Barley: properties, benefits

Barley is an ideal cereal for those suffering from digestive problems and to benefit the cardiovascular system, as its consumption reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Barley, whose scientific name is Hordeum Volgare, is an annual plant belonging to the Graminaceae family and native to Asia that can reach up to one meter in height.

Italy is one of the major producers of this cereal, whose cultivation is facilitated by the climatic adaptability of this plant. In fact, the barley plant adapts very well to the altitude but also to high and low temperatures, growing well even in conditions of extreme drought. Furthermore, it ripens faster than other cereals.

In grains, barley is used in cooking to prepare soups, salads and barley; reduced to flour, it can be used to make pasta or baked goods, alone or mixed with other flours; the barley-based drink is the best known coffee substitute; barley malt is a widely used ingredient for the preparation of spirits, especially beer and whiskey. In summary, barley enters our diet in many ways. Let’s now see what its nutritional characteristics are.

Barley: calories and nutritional values

The calories of barley are about 352 per 100 grams, a value comparable to that of other cereals. As for its nutritional composition, like all cereals it is mostly made up of carbohydrates, which account for about 75%, is low in fat and contains good amounts of vegetable protein.

Also noteworthy is the contribution of fibers, essential substances to keep the intestine healthy as they stimulate peristalsis, counteracting the onset of constipation, and favoring the expulsion of toxins and foreign substances. They also increase the sense of satiety and help reduce the absorption of glucose and cholesterol.

In addition to being rich in fiber and carbohydrates, barley is an excellent source of precious minerals, especially potassium and phosphorus, while the most present vitamins are those of group B, in particular niacin, thiamine, pyridoxine and folates.

Nutritional values ​​per 100g of barley:

  • Waterfall: 10.02 gr
  • kcal: 352
  • Proteins: 9.91 gr
  • Fat: 1.16 gr
  • Fibers: 15.6 gr
  • Carbohydrates: 78 g
  • Soccer: 29 mg
  • Magnesium: 79 mg
  • Potassium: 280 mg
  • Iron: 2.5 mg
  • Phosphorus: 221 mg
  • Vitamin B1: 0.191 mg (13.6% RDA)
  • Vitamin B2: 0.114 mg (7.1% RDA)
  • Vitamin B3: 4.604 mg (25.6% RDA)
  • Vitamin B5: 0.282 mg (4.7% RDA)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.26 mg (13% RDA)
  • Folate: 23 µg (11.5% RDA)
  • Vitamin K: 2.2 µg (3.1% RDA)
  • Glycemic index: 60
  • Cholesterol: 0 g

Pearl barley, hulled or wholemeal: differences and characteristics

There are three different types of barley on the market, with different properties and methods of preparation. Specifically we have: pearl barley, hulled barley and whole barley. Let’s see what the main features are.

✓ Pearl barley

It is the most common type in supermarkets. This type of barley is subjected to a refining process that totally eliminates the bran and the germ of the grain. Cooking times are very fast and it is more digestible because it has a reduced fiber content compared to hulled and whole barley. Despite this, it is a type of barley not recommended for those suffering from diabetes since the lack of fiber can cause a sudden increase in blood sugar. Plus, it contains fewer vitamins and minerals than the less refined versions.

✓ Hulled barley

This type of barley is subjected to a process that eliminates only the outermost part of the grain, the bran, preserving the germ and endosperm. It has intermediate cooking times, but compared to pearl barley it keeps most of its nutritional characteristics almost intact. Hulled barley is readily available in supermarkets and organic food stores, therefore, it represents a good compromise between the pearled and wholemeal type.

✓ Whole barley

Whole barley is defined as such because it does not undergo any processing process. This type of barley requires prolonged cooking but retains its nutritional characteristics to the maximum and, for this reason, from a nutritional point of view it would be preferable to pearl and hulled barley although it is not easy to find and to be consumed it must be first soaked and then cooked for a few hours. Whole barley preserves all the dietary fiber of the grain intact, this feature makes it a useful food for those suffering from diabetes as it avoids glycemic fluctuations.

