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June 29, 2023
July 24, 2024
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Barley is a whole grain that comes from the grass family. The barley grain is a seed from grass that is dried and processed. Evidence shows that people have eaten and drank foods made from barley since 8000 BC.¹ This whole grain is rich in fiber, beta-glucan, and antioxidants.

With more than 144 million tons produced in 2014, barley is the fourth most-produced grain worldwide, following cornrice, and wheat.²

This article will explore how barley may impact blood sugar levels and the health benefits that could be gained from including this natural sweetener in meals. 

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Glycemic Index Table

Barley is considered a low glycemic index food due to its high dietary fiber content, which allows this grain to be digested slowly by the body. The carbohydrates in barley are absorbed and converted into glucose gradually, which helps maintain energy without raising blood glucose levels rapidly. 

Several different barley types are available, but all have a low glycemic index rating. Varieties include:

  • Hulless (hulled) barley
  • Processed or pearled barley
  • Barley kernels
  • Rolled barley flakes
  • Cracked barley

The lowest glycemic index variety is found in whole-grain, hulled barley.

The below glycemic index and glycemic load data are for 100g of whole-grain, raw barley, which equals approximately ½ cup:³ ⁴

Glycemic Index

22

Serving Size

100g

Carbohydrate* per Serving (g)

73.5 g

GL per Serving

10.00

Nutritional Facts

Barley is packed with nutrients. However, it doubles in size when cooked, so be mindful when reading nutrition labels and measuring portion sizes.

The below nutritional information is for 100g of hulled, raw barley, which is equal to approximately ½ cup.⁴

Calories

354 kcal

Carbs

73.5 g

Protein

12.5 g

Fiber

17.3 g

Cholesterol

4.5 mg

Vitamins

A (62.36 µg), B12 (0.04 µg), B6 (0.11 mg), C (12.68 mg), D (1.51 IU).

Sodium

192.64 mg

Total Fat

2.3 g

Is Barley Good for Weight Loss?

Because it is packed with fiber, barley helps reduce hunger and increases feelings of satiety, which may lead to weight loss over time. These impacts occur because barley contains beta-glucan, a soluble fiber. This type of fiber forms a gel-like substance in the gut that slows digestion, curbs appetite, and promotes fullness.¹³ ¹⁴ 

A review of 44 studies found that soluble fiber, such as beta-glucan, are the most effective type of fiber for reducing appetite and food take, which can support weight loss goals.¹⁵ Also, a study from 2015 found that participants who ate at least 30g of fiber per day experienced a sustainable weight loss averaging around two kilograms per year.¹⁶

It’s best to spread out your fiber intake throughout your day. Ideally, both soluble and insoluble should be included in every meal (if possible). Consuming a large amount of fiber in one sitting can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort. Assuming you eat three times a day, you should aim to have approximately ten grams of fiber at each meal.

Is Barley Safe for People Living with Diabetes?

With a low glycemic index and glycemic load rating, barely is an ideal carbohydrate choice for those living with diabetes. People living with type 2 diabetes may suffer from a magnesium deficiency, a condition that is also related to the onset of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.¹¹ Barley is packed with magnesium and provides 133 mg of this mineral per ½ cup serving of raw, hulled barley. 

Additionally, barley is rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that helps with digestion. A research study shows that high beta-glucan in barley may help regulate post-meal hyperglycemia in those living with type 2 diabetes.¹²

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Allergies

Barley is not considered gluten-free, so those who are allergic to wheat or gluten or have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, should avoid consuming barley. 

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to barley include skin reactions, gastrointestinal symptoms, respiratory problems, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. 

If you suspect an allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance to barley, please consult a healthcare professional.

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FAQs

What is Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels compared to a reference food, usually glucose. It ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher values indicating a faster rise in blood sugar. The glycemic index (GI) scale is typically categorized as follows: Low GI [55 or less], Medium GI [56-69], High GI [70 or higher]. Foods with a high glycemic index digest rapidly and can cause dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose or glucose spikes.

What is Glycemic Load?

Glycemic load (GL) takes into account both the quality (glycemic index) and quantity (carbohydrate content) of carbohydrates in a specific serving of food. It is a measure of how much a particular food will raise blood sugar levels. GL is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index of a food by its carbohydrate content and dividing it by 100. It provides a more accurate representation of the overall impact of a food on blood sugar compared to the glycemic index alone.

Does Barley Spike Insulin?

Yes, barley has been shown to spike insulin levels. Barley is a carbohydrate-rich food that can cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, leading to a corresponding increase in insulin secretion. However, the glycemic index of barley is relatively low, meaning that it causes a slower and more sustained increase in blood sugar levels compared to other high-carbohydrate foods. Additionally, the high fiber content of barley can help to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and reduce the overall glycemic response.

Is Barley Low Glycemic?

