Barley Benefits and Side Effects. Barley is a cereal grain that people can use in bread, beverages, stews, and other dishes. As a whole grain, barley provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These offer various health benefits.
Consuming a diet rich in whole grains may help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other chronic health concerns.
This article looks at barley’s nutritional content and benefits, and it lists some reasons that some people may need to avoid consuming it.
Barley is rich in vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds.
It’s available in many forms, ranging from hulled barley to barley grits, flakes and flour.
Almost all forms of barley utilize the whole grain except for pearl barley, which has been polished to remove some or all of the outer bran layer along with the hull.
When consumed as a whole grain, barley is a particularly rich source of fiber, molybdenum, manganese and selenium. It also contains good amounts of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium and niacin.
Additionally, barley packs lignans, a group of antioxidants linked to a lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
Top 9 Health Benefits of Barley
1. May Help You Lose Weight
Barley may reduce hunger and promote feelings of fullness — both of which may lead to weight loss over time.
Barley lessens hunger largely through its high fiber content. A soluble fiber known as beta-glucan is particularly helpful.
That’s because soluble fibers, such as beta-glucan, tend to form a gel-like substance in your gut, which slows the digestion and absorption of nutrients. In turn, this curbs your appetite and promotes fullness.
A review of 44 studies found that soluble fibers, such as beta-glucan, are the most effective type of fiber for reducing appetite and food intake.
What’s more, soluble fiber may target belly fat associated with metabolic disease.
2. Barley can boost your intestinal health
Once again, its high fiber content is responsible — and in this case, particularly its insoluble fiber.
Most of the fiber found in barley is insoluble, which — unlike soluble fiber — does not dissolve in water. Instead, it adds bulk to your stool and accelerates intestinal movement, reducing your likelihood of constipation.
In one four-week study in adult women, eating more barley improved bowel function and increased stool volume.
On the other hand, barley’s soluble fiber content provides food for friendly gut bacteria, which, in turn, produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Research shows that SCFAs help feed gut cells, reducing inflammation and improving symptoms of gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
3. May Prevent Gallstones
Barley’s high fiber content may also help prevent gallstones.
Gallstones are solid particles that can form spontaneously in your gallbladder, a small organ located under the liver. The gallbladder produces bile acids which your body uses to digest fat.
The type of insoluble fiber found in barley may help prevent the formation of gallstones and reduce the likelihood of gallbladder surgery.
In one 16-year observational study, women with the highest amounts of fiber intake were 13% less likely to develop gallstones requiring gallbladder removal.
This benefit appears to be dose-related, as every 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped gallstone risk by around 10%.
In another study, obese individuals were put on one of two rapid weight loss diets — one rich in fiber, the other in protein. Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of developing gallstones.
After five weeks, participants on the fiber-rich diet were three times likelier to have healthy gallbladders than those on the protein-rich diet.
4. May Help Lower Cholesterol
Barley may also lower your cholesterol levels.
The beta-glucans found in barley have been shown to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by binding to bile acids.
Your body removes these bile acids — which your liver produces from cholesterol — via the feces.
Your liver must then use up more cholesterol to make new bile acids, in turn lowering the amount of cholesterol circulating in your blood.
In one small study, men with high cholesterol were put on a diet rich in whole wheat, brown rice or barley.
After five weeks, those given barley reduced their cholesterol levels by 7% more than participants on the other two diets.
What’s more, the barley group also increased their “good” HDL cholesterol and reduced their triglyceride levels the most.
5. May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Whole grains are consistently linked to better heart health. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that regularly adding barley to your diet may lower your risk of heart disease.
That’s because barley may lower certain risk factors — in addition to reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, barley’s soluble fiber may bring blood pressure levels down.
In fact, a recent review of randomized control studies observed that an average intake of 8.7 grams of soluble fiber per day may be linked to a modest 0.3–1.6 mmHg reduction in blood pressure.
High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are two known risk factors for heart disease. Thus, reducing them may protect your heart.
6. May Protect Against Diabetes
Barley may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin secretion.
This is in part due to barley’s rich magnesium content — a mineral that plays an important role in insulin production and your body’s use of sugar.
Barley is also rich in soluble fiber, which binds with water and other molecules as it moves through your digestive tract, slowing down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
Research shows that a barley breakfast provides a lower maximum rise in blood sugar and insulin levels than a breakfast consisting of other whole grains, such as oats.
In another study, participants with impaired fasting glucose were given either oatmeal or barley flakes daily. After three months, fasting blood sugar and insulin levels decreased by 9–13% more for those eating barley.
7. May Help Prevent Colon Cancer
A diet rich in whole grains is generally linked to a lower likelihood of many chronic diseases, including certain cancers — especially those of the colon.
Again, barley’s high fiber content plays a central role.
Its insoluble fiber specifically helps reduce the time food takes to clear your gut, which appears particularly protective against colon cancers. Additionally, soluble fiber may bind to harmful carcinogens in your gut, removing them from your body.
Other compounds found in barley — including antioxidants, phytic acid, phenolic acids and saponins — may further protect against cancer or slow its development.
8. Bone Health
The phosphorus, calcium, copper, magnesium, and zinc in barley all contribute to improved bone structure and strength.
For example, zinc plays a role in bone mineralization and development. Calcium, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus, meanwhile, contribute to bone health and are essential for maintaining a strong skeletal system.
9. Reduce Inflammation
Choline is another nutrient that may help reduce inflammation. Barley containsTrusted Source betaine, which the body can convert to choline.
Choline helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. It also helps maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids the transmission of nerve impulses, and assists in the absorption of fat.
Side Effects of Barley
Whole grains are generally a good addition to anyone’s diet. However, some people may want to avoid barley.
First, it’s a whole grain that, like wheat and rye, contains gluten. Therefore, it’s not an appropriate choice for anyone with celiac disease or other intolerances to wheat.
Additionally, barley contains short-chain carbohydrates called fructans, which are a fermentable type of fiber. Fructans may cause gas and bloating in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive disorders.
Therefore, if you have IBS or a sensitive digestive tract, you may want to avoid barley.
Lastly, since barley has a strong effect on blood sugar levels, you may want to exercise caution while eating it if you have diabetes and are taking any blood-sugar-lowering medications or insulin.