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Diabetes Diet

Naked Barley: The Best Grain

Pearl barley has by far the lowest glycemic index of any grain ever tested. Its GI is 25. Next lowest is rye, but only in the form of its whole kernels, with a GI of 34. Low glycemic is good for people with diabetes, because it has little effect on our blood glucose levels.
But pearl barley is not a whole grain, according to the National Barley Foods Council. When processors prepare pearl barley, we lose some of the insoluble fiber, trace minerals, and micronutrients.
The government’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005” encourages us to eat whole grains. Its definition of a whole grain is one that “must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the original grain.”
If we look hard enough, we can get the whole grain form of barley. It almost certainly has an even lower glycemic index than pearl barley.
Whole grain barley goes by many names. Most common is “hulless barley,” at least according to a Google search, which returns 31,300 hits. But 16,000 sites call it “hull-less barley.” Even less common is “hullless barley,” with just 61 hits.
Because all those letter “l’s” come together, the name is awkward. I prefer to call it “naked barley.” Anyway, that’s what processors often call it. It’s not what most people have in mind when they put a “Get Naked” bumper sticker on their cars, but it’s probably a better idea.
You can get naked barley, aka hulless barley, at some of the larger Wild Oats stores. A great Internet and mail order source of hulless barley that I have used for years is Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods in Milwaukie, Oregon.
Naked barley has a pleasant chewy texture and more fiber and nutritional value than pearl barley. Unlike most grains, it takes 4 cups of water to every cup of barley. I learned that lesson early on, when I used just a 2 to 1 proportion and produced something that was almost inedible.
Nowadays, I cook it in a small rice cooker that has become solely my barley cooker. I add the naked barley to soups – particularly Campbell’s very low sodium cream of mushroom soup, stews, and curries. You can use naked barley everywhere that you formerly used rice.
Naked barley makes a great low-GI breakfast. Sweeten it with Splenda, add some cinnamon and soy milk, and you have a real comfort food.
Whole Control’s Golden Barley Cereal that I wrote about here in November 2005 is a special, all-natural variety of naked (hulless) barley. This is my most frequent breakfast.
In the United States we use barley as food for our animals and as malted barley for the beer industry. There is a new demand for it for in ethanol production. I prefer to drink my malted barley as single malt Scotch whisky print and to eat it naked.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Wendy at

    But how long do you cook hullless barley? The longer it’s cooked the higher the digestible starches and thus GI. I read it takes an hour which is twice normal pearl barley, apparently. Your wonderful GI table only specifies 25 mins cooking which surely wouldn’t be long enough?

    • David Mendosa at

      Yes, it does take a long time to cook hullless barley, Wendy. It’s usually not quite an hour, but is certainly longer than pearl barley. But I wonder if it really is true that when you cook something longer the more digestible the starch becomes. I guess the best way for you to determine whether it has a high GI in your body is by checking your blood glucose just before and then two hours after the first bite of the barley, and nothing else. I did that years ago, and it had little effect on my body.

  • Marilyn at

    I am diabetic and I eat the ancient grain from Tibet known as Brady’s Black Barley. This is an upcoming superfood raised by PostlewaitFarms.com in Canby Oregon. I feel so much better when I eat this barley and have no bloating or tired feeling. Check out this source for other great superfoods i.e. Naked Pumpkin Seeds.

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Marilyn,

      Thank you for writing this for us!



  • Acharya at

    I had an MI (unstable angina) 15 years back. I refused bypass surgery and had medication for a week and stopped it. Then it was all diet,yoga and a number of things. I have been living a normal, active life. The main constituent of my Indian vegetarian diet were oats and barley. Over a period of time it has become largely barley. It is an easy substitute for rice and wheat in almost all cereal dishes. And change was not difficult to accept. barley apart from soluble fibre has beta glucan too. And for the farmer in India the input costs are not high!

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Acharya,

      Good for you. Hull less barley is much lower glycemic than any other grain.



  • Pauline Samuel at

    Speaking of fiber and diabetes, I use pot barley in soups and bread . Pot barley, I believe, is the closest one can get to having the full fiber benefits for those who are diabetics. It is believed to cure waterlogging in one’s feet as well.

  • Brenda Garza at

    I would like to know the glycemic index of oat groats and black barley. Thank you.

  • Gopalen at

    Let me add to my previous comments. A roti made with equal parts of flours of Barley , Bengal Gram (channa dal) and Foxtail Millet has a GI of 34. This is from a study in India by Dr. Ankita Sharma PhD and Dr. Maya Chowdry PhD. This can be seen on the web.

    There is another study from Japan and Korea (jointly) on the “Effects of Korean Foxtail Millet on Plasma Adiponectin , HDL- Cholestrol and Insulin Levels in Genetically TypeII Diabetic Mice” which concludes that the Protein of Foxtail Millet is enefial to human health. the abstract is seen in “(www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bbb/69/1/69_31/_article”. If you are unable to open the site please email me. I will send the full article as an attachment. Thanks. Gopalen

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Gopalen,

      Thanks for sharing your discoveries. I am glad to share your messages on my website.

      Best regards,


  • Gopalen at

    Dear Mr. Mendosa

    Foxtail Millet is also proving to be a very low GI millet. I am eating it for the last 6 months with phenomenal results. My blood glucose was above 200 8 months ago and i was depressed. I was on oral meds. I switched to Lantus and started eating only fotail millet as staple along with my usual food completely cutting out rice and wheat and potato. This millet fills me up pretty much and my hunger levels reduced. my weight came down from 90 to 78 kgs ifn a short time. I did not feel tiered. I tried this diet on 12 persons who work in my factory and whose glucose levels were more than 120. the age group was 24 to 58. all of them reported better control in a very short period. I contacted Sygney university where Ms. Jeanne Brand miller works and they replied they had not evaluated this millet. I found in another site that Laddu ( an india sweet) made with Amaranth, Foxtail millet soaked in Sugar Syrup had a GI of 24! I found Amaranth had around 80 GI. So I concluded that Foxtail Millet should be below 24. may be 20 or less! It is continuing to pay dividends. I started with 16 units of Lantus and 1000mg of Metformin twice a day. now I am on 11 units and same metformin dose. my glucose lecels are below 100. Please try to propagate this in your web site after you give it a test. It will help all diabetics Thanks . Gopalen.