You may have heard about oat bran and its cholesterol-lowering ability. Research suggests that barley may have a similar effect on cholesterol, too. Barley contains the same cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber, beta-glucan, found in oat bran and dry beans. Farmers are jumping on the bandwagon and are growing varieties -- such as hulless and waxy barley -- that are super-high in beta-glucan. The soluble fiber pectin fights cholesterol, too.
Barley is rich in insoluble fiber as well. The whole, hulled form contains more of it than whole wheat. As insoluble fiber absorbs water, it adds bulk and speeds intestinal contents through your body, which may reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancers since contact between harmful substances and your intestinal wall is limited. And there's another bonus -- insoluble fiber may help keep digestive disorders, like constipation and hemorrhoid flare-ups, at bay.
Selection and Storage
Whole, hulled barley -- brown, unpearled -- is the most nutritious. It has twice the fiber and more than twice the vitamins and minerals of pearled. It's available in health-food stores.
Scotch barley, or pot barley, is refined less than the pearled type, so more of the bran's goodness remains. Pearled barley is the easiest variety to find. While nutritionally inferior to the other two types, it boasts decent fiber and iron, and it is certainly not devoid of nutrients. Store pearled and Scotch barley in airtight containers in a cool, dark location for up to one year; nine months for all other varieties.