In this article, we look at the evidence behind the many health claims about barley, as well as its nutritional value. We also list steps on how to make barley water at home.
Five potential benefits
The health benefits of barley water include:
1. Fiber Boost
Barley water is an excellent source of fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system healthy.
Many of barley’s health benefits come from it being an excellent source of dietary fiber. Fiber is essential for keeping the digestive system healthy, contributing to healthy bowel movements, and helping people avoid problems such as constipation.
Researchers have linked a diet high in dietary fiber to a reduced risk of developing some chronic diseases. For example, people who eat plenty of fiber have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Barley is a soluble fiber, meaning it can dissolve in water and provides the body with useful energy. Fiber can also be insoluble, meaning it passes through the digestive tract without breaking down and does not provide the body with energy.
The American Dietetic Association recommend that adult women eat 25 grams (g) and adult men eat 38 g of dietary fiber every day. Most people in the United States do not meet this target so barley may be an easy way for people to increase their intake.
In addition to its high fiber content, barley also contains a mix of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
2. Lowers cholesterol
A 2010 analysis of clinical trials found that barley may reduce the level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
While the results varied depending on the participant’s overall health and the doses and quality of barley used, the author’s concluded that eating or drinking barley products can be considered part of a plan to reduce total and LDL cholesterol.
3. Helps balance gut bacteria
The balance of natural gut bacteria plays an essential role in keeping a person healthy. Studies have shown that consuming barley-based foods leads to a reduction of a gut bacteria called bacteroides.
While these bacteria are not usually a threat, they are the most common species found in anaerobic infections, which occur after an injury or trauma. These infections can affect the abdomen, genitals, heart, bones, joints, and the central nervous system.
4. Lowers blood sugar levels
Barley-based foods have been shown to help boost the number of beneficial bacteria prevotella in the gut. These bacteria have been shown to help lower blood sugar levels for up to 11–14 hours.
Keeping blood sugar levels in check can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help those who have diabetes manage their blood glucose levels.
5. Encourages weight loss
Barley prompts the body to release hormones that regulate appetite by making the person feel fuller for longer. These hormones may also boost the metabolism, which can contribute to weight loss.
How to make barley water
Barley water can be made with pearl barley, lemons, honey, and water.
Barley water is easy to make. Many people choose to add natural flavorings, such as lemon, to the water to give it a better taste.
To make 6 cups of lemon barley water, a person will need:
- ¾ cup of pearl barley
- 2 lemons (juice and peel)
- ½ cup of honey
- 6 cups of water
A person can follow the steps below to make barley water:
- Rinse the barley under cold water until water runs clear.
- Put the barley in a saucepan, along with lemon peel and 6 cups of water.
- Bring the mixture to the boil over a medium heat.
- Turn down the heat and simmer for between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Strain the mixture into a heatproof bowl and discard the barley.
- Stir in the honey until it dissolves.
- Pour into bottles and refrigerate until chilled.
Note that while the honey will enhance the flavor, it will also add sugar. People looking to reduce sugar in their diet may wish to replace honey with a pinch of stevia.
Are there any risks or side effects?
Barley contains gluten, so anyone with a wheat allergy or intolerance should avoid it. Symptoms of a wheat allergy may include:
- nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea
Barley is an excellent source of dietary fiber, but also contains other essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, and selenium.
Compared to whole-grain oats, barley has more dietary fiber and is lower in fat and calories. Per 100 g, barley contains 354 calories, 2.3 g of fat, and 17.3 g of fiber. The same quantity of oats contains 389 calories, 6.9 g of fat, and 1.60 g of fiber.
Barley-based foods have a range of health benefits, many of which come from its fiber content.
However, most studies have not looked at barley water specifically. It is also important to remember that sweetened barley water contains extra sugar and calories.
What are the health benefits of barley?
One of the first cultivated grains in history, it remains one of the most widely consumed grains, globally.
Barley and other whole grain foods have rapidly been gaining popularity over the past few years due to the various health benefits they can offer.
Whole grains are important sources of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are not found in refined or “enriched” grains. Refining grains removes the bran, germ, and most of their fiber and nutrients.
Choosing whole grains over their processed counterparts can help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health problems.
- Consuming barley might have benefits for the heart, blood pressure, and bones
- Barley may be useful in maintaining a healthy weight
- Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium
- Thanks to barley’s versatility, it is easy to incorporate into meals
Barley contains important nutrients that can offer a range of health benefits.
1) Blood pressure
Pearl barley is by far the most popular form of barley in the US.
Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, but increasing potassium intake may be just as important.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), fewer than 2 percent of American adults meet the daily 4,700-milligram recommendation.
