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Barley Beta-Glucans in Diabetes Prevention

Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, a pre-cursor to diabetes, affect millions of people around the world. The good news is that both of these potentially serious conditions can be controlled and even prevented though certain lifestyle and dietary choices. One of the most important dietary tips for people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance is to eat plenty of healthy, fiber-rich foods. Beta-glucan, a type of water-soluble fiber abundant in barley and a few other foods, has been shown to be particularly effective at improving insulin sensitivity, or the body's ability to respond to insulin. The great thing about barley is that it contains fiber throughout the entire kernel, which means that also more processed forms, such as pearl barley, contain some fiber.

In this article, we take a look at some of the most interesting modern studies done on the ability of barley and/or beta-glucans to prevent or control diabetes or insulin resistance. But before we delve into these studies, let's take a quick look at what causes type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance:

What Causes Diabetes and Insulin Resistance?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin to function properly, or when the body's cells do not respond to insulin (failure of the body to respond to insulin is also known as insulin resistance). In healthy people, insulin prevents large post-meal rises in blood sugar levels by directing glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the body's muscle and fat cells. In people with diabetes, cells become starved of their fuel, and the body may suffer from a lack of energy. This is why diabetic people often feel tired and weak.

Overview of Studies on Beta-Glucan Fiber (Found in Barley) and Diabetes

A Dutch cross-over study published in the January 2010 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of cooked barley kernels and refined wheat bread on blood sugar levels in 10 healthy men. The men were asked to eat one or the other of these grains at dinner, and the next day, each participant received a high glycemic index breakfast containing 50 grams of glucose. The men who had eaten the barley dinner showed 30% better insulin sensitivity the next morning after the high glycemic breakfast, compared with the men who had had white wheat bread for dinner.

The findings of the Dutch study described above may not come as a surprise since it is well known that refined white bread has a high glycemic index rating. Products made with whole wheat flour, instead of white flour, are considered much better for people at increased risk of insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. And, that is what makes the findings of a clinical trial published in the August 2006 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition so interesting: in this study, the participants who ate cookies and crackers made with barley flour enriched with beta-glucan soluble fiber experienced significant reductions in glucose and insulin responses, compared with when they ate the same products made with whole wheat flour.

A study published in the December 2006 issue of the journal Nutrition Research found that consumption of muffins containing barley beta-glucan caused significant reductions in glucose and insulin responses in men suffering from mild insulin resistance. Beta-glucan muffins appeared to be even more effective than muffins containing resistant starch, a type of starch that isn't fully broken down during digestion and that has been shown to lower glycemic responses in earlier studies.

In an American study published in 2005, USDA scientists observed the glycemic responses of 10 overweight, middle-aged women after feeding the women with barley flakes, barley flour, rolled oats, oat flour, and glucose. The researchers found that the peak glucose and insulin levels were significantly lower after barley consumption than after consumption of either glucose or oats. The size of the processed grain did not seem to matter as both flour and flakes had similar effects. This intriguing study appeared in the June 2005 edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

In 2009, a team of scientists led by USDA researcher Hyunsook Kim published a study investigating the effects of five different breakfast cereal test meals on the insulin responses of 17 obese women at increased risk for insulin resistance. The test meals contained either wheat or barley, or both, and provided varying amounts of beta-glucan (0, 2.5, 5, 7.5 and 10 grams). This study, published in the April 2009 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition, found that the test meal that contained 10 grams of barley beta-glucan significantly reduced peak glucose response and delayed the rate of glucose response.

How to Incorporate Barley into Your Diet?

Barley and Diabetes

Incorporating barley into your diet is easy. Use rolled barley flakes to make hearty breakfast porridge (for details, see our porridge cooking times chart. Pearl barley and whole grain hulled barley are wonderful in soups and stews, but they can also be used to add more fiber and nutrients to salads. And black barley, a heirloom variety that has been making a comeback in recent years, makes a funky looking side dish that is sure to impress at the dinner table. Pearl barley is readily available in supermarkets, but if you are looking for some less common barley products such as barley flour, flakes, black barley or organic hulled barley, check out our article on where to buy barley in the US and UK.

Book You May Like
Low GI Cookbook In The Low GI Diet Cookbook (from the New York Times bestselling series The New Glucose Revolution), the world's leading authorities on the Glycemic Index deliver 100 mouthwatering recipes that incorporate the top 100 low-GI foods. You will find recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, plus some divine desserts to keep your sweet tooth satisfied. A real treasure trove of recipes for anyone looking to switch to a low GI diet, this book available from and .