Barley: Properties and Benefits


Barley is not only a nutritious cereal but it is also an unexpected source of therapeutic properties useful for health. Its benefits are supported by scientific studies, let’s see in detail

Barley, scientific name Petroselinum Hortense, is a well-known cereal since ancient times for its properties. It is an annual herbaceous plant native to Asia and belongs to the Gramineae family.

Barley: properties and benefits
Barley: properties and benefits

Barley is not as popular as they can be more whole grains but still some significant benefits to health. It has a high content of fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that contribute to heart health and diabetes prevention.

Barley is one of the oldest cereals consumed by humans, its consumption has been for centuries the basis of the peasant diet during the Middle Ages. Even today, this food is consumed in the diet of many European, Asian and African nations.


The barley plant can reach a height of one meter and, compared to other cereals, it matures faster. The plant also tolerates long periods of drought very well . Thanks to these properties the plant can be cultivated almost everywhere. It adapts well to both high and low temperatures, as well as adapting well to altitude.

In Europe and especially in Italy, we find almost exclusively the pearl barley, or rather the private one of the skin that covers the grain. Unfortunately, due to the processing to which it is subjected, it loses many organoleptic properties  on the road. This however does not happen with  whole barley .

According to a 2013 report, this cereal is grown in over 100 countries worldwide. Italy is one of the largest producers of cereal.

This vegetable food also has a long history  of use in alcoholic beverages thanks to the presence of compounds that favor fermentation. In addition to the production of beer with barley, whiskey is also prepared.

This vegetable has a wide range of nutrients including chlorophyll, superoxide dismutase, lutonarin, saponarin, vitamins, minerals and eight essential amino acids. ( 1 ) Thanks to its components this plant has many beneficial effects on health, such as hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, antitumor, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities. ( 2 )

Chemical Composition

Chemical composition for 100 g of hulled barley
Water g 9,4
Protein g 12,5
Carbohydrates g 73,5
Fiber g 17,3
Sugars g 0,8
Fat g 2,3
Ashes g 2,3
Calcium mg 33
Iron mg 3,6
Magnesium mg 133
Phosphorus mg 264
Potassium mg 452
Sodium mg 12
Zinc mg 2,8
Copper mg 0,5
Manganese mg 1.9
Selenium mcg 37,7
Vitamin A IU 22
B1 mg 0,5
B2 mg 0,3
B3 mg 4,6
B5 mg 0,3
B6 mg 0,3
Vitamin E mg 0,6
Vitamin K mcg 2,2
Folate mcg 19

Source: Nutritiondata

Amino acids: aspartic and glutamic acid, alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, proline, methionine, serine, tyrosine, tryptophan, threonine and valine.

Barley also contains chlorophyll in the amount of 542.9 mg / 100 g. This compound is essential for life and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, reduces fecal, urinary and odor body. ( 3 )

Important: like many other cereals, it contains gluten and is therefore not a suitable food for those suffering from celiac disease.


As confirmation of its high nutritional value, 100 grams of barley have 354 kcal.

Barley: Properties and Benefits

Barley is in possession of properties able to bring benefits to the body and is used too little food in our diet.

Digestive Properties

Since this cereal is very rich in proteins, minerals and fiber, it is very useful for those suffering from problems related to digestion. In fact, barley stimulates the production of digestive juices, helps regularity by preventing constipation and protects the entire digestive system. It speeds up the metabolism and is particularly indicated for people suffering from abdominal bloating.

Studies tell us that most of the fiber in this cereal is insoluble. Its intake helps the digestive process, promotes glucose metabolism and heart health. ( 4 )

The fiber helps fight constipation and diarrhea by regulating bowel movements. A Japanese study found that the addition of barley for 4 weeks in the diet of adult women has beneficial effects on fat metabolism and intestinal function. ( 5 )

Promotes Sleep

Thanks to the presence of GABA, Ca, K and tryptophan is a functional food very effective in promoting sleep. ( 6 )



Prevents Constipation

Thanks to its high content of dietary fiber, barley has preventive effects on constipation. This property has currently only been tested on rats. ( 7 )


Some targeted research has shown the presence in the barley of some estrogens of plant origin. These seem to have benevolent properties against breast cancer. An in vitro study of 2016 states that the mixture of phytochemicals present in barley has a good antitumor effect. ( 8 , 9 )

In another study, the green barley extract revealed antitumor effects thanks to its anti-proliferative properties and the ability to induce apoptotic death in breast cancer and leukemia cells. ( 10 )

According to a recent study, Yunnan province in China has the lowest cancer mortality rate in the world and is the largest producer of barley. ( 11 )

Immune System

Probably not everyone knows about it but barley contains almost twice as much vitamin C than oranges. This property is able to act positively on the immune system protecting the body from seasonal ailments.

According to a recent Korean study, young barley leaves have immunomodulatory properties. ( 12 )

Lowers Cholesterol

Research conducted in America by the ministry of agriculture has isolated a molecule called tocotrienol. This compound appears to have the ability  to inhibit the formation of bad LDL cholesterol in the liver.

Research has now certified that a high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Most of these benefits are due to the fiber’s ability to reduce cholesterol levels. ( 13 )

The high percentage of insoluble fiber present in barley is the main cause of the health benefits of the heart. This is because its ingestion drastically reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol that can be absorbed by the intestine.