Also, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are all present in barley, have been found to decrease blood pressure naturally.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2006 concluded that: “In a healthful diet, increasing whole grain foods, whether high in soluble or insoluble fiber, can reduce blood pressure and may help to control weight.”
2) Bone health
The iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc in barley all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.
A careful balance of phosphate and calcium is necessary for proper bone mineralization. Consuming too much phosphorus with too little calcium intake can result in bone loss.
Bone formation requires the mineral manganese; also, iron and zinc play important roles in the production and maturation of collagen.
3) Heart health
Barley’s fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6 content, coupled with its lack of cholesterol, all support a healthy heart. Barley is an excellent source of fiber, which helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
In 2007, researchers found that barley intake significantly reduced serum cholesterol and visceral fat, both of which are markers of cardiovascular risk.
The beta glucan fiber found in barley lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via excretion. An intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by 5 percent.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 milligrams of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1,000 milligrams per day).
Vitamin B6 and folate, both present in barley, prevent the buildup of a compound known as homocysteine. When excessive amounts of homocysteine accumulate in the body, it can damage blood vessels and lead to heart problems.
Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most foods, but it can be found in barley. It plays a role in liver enzyme function and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body.
Additionally, selenium from dietary sources can help prevent inflammation. It may decrease tumor growth rates, and improve immune response to infection by stimulating the production of killer T cells.
Fiber intake from plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Some studies have suggested that beta-glucan fiber may stimulate the immune system. As a result, it could help fight cancer cells and prevent tumors from forming. However, more evidence is needed to support this claim.
Choline is an important and versatile nutrient in barley that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory.
Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
6) Digestion and regularity
Barley’s fiber content helps prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
7) Weight management and satiety
Adequate fiber intake is commonly recognized as an important factor in weight loss by functioning as a “bulking agent” in the digestive system.
Fiber in the diet helps to increase satiety and reduce appetite, making people feel fuller for longer. This can help lower the overall calorie intake.
Barley is commonly found in two forms: hulled and pearled. Hulled barley has undergone minimal processing to remove only the inedible outer shell, leaving the bran and germ intact. Pearled barley has had the layer of the bran removed along with the hull.
A cup of hulled barley, weighing 184 grams (g) contains:
- 651 calories
- 22.96 g of protein
- 4.23 g of fat
- 0 g of cholesterol
- 135 g of carbohydrate
- 31.8 g of dietary fiber
- 61 milligrams (mg) of calcium
- 6.62 mg of iron
- 1.189 mg of thiamin
- 0.524 mg of riboflavin
- 8.471 mg of niacin
- 0.585 mg of vitamin B6
- 35 micrograms (mcg) of folate
- 245 mg of magnesium
- 486 mg of phosphorus
- 832 mg of potassium
- 5.1 mg of zinc
The amount of each nutrient that an individual need depends on their age and gender. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 give details on each requirement.
Beta-glucans are a type of fiber that is found in barley. Studies have found that they can help reduce the risk of obesity and its complications, such as stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Barley can be added to soups, stews, salads, and risottos to make them more hearty and flavorful.
Barley is a versatile grain with a nutty flavor and a chewy, pasta-like texture. It can be prepared in a number of ways and is usually found in stores in hulled or pearled form.
Hulled barley has a chewier consistency than pearled barley and requires longer soaking and cooking times due to its outer bran layer.
To prepare hulled barley, it must be soaked overnight or at least for several hours to reduce the cooking time and achieve optimal flavor and texture.
After soaking the barley in twice its amount of water, it should be drained and rinsed before cooking.
To cook barley, add 1 cup of the grain to 3 cups of water and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let the barley simmer for about 45 minutes.
The same cooking process can be applied to pearled barley, minus the soaking step.
- Add barley to any pot of soup or stew to make it heartier and more flavorful.
- Cook barley in your choice of broth and add a variety of vegetables for a tasty pilaf or risotto.
- Toss chilled cooked barley with diced vegetables and homemade dressing for a quick cold salad.
- Combine barley with onion, celery, mushrooms, carrots, and green pepper. Add broth to the mixture, bring it to a boil, and then bake for approximately 45 minutes for an easy and healthy barley casserole.
Barley contains gluten, so it is not suitable for those with celiac disease. Malt, malted beverages such as beer, and several flavorings are derived from barley. As a result, they too contain gluten.
People who want to increase their fiber intake should do so gradually over 1 to 2 months. This can help prevent digestive problems as the body adjusts to the change. Drinking plenty of liquids while increasing fiber intake can help prevent constipation.