Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Beautiful Barley

My first experience with barley was a couple of years ago at the home of LocalHarvest founder, Guillermo Payet. He was cooking up a batch for a home brew, or was it for his chickens? I can't remember. Anyhow, what I do remember is it's hearty aroma and warming flavor. Little did I know at the time, but barley has many health benefits as well. The consumption of grains like barley offers protection against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. Barley is loaded with soluble and insoluble fiber – in fact, barley is far ahead of other grains with 13.6 grams of fiber per cup! In addition to this, barley is a good source of many antioxidants, and minerals.

Colon Health
Not to put too fine a point on it, but one of the great things about fiber is that it provides bulk for our stool and therefore makes for a more rapid transit of fecal matter through the intestines. Rapid transit means less time for cancer-causing compounds to snuggle next to our colon cells, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer. In addition to acting as a bulking agent, fiber feeds "friendly" bacteria in our gut. Friendly bacteria play a crucial role in our intestines: they compete with disease-causing bacteria, boost the immune system, prevent allergies, protect against bladder infections, and more.

Heart Health
The consumption of whole grains like barley has been associated with a reduction in the risk of developing heart disease. In fact, in 2006 the FDA announced that food products containing whole grain barley may claim that they reduce the risk of heart disease. Barley's fiber is dense with beta glucan, a substance that lowers cholesterol by attaching to bile acids and removing them from the body. This results in a significant reduction in total cholesterol, and LDL levels. Barley is also a good source of the B vitamin niacin, which helps to protect against heart disease by reducing cholesterol as well.

Cancer Prevention
Lignans are abundant in barley. Lignans are converted by the friendly bacteria in our intestines to enterolactone. This compound offers protection against hormone dependent cancers. Research with pre-menopausal women has shown that those with a greater intake of fiber from whole grains like barley have a significant reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer as compared to women with little grain fiber in their diets.

Marvelous Minerals
Barley is a good source of selenium, copper, phosphorous and magnesium. Selenium intake is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. Copper is involved in the production of collagen and elastin, components of the connective tissue of bones and joints. Phosphorus is used in the formation of the matrix of bone, DNA, and cell membranes. Magnesium is as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes in the body.

Reap the Benefits – Add Barley to Your Diet
Try substituting barley for other grains when baking, or when eating cereals. It is also great in soups!

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the May 2008 Newsletter