Barley is a grain that comes from the grass family. It’s high in fiber and known for its ability to lower cholesterol. In addition, it is full of many vitamins and minerals.

While it isn’t wheat, it does contain gluten. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you’ll want to avoid it.

This article explains how barley grain is processed, its benefits and nutrition facts, how it compares to other grains, and who should avoid it.

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How Is Barley Grain Made?

Barley in a field has an outer, inedible hull that covers the kernel. To get to the hulled barley, you must minimally process the plant to remove the outer layer. Some types, called hulless barley, have an outer layer so loose it falls off during harvesting.

Popular types

Processing barley differs depending on the desired barley product. Types of barley include:

  • Barley grits: Barley that is cut into smaller pieces
  • Barley flakes: Like rolled oats, kernels that are steamed, rolled, and dried
  • Barley flour: Finely ground barley
  • Pearl barley: Polished or “pearled” to remove the bran layer That means it’s not a whole grain but less refined than other refined grains
  • Quick pearl barley: Partially cooked and dried during processing for quick cooking (less than 10 minutes)

Benefits of Making Barley the Star Ingredient

The benefits of barley primarily lie in its extremely high fiber content. Adding barley to your diet may reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, glucose levels, and more.

May Lower Cholesterol

A study found that barley beta-glucan has a lowering effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol) and other non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL) cholesterol (HDL is considered “good” cholesterol).

Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber found in grains and some other foods. This type of fiber makes it difficult for cholesterol to get into your blood.

May Help Reduce Blood Pressure

Studies found that another benefit of beta-glucan is its ability to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure the arteries experience while the heart beats and refers to the top or first number in a blood pressure reading; diastolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure in arteries while the heart rests and refers to the bottom or second number in a blood pressure reading.

Researchers found that diets rich in beta-glucan reduce systolic blood pressure by 2.9 milligrams of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure by 1.5 mm Hg.

May Improve Digestion

The high fiber content of barley makes it a good choice for digestive health. Dietary fiber has the following digestive benefits:

May Reduce Blood Glucose Levels

Studies have found that dietary fibers, especially those in barley beta-glucan, are among the most effective foods for reducing post-meal glucose (blood sugar) levels. This is good news for people with diabetes, as blood glucose levels often get too high with this condition.

One study investigated the effect of beta-glucan barley on participants with normal glucose tolerance and those with type 2 diabetes. Participants ate either white rice alone or white rice mixed with barley. Researchers found that after eating the barley mixture, participants’ glucose levels were significantly reduced compared to the white rice group.

Barley Inspiration

The following are some ways to use barley as a main or side dish:

  • Add some cooked, cooled barley to a salad.
  • Swap out rice or quinoa for barley in recipes like jambalaya and risotto.
  • Instead of oatmeal, try a breakfast porridge with cooked barley.
  • Add barley to soups and stews.

Nutrition Facts: Single Barley Serving

A single one-cup serving of cooked, pearled barley contains the following:

  • Calories: 193
  • Protein: 3.5 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 44 g
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Calcium: 17 milligrams (mg)
  • Iron: 2 mg
  • Magnesium: 34.5 mg
  • Phosphorus: 85 mg
  • Potassium: 146 mg
  • Folate: 25 micrograms (mcg)

Compounds in Barley

Whole grain barley contains phytochemicals that protect the plant from viruses, bacteria, and fungi. These benefits are offered to humans when they eat the plant. Phytochemicals in barley include:

These compounds have antioxidant and cholesterol-lowering abilities.

Barley Compared to Other Grains

Barley is an excellent whole grain, but is it as healthy as brown rice or rolled oats? The comparison chart below shows how these whole grains stack up against each other with a 1-cup serving size.

Barley vs. Other Whole Grains
  Protein Calories Carbs Iron Fiber
Barley 3.5 g 193 44 g 2 g 6 g 
Brown rice 5.5 g 248 52 g 1 g 3 g
Quinoa 8 g 222 39 g 3 g 5 g
Rolled oats 10 g 280 52 g 4 g 8 g
Millet 6 g 207 41 g 1 g 2 g

Who Shouldn’t Eat Barley?

Barley contains gluten (a protein found in certain grains). If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you need to avoid barley.

Celiac is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body when you eat gluten. This immune response can damage the small intestine, so people with celiac need to avoid gluten.

Even though it impacts people by causing unpleasant reactions when eating gluten, a gluten sensitivity is not the same as celiac disease. For this reason, people with gluten sensitivity should avoid gluten, including barley.

Summary

Barley is a whole grain with high levels of soluble dietary fiber called beta-glucans. Researchers believe the fiber in barley is what gives it its major health benefits. These include heart health benefits, improved blood glucose, and better digestive health. Since barley contains gluten, those with celiac and gluten sensitivity should avoid this grain.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kathi Valeii

As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.
 

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