Barley – Nutritional Profile

Barley is a very versatile cereal that is grown for animal fodder, brewing and food.

It has a very complex nutritional make up but its significant components are dietary fibre, selenium, tryptophan, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. For dietary fibre barley has 13g per cup which is more than 4 times the amount for oatmeal and more than 6 times the amount for whole wheat bread and that 1 cup contains 54% of the RDA for dietary fibre.

Current thinking in dietary nutrition consider Glycemic Index (GI) which is the rate at which carbohydrate is released into the bloodstream. Low GI foods are regarded as more beneficial and whole barley is considered a Low GI food.

Barley – Health Benefits

Dietary fibre that is present in barley plays a critical role in regulating food as it passes through the intestine. Dietary fibre provides bulk and ensures a rapid transition of food through the colon ensuring that whilst nutrients are taken up faecal matter does not spend any time longer than necessary in the intestine and so reduces the risk of colon cancer and haemorrhoids. Additionally dietary fibre feeds the friendly bacteria present in the large intestine and therefore promotes a healthy bacterial flora at all times. The fermentation of the fibre also produces propionic and acetic acid which are important in regulation of liver and muscle function.

Barley’s fibre also has beneficial effect on cholesterol by reducing LDL cholesterol whilst maintaining HDL cholesterol. As fibre binds to and removes bile it promotes the production of more bile which in turn reduces the level of cholesterol present, providing further benefit to patients with heart disease.

Barley is also an extremely good source of niacin, a B group vitamin associated closely with improved protection against cardiovascular disease. It helps by reducing cholesterol and lipoprotein molecules that are similar to LDL cholesterol only considered to be far more undesirable. Niacin is also instrumental in preventing free radicals from oxidising LDL cholesterol and thereby stopping platelets binding to the walls of blood vessels.

Postmenopausal women can benefit specifically from eating barley. A three year study of 2220 women who had high cholesterol and blood pressure were measured over a three year period and those consuming 6 portions of barley a week experienced slowing in the progression of arteriosclerosis and the narrowing of blood vessels was seen to slow as well.

There is also a correlation between consumption oh whole grains such as barley and decreases in heart failure rates. A Harvard study looking at 21,376 people over a period of 29 years found that hey found that men who eat one bowl of whole food cereal daily had a 29% lower risk of heart attack

The magnesium in barley plays a substantial part in the functioning of 300 enzymes that impact on the body’s ability issue glucose or secrete insulin. An 8 year trial involving 41,000 women confirmed an inverse correlation between magnesium and calcium and type 2 diabetes rates./ The American Food and Drug Administration now permit the labelling of whole grains to suggest regular consumption of whole grains reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Further tests has also demonstrated that barley is more effective at managing the post meal surge of blood sugar than oats which have traditionally been highly regarded in this area.

A study involving 51,823 postmenopausal women showed a 34% reduction in breast cancer risk for those consuming the most fruit fibre compared to those consuming the least which rose to 50% where cereal fibre was taken.

High fibre foods such as barley can also lead to reduced incidence of gallstones. Insoluble fibre reduces the secretion of excess bile acids due to fast transit time through the intestine which leads to fewer gallstones.

There is also a proven link between whole grains such as barley and fish and childhood asthma where a prevalence of 20% was reduced to 4.2% when children regularly ate these food groups.

A single cup of barley contains 52% of the RDA of selenium, an essential mineral fro effective thyroid metabolism and immune function.

Barley – Product History

In a 2007 barley was the fourth largest cereal crop both in terms of quantity produced (136 million tons) and in area of cultivation (566,000 km²). Crops are for animal food and for brewing as well as for human consumption. In the United States of America up to 505% of production is used as cattle feed. Brewing industries across the world consume barley for the manufacture of beers and in some countries, notably Ireland and Scotland in the production of whiskey.

In 2010 the world crop was 124,000000 tons of which Germany (10,400,000), France (10,100,000) and Ukraine (8,500,000) were the three largest producers. As a crop it is robust an only rarely succumbs to blight.

Barley is also processed to produce a product called Pearl barley where the bran is removed and the reaming grain is steam treated to soften the grain. Many of the health benefits of the product will be reduced or lost with this form of processing.