Looking for an alternative to your a.m. bowl of oatmeal? Barley could be a strong contender. Research published this week in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found barley has cholesterol-lowering powers similar to those of oats—but with significantly fewer calories. A half-cup of barley has fewer than 100 calories (plus 3 grams of fiber and about 2 grams of protein, if you're keeping count at home) compared to oatmeal's 150 cals.
Researchers behind the review analyzed 14 studies and looked at how barley impacts "bad" cholesterol and lipids, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL), non-high-density lipoprotein (non-HDL), and apolipoprotein B, which carries these bad types of cholesterol through the bloodstream. Their findings could have you beelining to the grain aisle: A daily diet filled with 6.5 to 6.9 grams of the fiber beta-glucan (which translates to about 3/4 cup of pearl barley) reduced both LDL and non-HDL levels by 7 percent after four weeks. And that leads to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Generally, these health issues are treated with medications, but this research indicates that a simple diet change could also help.
You're not alone if you don't currently stock up on the grain. The review mentions that barley consumption has dropped by 35 percent in the past decade. But it's easier to cook with than you might think. Aside from eating it solo like you would oatmeal, it adds heartiness to soup, turns veggies into a meal, and builds flavor-packed risotto.
Oh, and since we know you're wondering: Beer isn't the best way to meet your daily barley quota. Even though the grain is used in the malting process, much of the protein, fiber, and beta-glucans end up as by-products that don't make it into the bottle, according to a Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety review.