Since ancient times, humans have believed in the health benefits of barley to live long and stay healthy. Barley contains key components that provide important nutritional benefits that help combat to a wide range of health conditions. These include fibre, antioxidants, phytochemicals, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Barley has five times more fibre than other whole grains. The fibre in most other grains is found only in the bran or outer layer of the kernel and is lost when they get processed. But in case of barley, even processed products such as flour, flakes or pearl barley, retain at least 50 per cent of their original fibre content even after the bran or outer layer of the kernel is removed.
Barley has numerous health benefits. Here we list a few:
- Barley is a very good source of soluble and insoluble dietary fibre. They both differ in their movement through the digestive tract. While insoluble fibre—also known as roughage—moves through the digestive tract mostly undissolved, soluble fibre [beta-glucan] mixes with liquid and binds to fatty substances to help remove them from the body. Soluble fibre present in barley is effective in lowering total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol [bad cholesterol]; thereby reducing the risk of cardio vascular diseases. It also proves beneficial in slowing the absorption of sugar, which is crucial for diabetics, as it would decrease their need for insulin. Insoluble fibre is beneficial in lowering the risk of bowel disorders, colon cancer and haemorrhoids.
- Barley is a good source of the antioxidant selenium, which is helpful in preserving the elasticity of our skin by protecting it against free radical damage. It protects vital organs like the heart, immune system and pancreas and its deficiency may result in cancers of the skin, prostate, colon, stomach, liver and breast.
- Barley also contains minerals like phosphorous, copper, manganese and magnesium. Phosphorus is required for healthy bone and tooth formation, cell growth, proper kidney function and contraction of the heart muscles of our body. Copper helps in the formation of haemoglobin and red blood cells and its deficiency leads to early signs of osteoporosis. Manganese works with the entire B-complex vitamins and gives us an overall feeling of well-being, as it’s essential for normal bone production, energy production and preventing anaemia. Magnesium reacts with the enzymes in the body and helps in controlling the level of glucose in the body; thereby controlling diabetes mellitus.
- Barley is low in glycemic index, which slows digestion of all carbohydrates and reduces the rise in glucose and insulin. Therefore it’s also known as a ‘keeper carb’.
- Barley is useful to those who want to lose weight, as it generates a feeling of fullness.
- Barley grass helps in treating arthritis and also provides relief from arthritis pain. It helps in relieving inflammation in various parts of the body and improving overall immune function.
- Due to its alkalinity, barley water has been used since ancient times to treat various digestive conditions. Barley water suspension is prepared by using one part of barley with 15 parts of water, which is boiled till it becomes 2/3rd of its basic solution. Being extremely alkaline, barley water is also beneficial for those suffering from gallstones. The water-soluble fibre content in it helps prevent formation of stones and cures existing ones. It is also a good remedy for kidney problems and is a traditionally acclaimed drink for supporting and nourishing kidneys in times of stress. [For more information, read, Be Kind to your Kidneys, Ail to Hearty in this issue]
- Barley helps treat urinary tract infections during pregnancy. The antioxidant properties of barley water help fight against a number of diseases and prevent cancerous growths. It also helps in problems like constipation, diarrhoea and nausea.
Barley in your diet
Here’s how you can incorporate barley into your diet.
- Add barley to stews and soups [like vegetable soup, red lentil soup, celery soup with beans and mushroom barley soup] or other dishes such as risotto to enhance the texture. You can also add it your khichdi or pulao.
- Mix barley flour with wheat flour to make breads, muffins and cookies such as barley raisin cookies, barley almond crackers or choco barley muffins.
- Toss chilled, cooked, hulled [remove the outer covering] barley into salads.
- Stir-fry vegetables with barley, toss it with beans or simply add it to grilled chicken, mushrooms.
- Make a refreshing drink of lemon, water and barley.