If you could predict your future, would you be doing anything differently? If you knew you were the one in two Americans that would someday have heart disease, would you want to change your lifestyle? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. It is an alarming statistic, but heart disease is being diagnosed at an earlier age than ever. 

Good news! 

February is National Heart Health month, a great time to focus on getting your risk factors under control. Adding in whole grains, such as barley, can help improve high cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

Whole grains include the entire grain seed: bran, germ, and endosperm. If the grain has been cracked, crushed, or flaked, it must retain the same relative proportions of these components to be called whole grain. Examples of whole grains are barley, bulgur, oats, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, and quinoa.

Refined grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ to create a finer texture and improve shelf life. Processing removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Examples of refined grains are sugary cereals, cookies, pastries, white rice, and white pasta. 

The Whole Grains Council recognizes Barley as February’s whole grain of the month, and for a good reason. Barley is a good source of: 

  • Protein
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Niacin
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Selenium
  • Thiamin

In addition to these nutrients, barley is around 17% fiber. To be sure you are getting whole barley, look for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp and barley labeled as whole, hulled, or hull-less, instead of pearled or semi-pearled.

Barley Reduces “Bad” Cholesterol Levels

Due to the fiber present in barley, studies have shown eating barley significantly lowered total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Soluble fiber present in barley keeps your digestion regular and healthy. It also helps reduce the number of cholesterol particles that enter your body by binding to it in the small intestine.  Fiber can move the cholesterol out of the body before it is absorbed.

According to www.lipid.org, eating 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day can help lower total and LDL-cholesterol by 5 to 11 points. Be sure to drink extra water as you increase your daily fiber intake. Fluid needs vary, but 9 to 12 cups of fluid a day are recommended for most healthy people. 

Barley Reduces High Blood Pressure Levels

A diet high in whole grains will be high in total fiber, which helps control weight and blood pressure levels. Whole grains also increase your intake of potassium, which is linked to lower blood pressure, therefore reducing damage to your blood vessels. Barley is naturally low in sodium. Eating a diet low in sodium and exercising 30 minutes a day will also help improve your blood pressure numbers.

Barley is an Inexpensive Addition to Your Plate

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet both recommend including whole grains as part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, the average American eats less than one serving per day, and almost half of all Americans never eat whole grains at all. 

Eating foods rich in soluble fiber is easier than most people think. The recommended fiber intake for adults is 25 g to 35 g daily. One serving, ½ cup of cooked barley has 8 grams of fiber. Here are some tasty ways you can add whole-grain barley to your meals and give yourself a heart-healthy boost:

Barley fruit muffins are the perfect snack- try them today!
  • Breakfast: 1/2 cup cooked whole barley in place of oatmeal, with berries and 2 tbsp ground flax 
  • Lunch: 1 cup chili made with beans and whole-grain barley
  • Snack: 1 small muffin partially made with barley flour
  • Dinner: Replace white rice in soups and casseroles with barley

Put together some healthy habits this month, and your heart will thank you. Expand your cooking skills and be sure to browse all the great recipes at https://www.eatbarley.com/recipes/.  In combination with eating more whole grains, work on eating more fruits and vegetables, exercise 30 minutes a day, and adopting some stress-relieving activities such as meditation and yoga. Together we can reduce the impact heart disease makes in our country and live long, happy lives.

April Bruns RDN, LD