Forty years ago — give or take a few years — oats and barley were staples in everyday meals. A bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or a hearty soup with barley at dinnertime added fiber and nutrition to a meal, without costing a lot of money. Over the past decade, barley and oats have been pushed aside by “trendier” grains like basmati rice, quinoa (learn more: Ancient Grains Are Making a Comeback), and millet. Recently, however, oats and barley are finding their way into a variety of food products including nutrition bars, beverages and even ice cream.
Both these healing foods contain a ton of natural compounds that are beneficial to your health. These nutrients include tocopherols, phenolics, and phytosterols, as well as soluble and insoluble fibers.
The real special ingredient that oats and barley have, though, is one called beta-glucan.
Beta-glucan is a unique type of soluble fiber that is thought to lower cholesterol levels and exert an anti-diabetic effect. Beta-glucan helps your body to increase the excretion of bile acids and cholesterol, while at the same time reducing fat absorption. Of all the common cereals (wheat, rye, oats and barley), the largest amounts of beta-glucan are found in barley (three percent to 11%) and oats (three percent to seven percent).
Researchers at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Hokuriku University, Japan, recently studied the antioxidant activity of beta-glucan to assess potential new health benefits associated with this unique fiber. In particular, the researchers wanted to know if beta-glucan could play a role in fighting oxidative stress — now considered one of the primary causes for various diseases and aging.
The research team found that beta-glucan extracted from barley was found to possess significant antioxidant activity. The researchers say that beta-glucan holds promise as a supplement and food additive with antioxidant and other benefits, which may contribute to the enhancement of health and beauty.
While further investigation is needed, it’s clear that both barley and oatmeal are full of fiber and antioxidants that could fight free-radical damage and act like an anti-aging solution.
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