Barley, one of the nutritious ancient grains, has many health benefits. It is available in various forms, such as pearled barley, barley flour, flakes, grits, and more. Barley is the fourth largest grain crop produced globally and is a hearty crop rich in fibre and low in glycemic index making it suitable for diabetics.
In its hulled or whole-grain form, barley helps manage blood sugar levels. It also supports weight management among overweight or obese diabetic or prediabetic people. Regardless of barley’s versatility and health benefits, people with diabetes must monitor their intake level.
Barley Glycemic Index and Nutritional Profile
According to the USDA, 100 grams of hulled barley contains the following nutrients.
- Calories: 354 calories
- Protein: 12.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 73.5 g
- Fibre: 17.3 g
- Fat: 2.3 g
- Magnesium: 133 mg
- Calcium: 33 mg
- Phosphorus: 264 mg
- Potassium: 452 mg
- Zinc: 2.77 mg
The glycemic index, or the GI, shows how a particular food is likely to affect one’s blood glucose levels. The lesser the GI score the lesser effect will it have on blood sugar levels. A food with GI 85 will cause the blood glucose to spike while that of 40 will have little effect. People with diabetes need to eat more low-glycemic index foods with scores below 55. Medium-range GI foods have scores of range 55-69.
- Hulled barley has a GI score of 20 to 25. It will not change even after cooking.
- Pearled barley has a GI rating of 22 to 29. After boiling pearled barley for an hour, the GI score goes up to 35 since it loses some fibre.
- Rolled barley flakes, similar to rolled oats, have a GI score as high as 66.
- Cracked barley has an average GI score of 50.
- The GI of barley flour equals 30, making it a low GI flour.
Why is Barley Good for Diabetics?
Barley has an impressive nutrient profile. Unprocessed barley is rich in protective bran, endosperm and nutrient-filled germ. A study shows that eating bread made from unprocessed barley kernels helps decrease blood sugar and insulin levels. It also leads to additional benefits like increased insulin sensitivity and improved appetite control.
Here are other reasons why barley is good for diabetes:
Rich in Fibre
Barley is particularly rich in a soluble fibre called beta-glucan. A study shows that barley, even pearled and rolled varieties, provides 19 times more dietary fibre than polished rice. This perk of barley makes it a satisfying meal for diabetic patients. Another study also says that the high beta-glucan in barley might regulate postprandial hyperglycemia in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Low Glycemic Index
Barley is available in different forms, ranging from low to moderate GI scores. Unprocessed barley kernels, prepared or raw, will always remain in the low GI range. Even the processed kind, called pearled barley, stays in the moderate range. It is not as high as other refined grains.
Rich in Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency is a lesser-known causative factor of type 2 diabetes. It often leads to poorly controlled glycemic profiles. Besides fibre, barley is a rich source of magnesium. It provides nearly 133 mg of magnesium per 100 g serving. Hence, barley is perfect for type 2 diabetes people with magnesium deficiency.
The HealthifyMe Note
Scoring low on the glycemic index and having a high beta-glucan level make barley good for diabetes. Further, magnesium in barley helps control sugar levels, especially in type 2 diabetes. Barley also has a good amount of protein and other nutrients like zinc, calcium, and potassium.
How to Use Barley for Diabetes?
Barley flour of dried and ground barley is a healthy substitute for refined white flour. Ensure to choose coarse barley flour, which includes bran of the grain. Barley flour has a better effect on blood sugar levels than refined flour. Therefore, you can use it for baking purposes of all kinds.
To get comfortable with the flavour, you can start by replacing only a portion of your regular flour with barley flour. But, even then, there will be improvements in post-meal glucose levels.
Ayurveda mentions the use of barley water as a remedy for several diseases, including diabetes. Barley water is a healthy and cooling beverage made with just two main ingredients; barley and water.
Besides being a traditional summer drink, barley water hydrates, nourishes and detoxifies your body. It is made by simmering barley grains or barley flour in water until cooked soft. The water absorbs all the nutrients and goodness of barley grains while simmering.
The gut bacterium Prevotella Copri (P. Copri) can help reduce blood sugar levels. Research shows that this blood sugar-lowering intestinal bacteria grows more rapidly after consuming barley water due to the prebiotic nature of barley kernel-based products.
Unstrained barley water’s antioxidant, magnesium, and fibre content also help regulate blood sugar levels. However, you must prepare and drink barley in the right way to reap the benefits.
How to Make Barley Water for Diabetes?
Commercially bottled barley water is readily available, especially during hot and humid weather. While it is convenient, barley water sold in cans and bottles contains preservatives. In addition, these versions often contain artificial sweeteners to enhance the taste. According to studies, prolonged use of artificial sweeteners triggers higher insulin resistance. Over time, insulin resistance causes excessive sugar or glucose in the blood.
Besides preservatives and added sugars, pre-made barley water is considerably more expensive. So why buy bottled barley water sold in shops when you can make it home so easily? Best of all, you can control the ingredients in homemade barley water. It ensures that your drink is free from additives that can raise your blood sugar levels.
You can make barley water using three cooking methods; a pressure cooker, stove top, or instant pot. But first, you should prep or soak the barley grains.
You can choose hulled, pot, pearly barley or barley flour. Sort and rinse the barley in the same manner we do it for rice before cooking. Remove all stones and debris and rinse a couple of times. Soak the grains for 4 to 5 hours or overnight.
