Barley Boasts a Bonanza of Fiber and Selenium

The Folklore. Initially cultivated in Southeast Asia and Ethiopia, barley was used for food and fermented into wine, a popular beverage in ancient Babylonia. In ancient Greece and Rome, barley was a major food for athletes; gladiators were called hordearii, “eaters of barley.” The Facts. Barley is available in many forms?whole, pearled, flakes, grits, meal, flour?which vary in fiber and nutrients, though all are nutritious. Barley is a good source of the B vitamin niacin and the minerals copper and selenium, but it shines in fiber content. Cup for cup, even pearled barley (the most common form) contains nearly twice the fiber of brown rice and six times that of white rice. All barley contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which provide health benefits, including helping lower total and low-density lipoprotein (“bad” LDL) cholesterol; slowing the absorption of glucose, which stabilizes blood sugar levels; promoting regularity; and increasing satiety.

The Findings. Research suggests that the soluble fiber in barley?called beta-glucans?is not only heart-healthy, but may combat diabetes and pre-diabetes. One study found that muffins containing beta-glucans from barley lowered glucose and insulin responses in mildly insulin-resistant men. In another, people with type 2 diabetes who ate a healthful diet with 18 grams of soluble fiber a day from pearled barley saw their blood glucose drop by about 30%.

The Finer Points. Hulled (hulless) barley is the only form considered a whole grain, since little nutrition is lost with the hull. Hulled barley boasts twice the fiber of pearled barley plus more vitamins and minerals. But you may not find it in supermarkets; look in health food markets.

Scotch or pot barley has had the hull removed and is somewhat refined, lowering its fiber and nutrient content.

Pearled barley is the easiest to find. It undergoes five or six “pearlings” (polishings), which removes the hull, bran and some of the inner layer, losing some fiber and nutrients in the process. However, unlike many grains, which contain fiber only in the outer bran layer, barley contains fiber throughout the kernel. So even pearled barley is well-worth eating. To cook: Use three parts liquid (water or broth) to one part barley. One cup dry makes about three cups cooked.

Quick-cooking barley is steamed and dried so it rehydrates quickly; it’s nutritionally comparable to pearled barley.

Uncooked barley keeps in an airtight container for up to three months, six months if refrigerated or frozen. Cooked barley keeps for a week; cook ahead and add to soups and casseroles. In addition to legendary soup status, try substituting barley for rice (make it more interesting by adding veggies to boost flavor, nutrition and color) or cook barley flakes as a hot cereal.

?Kitty Broihier, M.S., R.D.

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