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Food & Recipes

How Barley Water Helps Balance Blood Sugar, Lower Cholesterol, and Boost Gut Health


We all know we need to stay hydrated for optimal health. The benefits of drinking plenty of water throughout the day are well established, including having more energy, fewer headaches, and even losing weight. But what if there was a way to add extra healthy perks to your ordinary H20?

We aren’t talking about infusing your water with fruits and veggies, but reaching for barley instead. As Rachel Laudan, historian and author of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History ($20.99, Amazon), explains on her blog, barley water, which is made by boiling the grain and straining it, dates all the way back to Ancient Greece. She describes the drink as “milky in color” and “so mild in flavor as to be almost tasteless.”

Although most of the current evidence supporting the health benefits of barley water are anecdotal, passed down through generations of cultures across the globe, there’s some research that backs up sipping this historical beverage. For starters, a 2014 study confirmed that the grain is full of powerful antioxidants that help fight off chronic inflammation. Researchers note that the levels decrease slightly when boiled in water, but still pack a pretty potent punch.

An earlier study from 2013 found that consuming barley aided in balancing blood sugar. Another study from 2016 discovered that barley could also ward off harmful lipids. All of those observations led the researchers to believe that barley has even more potential to keep cardiovascular disease at bay, diminishing the risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients with high cholesterol or diabetes.

Of course, like any other grain, barley is a great source of fiber, which we all know can aid in digestion and gut health — even when boiled down with hot water. In fact, this seems to be the biggest reason people brewed their own barley water to sip on throughout history.

Fans of Alton Brown and his original Good Eats series might remember the Food Network host dedicating an entire episode to all of the amazing reasons we should add barley to our diets. He even ended that installment with his own recipe for barley water (hilariously pretending to be a doctor subscribing it to a patient for its anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits). Brown recommends making big batches by boiling two quarts of water per one cup of hulled barley. He adds in the zest and juice of two lemons, plus 1/4 of honey for a little extra sweetness, then strains the barley from the water before letting the whole thing chill in the fridge.

You can find pre-hulled barley at your grocery store or online (One to try: One in a Mill Pearl Barley — Buy from Amazon, $15) to brew up and see if you enjoy all of the delicious health benefits!

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