Every 40 seconds someone in the US has a stroke, which makes it one of the leading causes of long-term disability.1 Chances are pretty high that someone you know has been disabled by one.
But there’s a superfood Christopher Columbus brought to America in 1494 that packs a nutritional wallop.
Because of its high beta-glucan content, barley reduces both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. This, in turn, helps decrease the risks of stroke and dementia.
Barley has come in for some knocks lately because it contains gluten. So this highly nutritious food is not appropriate if you’re gluten-sensitive. But for those who aren’t (presumably most people), barley may be a valuable addition to your eating habits.
Barley is a major cereal grain commonly found in breads, beverages and cuisines of almost every culture. But despite being a food staple for thousands of years, barley hasn’t gained the same popularity in the US as wheat or oats.
However, as the medical community uncovers more exciting health benefits of consuming barley, this may change.
Barley’s Secret Weapon
Barley’s stand-out element is a soluble fiber called beta-glucan. And barley is one of the richest sources of beta-glucan among all the grains. Beta-glucan lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body through excretion.
In 2017, scientists discovered that consuming three grams of beta-glucans per day can lower blood cholesterol levels by five percent.2
In a ten-week study conducted at the University of Minnesota, researchers found barley lowered LDL-cholesterol as well as total cholesterol in 155 men and women. This showed barley is more effective in lowering blood cholesterol than other whole grains because of its high beta-glucan content.3
As you probably know, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are linked. This is because when the arteries become narrowed and hardened with plaque, the heart has to strain much harder to pump blood through them.
As a result, blood pressure becomes abnormally high, which increases the risk of strokes and dementia.4
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the men and women who replaced 20% of their energy intake with whole grains like barley experienced reductions in diastolic, systolic and average arterial pressures. It’s fair to conclude that this reduces their risk of stroke and dementia.
The researchers concluded that as part of a healthy diet, more whole-grain foods can reduce blood pressure.5
Selenium and Choline are Key Elements in Barley
Barley also provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirements of selenium and choline.6
Selenium is an essential trace mineral that’s important for cognitive function and may help prevent cognitive decline as people get older. It’s a well-known antioxidant, especially valued for its ability to prevent cancer. According to the Office for Dietary Supplements, selenoproteins prevent the oxidation of fats in the body and thereby reduce inflammation.7
Choline is another important nutrient in barley that helps with learning, memory and reducing chronic inflammation.8 It’s important enough that our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, offers a choline supplement, Brain Vitality Plus.
How to Incorporate Barley’s Many Benefits
Barley is available in many forms in stores and online, including hulled, pearled, flakes, grits and ground flour.
Hulled barley has undergone minimal processing to only remove the outer shell and leave the bran and germ intact. Pearled barley has had the bran layer removed along with the hull.
It’s a versatile grain that can be prepared in many ways. People enjoy its nutty flavor and chewy, pasta-like texture.
You can add barley to any soup, stew, casserole or salad, or substitute it for rice in a recipe. For those who aren’t gluten-sensitive, barley looks to be a great addition to help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure and to reduce the risks for stroke and dementia.
- Impact of stroke (Stroke statistics).
- Effects of 3 g of soluble fiber from oats on lipid levels of Asian Indians—A randomized controlled, parallel arm study.
- The effects of concentrated barley beta-glucan on blood lipids in a population of hypercholesterolaemic men and women.
- Diseases linked to high cholesterol.
- Whole-grain diets reduce blood pressure in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women.
- Barley: Health benefits, facts, research.
- Selenium: Health benefits, sources, and potential risks.
- Barley: Health benefits, facts, research.