Barley’s magic mix of dietary fibers can help reduce people's appetite and risk for cardiovascular disease, among other nifty tricks.
While the idea of super foods is undeniably attractive, the whole exotic-trendy-things grown in faraway climes has always driven me nuts. I prefer homegrown heroes and I have a soft spot for humble foods – which is why a new study singing the praises of barley has me swooning.
The research comes from Sweden’s Lund University and shows that barley can quickly boost people's health by decreasing blood sugar levels and risk for diabetes. The secret ingredient is actually the unique mixture of dietary fibers found in barley, which can also help reduce people's appetite and risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a press statement.
"It is surprising yet promising that choosing the right blend of dietary fibers can – in a short period of time – generate such remarkable health benefits," says researcher Anne Nilsson, Associate Professor at the Food for Health Science Centre.
The research included healthy middle-aged participants who ate bread that was 85 percent barley at breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days. Eleven to 14 hours after the last meal of the day, they were tested for risk indicators of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers were surprised to find that metabolism improved for up to 14 hours, with other perks like decreases in blood sugar and insulin levels, increases in insulin sensitivity and improved appetite control. They say that the benefits occur when barley’s dietary fibers reach the gut, stimulating a boost of beneficial bacteria and the release of important hormones.
"After eating the bread made out of barley kernel, we saw an increase in gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite, and an increase in a hormone that helps reduce chronic low-grade inflammation, among the participants. In time this could help prevent the occurrence of both cardiovascular disease and diabetes," says Nilsson.
Previous Swedish research on barley revealed that the cereal’s fiber generates an increase of the gut bacteria Prevotella copri, which directly help to regulate blood sugar levels and give an assist in decreasing unhealthy gut bacteria.
Tips from the researchers for helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels include:
• Opt for bread with as much whole grains as possible.
• Steer clear of white flour.
• Add barley to soups and stews.
• Replace white rice with cooked barley.
• Eat beans and chickpeas as they also provide a good blend of fiber and have a low glycemic index.
And while I couldn't find what kind of barley was used in the study, I'd go on the safe side and assume it was hulled barley (AKA barley groats), which is the whole-grain form of barley, as opposed to pearl barley which has had the bran removed. You can use hulled barley in recipes that call for pearl barley, it just takes longer to cook, and may require more liquid.
In addition to the suggestions laid out above, I'd also add, for starters: Using it instead of Arborio rice in risotto (so good!); adding it to oatmeal; using it in pilaf; making grain-based salads; and mashing it together beans for veggie burgers. It's surprisingly versatile and its subtle nutty flavor plays well with others.
And back to the homegrown heroes part and why earnest barley makes more sense than chic quinoa or chia seeds. Barley adapts well to many types of environments, meaning that it is grown in 27 states in the U.S. – and while around half of that is used for animal feed and much for malt, we still grow a lot of barley right here in our own backyards, so to speak. So if eating locally-ish is as important to you as eating super foods, it may be time to embrace the barley.