5 Health Benefits of Hulled Barley
Barley may not be the trendiest superfood out there, but it's definitely worth paying attention to if you're looking to give yourself a health boost. Hulled barley, the least processed and most nutritious type of barley, is supercharged with protein, folate, selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper, as well as beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that has been linked to many extraordinary health benefits. Below, we take a look at five medicinal properties of barley which prove this unsung supergrain should not be left off the superfood list. If you have trouble finding hulled barley in the stores in your area, check out our article on buying barley here.
Barley – A Natural Weight Loss Aid
No question about it, barley is a great weight loss food. First, it is relatively low in calories (around 35 calories per 1 ounce of either cooked pearl or hulled barley). Second, barley ranks low on the Glycemic Index (GI). In fact, with a GI rating of 28, pearl barley is one of the best common grains for people who are following a low GI diet. And, the GI rating of hulled barley, the least processed and most fiber-rich type of barley, should be even lower. However, as hulled barley is still relatively uncommon in Western diets, research investigating the exact glycemic effects of hulled barley is still lacking.
Eating low GI foods, such as hulled or pearl barley, triggers only a small and slow rise in blood glucose and insulin levels, while foods with a high GI rating – such as white bread – cause a sharp increase in blood glucose levels, which in turn causes the pancreas to release large amounts of the hormone insulin. Insulin is necessary for normal carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, but excessive amounts of insulin in the bloodstream promote weight gain and may thus compromise your weight loss efforts.
Protection Against Diseases Related to Hormonal Imbalances
Many people see weight loss as the most important effect of low GI diets, but this is hardly the only health benefit of favoring low glycemic foods, such as our supergrain barley, over high GI foods. Many conditions linked to overproduction of androgens, for example, can be controlled – if not cured – by switching to a low GI diet. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), oily scalp and hair, hirsutism and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are just a few examples of conditions that are frequently linked to high levels of androgens (also known as male hormones).
Also diseases directly linked to the actions of the hormone insulin, such as diabetes or insulin resistance, may be controlled or in some cases even prevented by switching to a healthy a diet packed with fiber-rich foods such as barley (for more on this, check out our in-depth article on barley, beta-glucans and type 2 diabetes.
All Barley – Including Pearl Barley – Provide Gut Health Benefiting Fiber
Not only is barley a good source of soluble beta-glucan fiber, this powerful superfood is also an excellent source of insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that is thought to be particularly effective at promoting regular bowel function and preventing constipation. And, the best thing about barley fiber is that it is distributed throughout the entire kernel, meaning that not only hulled whole grain barley but also more processed forms – such as pearl barley which contains neither the hull nor the bran – can still add a significant amount of gut health benefiting fiber to your diet.
But the health benefits of barley attributed to its high content of insoluble fiber are not limited to its potential to prevent and treat constipation. A study published in the journal Nutrition Cancer tested the potential anti-cancer effects of insoluble barley fiber in rats, and found that insoluble fiber reduced both the incidence of rats affected with colorectal tumors and the size of the tumors. In addition, barley is super-charged with selenium and folate, nutrient combo that may, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in 2009, reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Barley is Good for the Skin, Too
Provided that you are not sensitive to gluten, eating more whole grain barley (and less processed wheat) might be worth a try if you suffer from acne. Not only does hulled barley help keep acne-causing hormones such as circulating androgen and insulin-like growth factor in check by preventing insulin spikes, this healthy whole grain is also jam-packed with anti-acne nutrients such as zinc and B vitamins. Topical application of this superfood also have some benefits if you suffer from acne, as barley is naturally rich in azelaic acid, a substance that has been shown to kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce skin inflammation (for details, check out the in-depth article on the benefits of barley for the skin.
Barley may also help promote healthy, youthful skin by slowing down the formation of wrinkles due its antioxidant properties. Black barley, in particular, is an excellent source of skin-protecting antioxidants such as anthocyanins. In addition to purple or black barley, anthocyanins are abundant in some of the world's most famous anti-aging foods, including wild blackberries, purple carrots, black beans, black raspberries and maqui berries.
Beta-Glucans in Barley Are Good for Your Heart
In America, heart disease is the #1 killer in both men and women, taking more lives than lung cancer, breast cancer, diabetes mellitus and Alzheimer's disease combined. The good news is that you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease by adopting healthier eating habits and getting regular physical exercise. One way to make your diet more cardiotonic (i.e. better for the heart) is to make sure that your diet contains foods that provide beta-glucan, a type of water-soluble dietary fiber that has been shown to reduce both total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels in humans. Whole grain barley and oats are among the best natural sources of beta-glucans, which is also why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows the labels of certain high-fiber barley products to claim that the consumption of these foods may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Don't Miss ThisWhat to Do with Whole Grain Barley (and Where to Buy It)
Not only is hulled barley good for you, it is also an versatile ingredient to cook with.