Barley: health benefits

The presence of important elements such as fibers and vitamins, gives barley useful properties mainly for the health of the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular system. Specifically, barley is good for the intestine, prevents constipation, helps lower cholesterol, prevents the formation of gallstones and strengthens nails and hair, but not only. Let’s see in detail all the benefits of this cereal.

✓ Promotes heart health

This property of barley is due to both the action of vitamin B1 and niacin, which reduces LDL cholesterol levels. These two substances are joined by a particular type of soluble fibers, called beta- glucans, which help to counteract the absorption of cholesterol, as shown by various scientific studies.

The consumption of barley therefore prevents the formation of the very harmful atherosclerotic plaques. “Regular consumption of beta-glucans contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol concentrations”. Obviously, as long as you have an overall healthy lifestyle and food. Barley also contains tocotrienol, a substance capable of inhibiting the synthesis of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one) in the liver.

✓ Prevents constipation and protects the intestine

The high content of fibers present in barley allows to promote intestinal transit, counteracting the onset of a condition of constipation. Furthermore, fibers are able to detoxify accumulated toxins, reducing contact time with the intestinal walls and thus also preventing some tumors. It is also able to relax the walls of the intestine.

✓ Stimulates digestion

Barley is able to stimulate the production of the juices necessary for digestion, thus facilitating the processing of nutrients. It is particularly suitable for those who have difficulty digesting and for children and the elderly. In this case, however, we recommend the pearled or hulled version, avoiding the whole one instead because, having more fiber, it could be more difficult to digest.

✓ Prevents the formation of gallstones

This property is due to the insoluble fiber present in barley, which reduces the secretion of bile acid and consequently reduces the possibility of gallstones forming.

✓ Strengthens hair and nails

This particular property of barley is due to the presence of silicic acid, which makes hair and nail structures more robust.

✓ It is beneficial for the bones

Barley has an excellent remineralizing action against bones thanks to the high content of phosphorus which, as we have seen, is an integral part of the mineral fraction of bones and teeth.

✓ Throat health

Gargling based on barley decoction is a well-known natural remedy against inflammation of the oral cavity. Barley is also often used as an ingredient for sore throat candy.

How much barley to eat per day

A portion of barley corresponds to 80 g (weight referred to raw food) and provides about 283 kcal mainly coming from complex carbohydrates. Considering that we should take about 3 servings of cereals and derivatives every day, we can include barley during the week as an alternative to pasta, rice or other cereals.

Like other cereals, barley is also available in the form of grains or already transformed into pasta, it is also possible to buy barley flour or ground and toasted barley to make barley coffee.

Barley: how to use and consume it

Barley can be eaten instead of rice, making what is called “barley”, or it can be used to prepare cold salads, along with grilled vegetables cut into small pieces.

We can also consume barley in the form of coffee. In fact, starting from roasted and ground barley, a barley-based drink is obtained that is totally free of caffeine and the exciting and irritating powers of classic coffee. It is therefore an ideal drink for children or for those who cannot drink the classic coffee such as those suffering from gastritis or tachycardia.

Roasted and ground barley is prepared with the classic moka machine, but on the market there is also soluble barley that dissolves directly in hot water. With barley, flours, candies and flakes are also prepared for breakfast.

Why does barley swell the belly and how to avoid the problem?

Despite the numerous beneficial properties of barley, this cereal can cause swelling in the belly and discomfort especially to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. This undesirable effect is caused by the presence of fiber, starch, gluten and maltose, substances that can cause swelling and meteorism.

Therefore, to avoid the problem, it is possible to choose pearl barley which, being more refined, has a lower quantity of fiber, or to replace barley with other cereals or pseudocereals, in particular, for those suffering from irritable colon we recommend the use of amaranth, oats, buckwheat, millet, rice, corn, sorghum or quinoa.

Barley: contraindications and potential negative effects

Apart from the problem of swelling just discussed, the consumption of barley has no particular contraindications, except in the case of celiacs or those suffering from gluten intolerance, as barley is not devoid of it. Excessive consumption could cause annoying meteorism. This cereal contains a fair amount of nickel, to be taken into consideration in case of nickel allergy.


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