Grains Lay Claim to Health Gains
A wide variety of foods
can be made with barley.
From top clockwise, muffins,
granola, barley flour, pearled
barley, no-bake cookies,
vegetable beef barley soup,
tabouleh, and pancakes.
Barley is a very versatile grain. It can be used in soups,
stews, cereal, or baked goods. It can be used as a side dish or in a
salad. It's also very healthful, because it's low in fat and cholesterol
free. So why aren't Americans eating more barley?
ARS chemist Kay
Behall contends that some Americans, especially those who are diabetic
and overweight, would be better off doing just that. She's conducting
a long-term study to evaluate how eating foods prepared with grains
such as barley and oats might reduce risk factors associated with excess
weight, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease.
Behall is with the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory, part of the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, in Maryland. She and a recently retired colleague, Judith Hallfrisch, conducted several studies to see whether eating a diet high in soluble fiber promotes glucose or hormone changes that result in reduced insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a diminished sensitivity in body tissues to the action of insulin, which is to bring glucose into those tissues as a source of energy. To compensate for resistance, the pancreas secretes more insulin, an effect that, over time, may exhaust the pancreas's ability to produce insulin.
No-bake cookies made with
barley flakes, sugar,
unsweetened cocoa, margarine,
fat-free milk, vanilla extract
and peanut butter.
The presence of diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and high
blood pressure increase the risk of heart attack. People suffering from
a cluster of abnormalities in glucose and lipid metabolism, high blood
pressure, and obesity have what is called Syndrome X. All these various
health problems seem to be linked by insulin resistance.
Significant reductions in blood pressure have previously
been reported in other high-fiber grain diet studies. Diets rich in
soluble fiber also show potential benefits in reducing elevated glucose
or insulin in people with impaired glucose tolerance or insulin resistance.
It is known that the soluble fiber found in oats can reduce cholesterol. Since barley contains similar fiber, the researchers decided to examine its impact in people who eat a healthy diet.
Chemist Kay Behall (standing)
and study volunteer Jo Etta
Hubbard discuss the way
barley was incorporated into
meals prepared in the Human
"Oats are widely recognized as promoting beneficial
reductions in the rise of glucose and insulin levels after a meal,"
Behall says. "Barley also has high amounts of soluble fiber, so
one should expect similar advantages. Soluble fiber in barley could
also help reduce cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors."
Barley production for 2002 was the lowest since 1937.
Most barley is used in animal feed or for the production of barley malt
for making beer. However, it could add a real boost to the diets of
the millions of overweight people in the United States.
Behall and Hallfrisch have been investigating whether eating barley and oats can reduce one's glycemic response (a measure of a food's ability to elevate blood sugar) and hyperinsulinemia (when your body produces too much insulin in response to a meal) independent of weight loss. In other words, they want to see whether the grains will have a positive effect on health, even if people are not losing weight.
Biologist Dan Scholfield uses
a blood-chemistry analyzer to
metabolites in human nutrition
Two studies, each lasting 17 weeks, were begun in February
2001 and February 2002. The first study involved men, and the second
study involved women. Participants followed a healthy diet lower in
fat and higher in fiber than that typically consumed by people in the
United States. Participants were fed diets rich in barley or grains
lower in soluble fiber, such as whole wheat and brown rice.
Although participants were chosen from diverse backgrounds,
special interest was given in choosing people identified as having high
cholesterol levels. Volunteers had to be dedicated, because all their
meals were provided by the laboratory. Samples were collected periodically
and measurements made for markers of glycemic control, energy regulation,
lipid metabolism, blood pressure, body composition, measures of satiety
(feeling of fullness), nutrient digestibility, metabolizable energy,
and energy expenditure.
Behall and Hallfrisch are continuing to analyze data.
Some early results show that glucose and insulin levels were lowered
by diets high in barley. Eating barley-containing foods improved several
cardiovascular risk factors. For example, in their study with men, they
found that increasing whole grain foods in a healthy diet could reduce
The diet with higher soluble fiber also had the greatest
effect on reducing total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
levels, the so-called bad cholesterol.
"On average, total cholesterol was lowered 14 percent
in men with previously high cholesterol levels after consuming the fiber-rich
diets with low soluble fiber, 15 percent in those following diets with
mid soluble fiber, and 21 percent in those following diets with high
soluble fiber," Behall says.
Early data from the latest studies shows that these results
were more pronounced in postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women.
Studies at the laboratory in this area will continue.
"In future studies, we want to determine whether
eating moderate amounts of grains over a prolonged period can improve
intestinal health and/or increase immunity to disease," Behall
says. "We want to learn whether soluble fiber promotes weight-loss
maintenance by reducing insulin resistance. And we want to see if this
type of diet affects one's satiety after a meal."
Behall also wants to identify phytochemicals or prebiotics
found in barley and other grains. These nondigestible fibers have immuno-strengthening
properties because they encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in
the gut. Researchers will determine their bioavailability and effectiveness.
Behall hopes to ultimately identify foods, health practices, and attitudes
associated with successful weight loss maintenance.By Jim
Core, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National
Program (#107) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
1 cup granulated sugar
Mix sugar, cocoa, margarine, milk, vanilla, and peanut butter together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute after mixture starts to boil. Fold in flakes and stir until all the flakes are coated. Pour and press mixture into a greased pan (9x9 or 9x13 inch) and refrigerate until solid. Cut into desired size while cold. Use shaped cookie cutters if desired (photo). Thickness will vary with the size of the pan.
"Grains Lay Claim to Health Gains" was published in the May 2003 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.