An American study conducted on patients with high cholesterol has collected interesting data regarding the therapeutic properties of this cereal. The researchers fed patients with large amounts of barley for 5 weeks. At the end of the tests, the study participants had clear improvements regarding LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. ( 14 )

Heart Health

This cereal contains a good amount of vitamin B, which benefits the cardiovascular system. Consuming barley regularly lowers the risk of blood clots and heart disease.

According to a Japanese study, the antioxidants present in this cereal can contribute to the prevention of heart disease. These compounds play an active role in preventing thrombosis by improving the fluidity of the blood. ( 15 )

In Western countries, there are more episodes of coronary heart disease than those of stroke and diabetes in Asian countries. These diseases are associated in part with the loss of vitamin K, magnesium and dietary fiber in the main foods. According to studies, an increase in vitamin K intake can prevent heart disease associated with a reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress. ( 16 )

Research holds that barley  can prevent thrombosis and cardiovascular disease by improving viscosity and blood flow. ( 17 )

Barley: properties and benefits


The depression is not only one of the mental disorders most common in the world but it is also associated with the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, stroke, dementia and arteriosclerosis. According to scientific research, GABAergic, glutamatergic and cholinergic receptors play a fundamental role in the mechanism of depression. Studies suggest that young leaves of green barley may have antidepressant effects by limiting the activity of the hippocampus. ( 18 , 19 )

According to a recent Japanese study barley vitamins and minerals can prevent stressrelated psychiatric disorders of depression. ( 20 )

Benefits to Bones

The phosphorus and copper ensure the health of bones and are a good remedy for bone diseases. The juice extracted from the plant instead has useful properties in case of osteoporosis. In fact it contains about 10 times the amount of calcium present in milk.

Calcium homeostasis is of fundamental physiological importance in bone health. According to Korean researchers the plant, thanks to its high calcium content, can be used as a preventive method or as a treatment for osteoporosis. ( 21 )

Weight Loss

The fiber provides satiety without making any additional calories because it can not be digested. This property makes it useful for losing weight. A study of the ‘ University of Minnesota found that adults who added high amounts of fiber beta  of barley gluten in their diet, their weight decreased significantly. ( 22 )

There are other studies that suggest that eating whole grains reduces appetite and positively affects the metabolism by allowing the body to absorb starches more slowly. ( 23 )


According to a Korean study, barley consumption can help regulate blood sugar levels, making this food recommended for those suffering from diabetes. According to the researchers in fact the regular consumption of the cereal slows down the speed with which the sugar is released in the blood. ( 24 )

study published in 2006 on  Nutrition Research showed that individuals who took beta-glucan dietary fiber present in barley had significantly reduced blood sugar levels.

In fact, this cereal contains soluble fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. These slow down the body’s absorption of sugar.

An animal study found some benefits after a group of rats was fed for 7 weeks with barley. At the end of the tests, in fact, the rats showed a reduction in weight and an improved sensitivity to insulin. Thanks to the presence of special fibrous compounds this cereal is better than others to manage blood sugar levels. ( 25 )


The barley sprouts contain good levels of saponarina and have protective properties of the liver by inhibiting the inflammatory response induced by alcohol. ( 26 ) Saponarin showed hepatoprotection and antioxidant effects against liver damage both in in vitro and in vivo experiments. ( 27 )


Barley has anti-inflammatory properties and heals the intestinal lining, in the case of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract such as pancreatitis and the treatment of ulcerative colitis. ( 28 , 29 , 30 ) Saponarine from sprouts is also a very important functional ingredient to fight inflammation. ( 31 )

Barley extract is very effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Barley extract is very effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and can be used as a natural drug for treating patients with this disease. ( 32 )

The 3 Types of Barley

On the market there are mainly 3 types:

Dehulled, also known as peeled barley, which must be soaked for one night and then cooked for about 40/45 minutes.

Wholemeal which is to be soaked for a whole day and cooked using soaking water for an hour and a half.

Pearly that does not require soaking and should be cooked for about half an hour.


Barley field


The only contraindication that is found in the case of a moderate consumption of barley is that of the probability of running into an annoying intestinal meteorism.

The cooking times of this cereal are on average high but in the case of cooking in a pressure cooker these are considerably reduced.

In adult men, its regular consumption would reduce the risk of myocardial infarction.

Many are its derivatives, here are some. Beer, which is a real drink in which barley is the main ingredient. Barley coffee , flour, bread, various decoctions and soups, flakes, polenta and candies.

In ancient times it was widely used and appreciated by many populations for its properties and for the ease with which it adapted to the various types of climate and terrain.

This cereal was widely used by the Egyptian population who used it to prepare unleavened bread.

Pliny the Elder told of how the gladiators themselves were called with the name of hordeani (from the Latin name of the cereal which was precisely hordeum).

This was because they used to eat a barley- based soup  that was particularly energetic.

Barley: Properties and Benefits

Italian language version


This is not a medical newspaper, the information provided by this site is for informational purposes only and is of a general nature, it cannot in any way replace the prescriptions of a doctor or other health professionals authorized by law. The notions of dosage, medical procedures and product descriptions on this site have an illustrative purpose and do not allow to acquire the necessary experience and manual skills for their practice or their use. If you have been prescribed medical care I urge you not to interrupt or modify them, because all the suggestions you find on must always and in any case be compared with the opinion of your doctor.

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