Forget Oatmeal — This Grain Fights Cholesterol With Half the Calories

Photo (cc) by Oleksii Leonov

Move over, oats: Another cholesterol-lowering grain — barley — is in the spotlight.

Barley reduces levels of two types of so-called bad cholesterol, according to a new review of research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition this week.

Specifically, barley reduces:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by 7 percent
  • Non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL) by 7 percent

That’s considered “significantly reduced levels,” according to researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Research scientist Vladimir Vuksan, associate director of the St. Michael’s Risk Factor Modification Centre, is among the authors of the research review. He explains:

“The findings are most important for populations at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as Type 2 diabetics … but [barley] can also benefit people without high cholesterol.”

The research review also found that barley’s cholesterol-lowering effects are comparable to those of oats.

Barley is arguably more healthful, however. Compared with oats, barley contains:

  • More fiber
  • Twice as much protein
  • Half as many calories

For the research, the authors reviewed 14 studies on clinical trials conducted in seven countries.

Vuksan explains:

“Barley’s positive effect on lowering cholesterol is well-documented … Health Canada, the FDA and several health authorities worldwide have already approved health claims that barley lowers LDL cholesterol, but this is the first review showing the effects on other harmful lipids.”

Over the past decade, consumption of barley by humans (as opposed to livestock) has fallen by 35 percent, according to the St. Michael’s study.

Yet it was almost exactly a decade ago that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a health claim associating barley consumption with reduced risk of heart disease.

Today, whole grain barley and dry milled barley products with at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving may still bear this claim:

“Soluble fiber from foods such as [name of soluble fiber source, and, if desired, name of food product], as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. …”

If you’re new to barley or just not ready to eat it on its own like oatmeal, Vuksan recommends incorporating it into existing recipes or using it as a rice substitute.

Do you eat barley? If so, let us know how you prefer it — leave a comment below or on Facebook.

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