Yes, barley is considered a low glycemic index food due to its high fiber content and slow digestion. It can help regulate blood sugar levels and prevent spikes.

Can People Living with Diabetes Eat Barley?

Yes, people living with diabetes can eat barley as it is a low glycemic index food that helps regulate blood sugar levels. However, portion control is important as it still contains carbohydrates. Consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary recommendations.

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References

  1. A. Badr, K. M, R. Sch, H. El Rabey, S. Effgen, H. H. Ibrahim, C. Pozzi, W. Rohde, F. Salamini, (2000). On the Origin and Domestication History of Barley (Hordeum vulgare), Molecular Biology and Evolution, 17(4): 499–510, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a026330
  2. World barley production 2022/2023. (2023, February 16). Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/271973/world-barley-production-since-2008/#:~:text=The%20global%20production%20volume%20of,metric%20tons%20in%202020%2F2021.
  3. University of Sydney. (2023, May 1). Glycemic Index – Glycemic Index Research and GI Newshttps://glycemicindex.com/
  4. USDA FoodData Central. (2019, April 1). Food Details - Barley, hulled. Retrieved from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170283/nutrients
  5. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Comparison of hormone and glucose responses of overweight women to barley and oats. Journal of the American Nutrition Association. 2005 Jun;24(3):182-8. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2005.10719464. PMID: 15930484.
  6. Priebe MG, Wang H, Weening D, Schepers M, Preston T, Vonk RJ. Factors related to colonic fermentation of nondigestible carbohydrates of a previous evening meal increase tissue glucose uptake and moderate glucose-associated inflammation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 Jan;91(1):90-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28521. Epub 2009 Nov 4. PMID: 19889821.
  7. Kim H, Stote KS, Behall KM, Spears K, Vinyard B, Conway JM. Glucose and insulin responses to whole grain breakfasts varying in soluble fiber, beta-glucan: a dose response study in obese women with increased risk for insulin resistance. European Journal of Nutrition. 2009 Apr;48(3):170-5. doi: 10.1007/s00394-009-0778-3. Epub 2009 Feb 5. PMID: 19205780.
  8. Martínez I, Lattimer JM, Hubach KL, Case JA, Yang J, Weber CG, Louk JA, Rose DJ, Kyureghian G, Peterson DA, Haub MD, Walter J. Gut microbiome composition is linked to whole grain-induced immunological improvements. The ISME Journal. 2013 Feb;7(2):269-80. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.104. Epub 2012 Oct 4. PMID: 23038174; PMCID: PMC3554403.
  9. Soliman G. A. (2019). Dietary Fiber, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 11(5), 1155. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051155
  10. Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. Lipids significantly reduced by diets containing barley in moderately hypercholesterolemic men. Journal of the American Nutrition Association. 2004 Feb;23(1):55-62. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2004.10719343. PMID: 14963054.
  11. Barbagallo M, Dominguez LJ. Magnesium and type 2 diabetes. World Journal of Diabetes. 2015 Aug 25;6(10):1152-7. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i10.1152. PMID: 26322160; PMCID: PMC4549665.
  12. Fuse Y, Higa M, Miyashita N, Fujitani A, Yamashita K, Ichijo T, Aoe S, Hirose T. Effect of High β-glucan Barley on Postprandial Blood Glucose and Insulin Levels in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Clinical Nutrition Research. 2020 Jan 28;9(1):43-51. doi: 10.7762/cnr.2020.9.1.43. PMID: 32095447; PMCID: PMC7015725.
  13. Wanders AJ, van den Borne JJ, de Graaf C, Hulshof T, Jonathan MC, Kristensen M, Mars M, Schols HA, Feskens EJ. Effects of dietary fibre on subjective appetite, energy intake and body weight: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Obesity Reviews. 2011 Sep;12(9):724-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00895.x. Epub 2011 Jun 16. PMID: 21676152.
  14. Dikeman CL, Fahey GC. Viscosity as related to dietary fiber: a review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2006;46(8):649-63. doi: 10.1080/10408390500511862. PMID: 17092830.
  15. Clark MJ, Slavin JL. The effect of fiber on satiety and food intake: a systematic review. Journal of the American Nutrition Association. 2013;32(3):200-11. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2013.791194. PMID: 23885994.
  16. Ma, Y., Olendzki, B. C., Wang, J., Persuitte, G. M., Li, W., Fang, H., Merriam, P. A., Wedick, N. M., Ockene, I. S., Culver, A. L., Schneider, K. L., Olendzki, G. F., Carmody, J., Ge, T., Zhang, Z., & Pagoto, S. L. (2015). Single-Component Versus Multicomponent Dietary Goals for the Metabolic Syndrome. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(4), 248–257. https://doi.org/10.7326/m14-0611

About the author

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About the author

Brittany Barry is a national board-certified health coach and NASM-certified personal trainer based in South Carolina.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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