Soaking cuts down the cooking time for grains. It also reduces barley’s phytic acid, preventing the incidence of flatulence post-consumption.
Making Barley Water (Stove Pot Method)
The pressure cooker method is one of the quickest and easiest ways to make barley water while the stove pot is the traditional one.
Preparation time: 20-25 minutes
- Barley: 50 grams or 1/4 cup (rinsed, soaked)
- Water: 2-3 cups
Method of Preparation
- Add water to a saucepan. Then add in the soaked barley.
- Cover it partially and let it boil for 20-25 minutes. Stir in between.
- Barley grains increase in volume, so you may need to add more water while cooking.
- Stop cooking once the barley grains turn soft and slightly sticky.
- Strain and press well to extract barley water. Add salt to taste.
- You may add ginger or lemon juice for flavour.
The HealthifyMe Note
Homemade barley water is a diabetes-friendly beverage free of preservatives and additives. It is healthier than pre-packaged barley water. Beyond that, it allows you to control the amount of sugar and create a drink that suits your blood sugar patterns. You also can add lemon juice, ginger juice, rock salt, or ground cardamom to barley water. It gives an electrolyte boost.
Potential Side Effects of Barley
Some people will have different responses to barley. Your blood glucose response to each food is highly personalised. Therefore, the suitable portion size will also vary. Talk to a HealthifyMe nutritionist to find the correct portion size that does not spike blood glucose levels. You can also subscribe to HealthifyPRO to access Continuous Glucose Monitoring with real-time insights.
Here are some side effects of barley to look out for:
- Barley is not gluten-free. Therefore, it can cause allergic reactions in people with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease.
- Excessive consumption of barley can lead to constipation and bloating.
- It can cause blood sugar to drop to a dangerously low level when you consume barley with diabetes medications.
Among whole grains, hulled barley is one of the best sources of beta-glucan. It is also low on the glycemic index scale. These two factors make barley good for diabetes. However, it would help to eat barley in moderation to avail the best blood sugar-controlling benefits. Talk to your doctor before changing anything in your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Does barley spike blood sugar?
A. Barley has a low glycemic index and does not spike blood sugar levels. With a high level of fibre and magnesium, barley is ideal for people with diabetes. Fibre and magnesium work together to improve blood sugar control. However, it would help if you consumed barley in moderate amounts only.
Q. How can diabetics take barley?
A. People with diabetes can make barley water for a low-calorie, electrolyte-rich, refreshing drink. Barley flour is also a good substitute for refined flour. Furthermore, low GI barley flakes are perfect as a breakfast porridge, soups, and stews for people with diabetes. Or you can prepare a grain salad with cooked barley.
Q. Is barley good for diabetes patients?
A. Yes, barley and its products are good for diabetes patients. Barley is rich in fibre and magnesium while low in calories and glycemic index. However, consuming an excess of barley is unhealthy. It might cause gas, bloating, or other gastric distress.
Q. Can barley reverse diabetes?
A. No single food or drink can reverse diabetes or other metabolic conditions. However, regular consumption of barley water or using barley instead of refined grains can keep your diabetes under control.
Q. Can barley affect the kidney?
A. Apart from managing blood sugar, barley water is equally effective in treating kidney stones. The calcium and magnesium in barley water help dissolve any stone material clogging your kidney system. Overall, it has soothing and nourishing effects on the kidneys. However, barley water is a diuretic that increases urination and flushes out toxins. Therefore, overconsumption can put a strain on the kidneys.
Q. What is the side effect of barley?
A. Consuming barley grains or barley water in recommended amounts shows no severe side effects. However, excessive consumption leads to gastric distress, gas, or bloating. It is also a gluten-containing grain. So, those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid barley. The diuretic nature of barley can also be a problem when you drink too much barley water.
Q. Is it OK to drink barley every day?
A. You can drink barley water daily, but limit it to a single serving. Adding homemade barley water rather than pre-packed ones to your daily diet is best. However, talk to your doctor before trying something new or if you want more insight on suitable serving sizes.
The Supporting Sources
1. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: SR Legacy | Food Category: Cereal Grains and Pasta | FDC ID: 170283| NDB Number: 20004
2. Lund University. “Barley helps improve blood sugar levels, reduce appetite.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 February 2016.
3. Higa M, Fuse Y, Miyashita N, et al. Effect of High β-glucan Barley on Postprandial Blood Glucose Levels in Subjects with Normal Glucose Tolerance: Assessment by Meal Tolerance Test and Continuous Glucose Monitoring System. Clin Nutr Res. 2019;8(1):55-63. Published 2019 Jan 28.
4. Fuse, Y., Higa, M., Miyashita, N., Fujitani, A., Yamashita, K., Ichijo, T., Aoe, S., & Hirose, T. (2020). Effect of High β-glucan Barley on Postprandial Blood Glucose and Insulin Levels in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Clinical nutrition research, 9(1), 43–51.
5. Sandberg, J., Kovatcheva-Datchary, P., Björck, I., Bäckhed, F., & Nilsson, A. (2019). The abundance of gut Prevotella at baseline and metabolic response to barley prebiotics. European journal of nutrition, 58(6), 2365–2376.
6. Mathur, K., Agrawal, R. K., Nagpure, S., & Deshpande, D. (2020). Effect of artificial sweeteners on insulin resistance among type-2 diabetes mellitus patients. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 9(1), 69–71.