Barley (malt) – Properties and Medicinal uses


Barley or Hordeum vulgare is one of the first cultivated grain on earth. It is used medicinally against conditions such as high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, diarrhea, weight loss, and stomach pain. As of 2014, barley ranked 4th among grains in total production, just behind maize, rice and wheat.

Botanical name: Hordeum vulgare

Botanical family: Poaceae

Other names: Malt, Malted barley, Barley corn, Barley flakes.

Barley is used as food in the diet of many Europeans, middle East countries, and Africans. Many use it to make soups and stews, and also barley bread. It is used as an animal fodder, and a source of fermentable material in many beverages. Barley grains are also popularly converted into a malted form through a series of processes.

What is Barley malt?

Barley malt is produced from barley grain that has germinated and left to dry out in a process known as malting. The grains of this wonderful cereal are malted in order to develop the necessary enzymes required for modifying the grain’s starch into easily digestible form of sugars. It is this malted grain that is used to make several types of beverages, flavored drinks and baked goods, such as Malted shakes, Milo, malt loaf and biscuits.

What is a Malt extract?

Almost everyone is familiar with malt extracts. They are prepared from malted barley by a process known as mashing, through which sugars are extracted. They are popularly used as dietary supplements to enhance nutrition in children and adults through the supply of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Liquid malt extract is commonly sold in jars as a consumer product all over the world. Apart from being used as a dietary supplement, it is used for many other purposes such as brewing and baking.


Properties of barley

Find below the nutritional value of raw barley per 100 grams, as shared by USDA:

• Carbohydrates – This is contained in high amounts, representing about 77% of its total content. The carbohydrates in barley are present in the form of starch, and are best digested when the barley is in a malted form.

• Proteins – Barley also contains proteins in significant amounts, at 9.9 g per 100 grams. The proteins present in barley are deficient in an essential amino acid known as lysine, thus, needs to be combined with legumes which are rich in lysine to complete its proteins.

• Fiber – Barley contains fiber in significantly high quantity (about 15.6 g). An amount that is higher than that of wheat.

• Vitamins – Barley contains vitamins such as vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and vitamin B6 in significant quantities. As the case with most other grains, barley lacks vitamin C and vitamin B12, as well as provitamin A.

• Minerals – Barley contains magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc in rich amounts. It also contains some trace elements such as manganese in rich amounts, but is poor in calcium.

A list of some impressive benefits and uses of barley:
  1. Lowers cholesterol level
  2. Control diabetes
  3. Prevents intestinal disorders
  4. Fights cancer
  5. Aids weight loss
  6. Prevents heart diseases
  7. Prevents gallstones
  • Lowers Cholesterol

It has been proved that the consumption of barley in any form, be it flour, flakes or malted form, helps reduce the total cholesterol level, harmful cholesterol level, as well as triglycerides. Its consumption has been shown effective in preventing arteriosclerosis, which leads to coronary disease.

A research carried out by the collaboration of more than 4 scientists, found barley to be effective in reducing LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides level, without altering HDL or good cholesterol level (1). This cholesterol-lowering property of barley has been attributed to its high fiber content.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a daily intake of 3 g or more of soluble fiber from oats or barley can reduce the risk of heart disease by a considerable percentage, through its ability to lower cholesterol level. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) has given us an insight on amount of people with undesirably high cholesterol levels in United States; putting the figures at about 30% of Americans.

Adding high fiber foods such as barley to your diet, not only lowers your cholesterol level, but also reduces your risk of heart diseases, which claims 1 in every four deaths in the United states.

  • Controls Diabetes

There have several reports recently on the anti-diabetic effect of barley. Many researches have associated barley’s long term consumption to regulating blood sugar level (2). This effect has been attributed mostly to its high fiber content.

On normal basis, consumption of a diet high in fiber, can help slow down the absorption of sugar into your blood stream. This enables people with not-enough insulin to cope with the sugar in their bloodstream. Adding more amounts of fiber into your diet, can make you go farther away from developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Prevents Intestinal disorders

Barley helps prevent certain intestinal disorders. For example, the fiber present in barley helps prevent constipation and its complications. Also, there are several researches that have made known the benefits of barley’s fiber in increasing the amount of beneficial intestinal microbiota.

These microbiota, through their fermentation processes, produce a fatty-acid known as butyric acid. This acid acts as a major energy source for colonocytes (cells of the intestine). Like this, your colon stays healthier and active. A healthy colon reduces your risk for developing conditions such as hemorrhoids and cancer.

  • Weight loss

This is still attributed to its high fiber content. In a diet high in fiber, it adds bulk to the food without any addition in calorie content. Like this, you eat and become full, while consuming small amount of calories. This feeling of satiety makes you eat less amount of food in total.

This beneficial effect has also been backed by scientific studies. A research carried out by Smith KN and his colleagues, found barley fiber to significantly decrease body weight in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults.

  • Fights Cancer

This disease is the second leading cause of death in the US. This shows how dangerous it is, and tells you why you must take actions to protect yourself against it. One of those ways to prevent cancer is through the consumption of barley.

A research conducted in 2017 (very recent) has shown barley extracts to cause apoptosis (death) of cancer cells by increasing intracellular reactive oxygen species production (3).

Whole grains such as barley are great antioxidants. They are able to fight free radicals damage in our bodies, thus preventing cancerous growths.

  • Prevents Heart diseases

We have already seen how barley can lower our risk of heart diseases by lowering blood cholesterol level. Excess cholesterol in our blood can clump in arteries, and disrupt the normal flow of blood to the heart; a condition that can lead to heart attack.

Barley is also rich in heart healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1, vitamin B3, thiamine, magnesium, and copper, which are also useful in lowering cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other risk factors associated with heart disease.

  • Prevents Gallstones

A research carried out in the Department of Pathology and Nutritional Research, University of Umeå, Sweden, found barley fiber to aid in the dissolution of gallstones in hamsters (4). Although this research was carried out on animals, it still showed a lot of potential, with significant effects noticed in the metabolism of bile and cholesterol. These two, bile and cholesterol, are responsible for the formation of gallstones.

In general, an increased consumption of a diet rich in fiber can lower one’s risk of developing gallstones. At this point in time, I don’t need to tell you anymore how rich barley is when it comes to fiber.

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