat content, which makes it an ideal food for healthy weight loss.
Barley lowers cholesterol
As mentioned earlier, the friendly bacteria in your gut produces butyric acid as it ferments the dietary fiber present in barley. In addition to butyric acid, two other short-chain fatty acid known as acetic acid and propionic acid are also produced. Propionic acid is believed to play a vital role in lowering the levels of cholesterol. Studies conducted in animals reveal that this fatty acid inhibits the activities of an enzyme known as HMG-CoA reductase, which is involved in the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver. Thus by inhibiting this enzyme, barley can help in lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. The dietary fiber found in barley is also high in biologically active polysaccharides called beta glucan, that binds to bile acids and assists in its easy removal from the body, thus again contributing to lower cholesterol levels.
Barley is a heart healthy grain
Since barley has cholesterol lowering properties, it is extremely beneficial for people suffering from heart diseases. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, consumption of foods high in fiber content, such as barley, can help in preventing heart disease. Barley is a rich source of the B vitamin – niacin which is known to protect the heart from cardiovascular problems. This vitamin is found to be capable of reducing the total cholesterol levels as well as the levels of lipoprotein (a), a dangerous molecule that comprises of fat and protein and can easily attach to the walls of blood vessels. Niacin can also prevent the formation of blood clots by preventing platelet aggregation. Another benefit of niacin is that it can help in preventing the oxidation of bad or LDL cholesterol caused by free radicals. Studies reveal that the regular consumption of grains like barley can prevent the accumulation of plaque in the blood vessels and hence inhibit the progression of atherosclerosis.
Barley can prevent the formation of gallstones
A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that the consumption of foods rich in insoluble fiber, such as barley can help in preventing the formation of gallstones. An excessive amount of bile acids in the intestine is a factor that contributes to gallstone formation. The insoluble fiber prevents gallstones by speeding up the movement of food through the intestine, increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing the secretion of bile acid, and also by lowering the levels of triglycerides in the blood.
Barley can lower the risk of diabetes
Barley is high in magnesium content, a mineral that helps in the production of enzymes that are involved in the secretion of insulin and also the utilization of glucose by the body. When compared to other grains like oats, barley is found to be much more effective in lowering both glucose and insulin responses. The carbohydrates in barley have a low glycemic index, meaning they cause rise in blood sugar more slowly when compared to other carbohydrate foods. This helps in avoiding a spike as well as a drop in blood sugar levels, which is very important for diabetics who are required to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Barley offers the benefits of selenium
Barley is a rich source of selenium, a mineral that is an antioxidant and also involved in thyroid hormone metabolism and improved functioning of the immune system. Selenium has been found to have cancer preventing properties. It helps in inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells, promoting death of cancer cells or apoptosis and also in inducing the repair of damaged cells and DNA. Selenium also teams up with other antioxidant systems and offer protection against deadly diseases like cancer and heart diseases.
Barley relieves arthritis symptoms
Copper is another mineral found in barley that may be helpful in reducing the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. This trace mineral is also important for the activities of enzymes that are involved in the bonding together of collagen and elastin, which provide flexibility to your muscles, bones, joints and blood vessels.
Barley protects against cancer
Barley is rich in phytonutrients called lignans that have been found to prevent certain types of cancers. Lignans, when they enter our intestine are metabolized by the friendly bacteria into substances like enterolactone and enterodiol that have estrogen like effects. Studies reveal that enterolactone has the ability to lower the risks of breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone-dependant cancers. Studies also show that the extracts of barley grass (young green leaves of the barley plant) might be helpful in offering protection against cancer-causing elements. It has been found that the chlorophyll content in barley grass renders the cancer causing agents or carcinogens inactive. Moreover, barley grass also is extremely rich in antioxidant properties that neutralize the harmful effects of the free radicals, thus reducing your risk of cancer.
Barley is good for your bones
Barley has good amounts of silicon content, a mineral that has been associated with connective tissue such as collagen and also the growth and mineralization of bones. The manganese in this grain helps in the synthesis of connective tissue in cartilage and bone. Eating barley regularly can strengthen your bones, prevent loss of bone density and lower your risks of bone disorders like osteoporosis.
Barley is one of the oldest grains on this planet but despite its presence for such a long time, it still has not gained the popularity as a dietary food in many countries. However, as research discovers the healthy benefits of barley one by one, it won’t be long before it becomes a healthy and must-have addition to a well balanced diet. Barley is one of the energy boosting foods that not only prevents diseases but also improves your health and maximizes longevity.Image Credits: Wikimedia- Daniel Schwen