Barley is a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nut-like flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. Its appearance resembles wheat berries, although it is slightly lighter in color. Sprouted barley is naturally high in maltose, a sugar that serves as the basis for malt syrup sweetener. When fermented, barley can be used as an ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages. In addition to its robust flavor, barley's claim to nutritional fame is based on its being a very good source of fiber and contains several vitamins and minerals including niacin (Vitamin B3), thiamine (Vitamin B1), selenium, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and copper. Barley also contains antioxidants, which are also important for maintaining good health. Specifically, antioxidants work to slow down the rate of oxidative damage by gathering up free radicals that form when body cells use oxygen.
Wish you were more regular? Let barley give your intestinal health a boost. In addition to providing bulk and decreasing the transit time of fecal matter, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, barley's dietary fiber also provides food for the "friendly" bacteria in the large intestine.
In addition, barley's dietary fiber is high in beta glucan, which helps to lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via the feces. Bile acids are compounds used to digest fat that are manufactured by the liver from cholesterol. When they are excreted along with barley's fiber, the liver must manufacture new bile acids and uses up more cholesterol, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol in circulation. The fiber in barley can also help to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high in people with diabetes.
Yet another reason to increase your intake of barley is that, in addition to its fiber, barley is also a good source of niacin, a B vitamin that provides numerous protective actions against cardiovascular risk factors. One cup of barley will supply you with 14.2% of the daily value for niacin.
Barley and other whole grains are also a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion.
A cup of cooked barley provides 52.0% of the daily value for selenium, an important benefit since many Americans do not get enough selenium in their diets, yet this trace mineral is of fundamental importance to human health. Selenium is an essential component of several major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism, antioxidant defense systems, and immune function.
Copper, another trace mineral supplied by barley, may also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. One cup of cooked barley provides 32.0% of the daily value for copper.
The phosphorus provided by barley plays a role in the structure of every cell in the body. In addition to its role in forming the mineral matrix of bone, phosphorus is an essential component of numerous other life-critical compounds. A cup of cooked barley will give you 23.0% of the daily value for phosphorus.
Barley can be found in the market in various different forms. Hulled barley, like the name suggests, means that only the outermost hull of the grain is removed in this form of barley. While this makes for a chewier grain that requires more soaking and cooking, it also makes for a more nutritious food. Hulled barley is also sometimes called "dehulled barley," and it is the one form of barley that would be considered whole grain.