Can Adding Barley to Your Diet Help Lower Your Cholesterol?

Barley is a whole grain that can be eaten alone or added to many foods. It is used mostly in the malting industry and for livestock feed. It was not usually used as a food source in humans in the past.

Now, barley is being used more in balanced diets because of its health benefits. Studies show many positive health effects of including barley in your diet. It improves digestion, and blood glucose levels in people with diabetes and heart conditions.

Recent studies also show that barley may be helpful in keeping your cholesterol levels in check.

This article will explain how barley can help lower cholesterol levels and how to make it part of a healthy diet. It will also discuss the right amount a person should eat.

A barley salad with carrots, pomegranate seeds, and fresh mint
 Anna Kurzaeva / Getty Images

Does Barley Work?

Barley contains vitamins, antioxidants, and an important soluble fiber called beta-glucan. This heart-healthy fiber helps lower cholesterol levels. It is also found in other grains, such as oats. Beta-glucan makes it harder for cholesterol and fat to get into the bloodstream.

Studies show that eating 3 to 10 grams of beta-glucan daily can help lower total cholesterol from 14% to 20%. LDL cholesterol was lowered by 3% to 24% in these studies. LDL cholesterol is known as the "bad" kind because it builds up in your arteries.

Triglycerides were lowered by 6% to 16%. These are the most common type of fat found in the body.

HDL was not affected as much by barley intake in most studies. HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove some of the other bad cholesterol.

Eating barley lowers lipids. Lipids are fatty compounds in the body that do not dissolve in water.

Increasing soluble fiber also gave some people in these studies unpleasant side effects. These included bloating, gas, stomach aches, and feelings of fullness during and after meals.

Other studies showed the participants did not see a big difference in cholesterol levels when they added barley to their diet. These studies looked at individuals consuming anywhere from 2 to 10 grams of beta-glucan from barley daily.

Recap

Barley was not a key part of the human diet in the past. Recently, people are adding it into their diets because it contains a special type of fiber called beta-glucan. This fiber helps lower cholesterol levels by keeping it from entering the bloodstream.

How Much Barley Should You Consume?

You would need to consume at least 3 grams of beta-glucan to see lower cholesterol. About one cup of cooked pearled barley equals 2.5 grams of beta-glucan fiber. One-half cup of barley flakes equals about two grams of beta-glucan. This is the amount you would need to eat to see the same results in the studies. Always check food labels for beta-glucan content.

There are many ways you can include barley in your cholesterol-lowering diet. Barley can be used as a warm, breakfast cereal. It can also be used in salads and side dishes, or added to main dishes.

Summary

Barley is a heart-healthy ingredient that can be added to your diet to help control your cholesterol levels. The FDA allowed a health claim to be placed on barley packages. It says that the soluble fiber in the food may help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Most of the studies about the effect of barley on cholesterol levels looked at people with mildly to moderately high cholesterol levels. It is hard to say if cholesterol levels can lower more in people with healthy a cholesterol range.

The vitamins and soluble fiber contained in this heart-healthy fiber can be a helpful addition to any healthy diet. However, if you have certain medical conditions, barley may aggravate these conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease. Consult with your doctor for other heart-healthy fiber options.

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  2. St. Michael's Hospital. Barley lowers not one but two types of 'bad cholesterol,' review suggests: Barley likely has similar cholesterol-lowering effects as oats. ScienceDaily. Updated June 8, 2016.

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