February 29, 2016

Put Some Barley in Your Life

It reduces blood sugar, the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and it leaves you feeling full. Here's how to cook with it.

You're going to want to add some barley to your diet if it's not there already. Barley is a golden nugget of good nutrition — not only is it rich in vitamins and minerals, it appears to be able to improve your metabolic health in rapid fashion.

Thanks to a special mixture of fibers, barley reduces blood sugar, the risk of diabetes and cuts the risk for cardiovascular disease. It does all this while keeping your appetite in check, according to a Swedish study.

Rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States have reached an all-time high, so it's good to know that a good mix of fibers in your diet can help you in the fight against these conditions.

For breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days, healthy middle-aged adults were fed bread made up of 85 percent barley kernels mixed with wheat flour. Before breakfast each day, 11 to 14 hours after their last barley meal, each participants' blood was tested for indications of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The benefits of barley were seen almost immediately. Participants’ metabolisms showed improvement as much as 14 hours after eating barley. Their blood sugar and insulin levels decreased, and insulin sensitivity increased. Even better, people reported they didn't feel hungry.

The mixture of fibers found in barley are behind these positive effects. When barley fiber reaches the gut, it increases levels of good bacteria and stimulates the release of certain hormones, some of which regulate appetite and metabolism.

Another hormone that is released reduces chronic low-grade inflammation, according to Anne Nilsson, Lund University researcher and lead author on the paper. With all these effects, eating barley could over time help to prevent both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States have reached an all-time high, so it's good to know that a good mix of fibers in your diet can help you in the fight against these conditions.

If grocery stores increased their offering of healthy food products like barley kernels, maybe consumers would see them as more mainstream and begin incorporating them into their diets.

Some grocers place barley in the natural foods aisle, or it may be located next to the dried beans. If your grocer doesn't carry barley, ask them to stock it.

There’s really no trick to cooking barley. If you can cook rice, you can cook barley. Just add a cup of barley to three cups of water with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. De-hulled barley takes about an hour to cook, while pearled barley will be tender in 45 minutes. If presoaked for an hour or overnight, you can cook barley in 15 minutes.

If you are in a hurry, quick-cooking barley takes only 10 minutes and unlike other whole grains that lose much or all of their fiber and nutrients when the outer coating or bran is removed, barley retains at least half of its fiber when it’s processed. Therefore, from a nutritional standpoint, all forms of barley are pretty much equal.

Here are some good ways to add barley and other whole grains to your diet to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease:

  • Add barley kernels to stews, salads, and soups.
  • Serve barley as a starch instead of potatoes or rice.
  • Eat a wide variety of whole grain breads and cereals. Always look for the word “whole” before the name of the grain on package labeling.
  • Incorporate beans, lentils, and chickpeas into your diet. They offer an assortment of dietary fibers with beneficial health effects.
  • The study is published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

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