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Diabetes Diet

The Best Grain

Lately I have been eating a lot of beans. They are an almost perfect food for people with diabetes, because they have a lot of protein and so little effect on our blood glucose level.

But beans aren’t perfect because the protein they have is incomplete. They lack some essential amino acids.

Eating some grain with the beans gives that perfect balance. If you have diabetes, the only problem is to decide what is the best grain.

We need to eat at least three ounces of whole grains every day, according to the 2005 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” . They say that at least half of the grains that we eat should be whole.

That best way to get that grain certainly has to be a certain form of barley. That’s partly because barley has by far the lowest glycemic index of any grain ever tested. Barley has half the glycemic index of the grain that we eat the most, wheat. Researchers have tested barley in five separate studies and came out with an average of 21 on the index where glucose is 100. That means we can eat twice as much barley as whole wheat kernels and five times as much barley as glucose for the same increase in our blood glucose.

Barley is also a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, and calcium. Like oats, it is an excellent source of soluble fiber, which probably helps to lower cholesterol levels.

Those glycemic index tests were of pearled barley, which is the form of barley that we eat the most. Pearled barley is the most processed. They remove all the outer hulls and endosperm, leaving only the inner pearl.

Pot or Scotch barley is less processed. They just remove the hulls, leaving the endosperm and pearl. But even this minimally processed barley has lost the vast majority of protein, fiber, fat, and minerals.

They don’t remove anything from hulless barley. When we eat hulless barley, we eat the whole kernel, including the nutrient-rich bran and germ.

This means that hulless barley is truly the best form of the best grain.

Researchers haven’t tested hulless barley yet for its glycemic index, which has to be even lower than that of pearled barley because of the much greater fiber it has. The reason that they haven’t tested it yet is probably because very few people have ever heard of it.

While barley is a major crop around the world, people in the United States eat only 2 percent of what we grow, according to the National Barley Foods Council. Animals eat most of it, and a lot is used to make beer.

Hulless is a really small proportion of the 2 percent of America’s barley crop. It is such a small amount that the largest retailer of natural and organic foods – Whole Foods (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/) – doesn’t sell it.

It is, nevertheless, becoming better known and more popular. A great source of hulless barley that I have used for years is Bud and Jean Clem’s Cowboy Foods in Bozeman, Montana.

Another good source is Bob’s Red Mill in Milwaukie, Oregon. These people call it “hull-less barley,” which actually makes more sense.

There must be a spelling rule that prohibits three letters in a row. At any rate, I can’t think of any such word, and logically it should be spelled hullless barley. But almost nobody spells it that way. Google finds 14,500 occurrences of “hulless barley,” 765 for “hull-less barley” (including Bob’s Red Mill) and only 42 for “hullless barley.” Reluctantly, I will follow the majority, because the rules of English spelling are descriptive and not prescriptive.

The only store that I know that sells hulless barley is the second largest retailer of natural and organic foods – Wild Oats. I have bought it at their flagship store in Superior, Colorado, near my home.

Once you get hulless barley home you, of course, need to cook it, and that can be a problem too. I still remember when I cooked my first hulless barley more than 10 years ago. I hated it.

But it was me that was the problem, not the hulless barley. Unless you cook it long enough and with enough water, it can be awfully chewy, and at that time I didn’t cook it correctly.

Nowadays, I always cook it in my rice cooker. Recipes for barley differ in the amount of water to use, but I follow the Joy of Cooking recommendation of four cups water to one cup barley to make it soft. Use less water if you want it firmer.

The best way to get started with hulless barley is to substitute it for about half of the rice that you might otherwise eat. Adding it to the bean stews like I have been eating lately is also simple and tasty.

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

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  • Blair at


    I eat hull-less barley almost every evening. I make a pilaf with half organic brown rice, and half hull-less barley (both from Bob’s Red Mill).

    I soak/ferment the grains for 24 hours, then rinse and cook in a rice cooker with fresh water (4:1), with just a little salt. It does take about an hour to get done, but turns out great! I add a chopped green onion 5 mins before it’s done.

    I eat this with curried lentils, it’s FABULOUS and super-healthy.

    • David Mendosa at

      You are cooking the hull-less barley just right, Blair. And I like the ideas of green onions and curried lentils. But as much as I like rice, I will skip it, because the rice will raise my blood glucose too much. Can you please share how you make the curried lentils?

  • Jessica at

    My grandparents were missionaries in Korea and they fell in love with a tea from Korea: roasted barley tea or boricha. I make it still today! I use 2 tablespoons of hull-less barley and roast it in a pan for about 5 min, then I pour in 4 cups water and let it boil for 10 minutes. It has a refreshing and nutty flavor!

    Another way to eat your barley is to mill it to make a flour. You can buy a grainmill or some people even use their high-power blenders to make the flour. The product is (obviously) 100% whole grain and doesn’t even compare, flavor wise, to any flour you can buy at the store. I’ve had gestational diabetes and I knew I had to change my eating habits if I wanted to prevent diabetes so I began milling all my flour and the changes in my health has been astonishing. One of my friends with diabetes noticed how low her blood sugar was when she ate my homemade ezekial bread (which contains barley as well as several other grains). I use a combination of barley and soft white wheat to make muffins and they are as light and tasty as any muffin you buy at the bakery! You all have to try barley flour!!

  • Ann Lachman at

    here’s an idea: wash 1 cup hulless barley,add to 3 cups water, boil for 5 minutes, cover and let stand for 2 hrs. until soft. You can freeze this and use it later in soups, salads, pilaf, cereal.
    I think mushroom-barley soup is the best. Or Beef-mushroom-barley soup.
    Also try a cold salad/slaw with chopped green onions, grated carrot, whatever other veggies..& salad dressing.

  • pamzelle at

    bought some
    tried it
    not bad, especially with sauteed onions!

    • David Mendosa at

      Good for you! I haven’t been eating it for a while, but I ordered 25 pounds just a few days ago. I will try it with your sauteed onions. And with mushrooms, of course.

      Best regards,

  • Susan at

    Can you use a slow cooker to cook hull-less barley? If so any recipes?

    • David Mendosa at

      Dear Susan,

      Yes. I haven’t done so myself but have heard that it works very well.



  • Ram Inamdar at

    Dr. Mendosa,
    I will like to know about Long wheet, nachani & bajari for diabetic food. What are the glycemic index fo above grains.

    Please let me know.

    Ram Inamdar

  • DUG853 at

    I’m not sure but I’d ‘imagine’ that anything that reduces the concentration of carbs in the digestive tract may slow down absorption.

    Therefore, if insoluble-fiber is present then it may further reduce the concentration-?

    Just wondering.

  • Ann Lachman at

    re:fiber: I think soluble fiber is what keeps the blood sugar down. thats the great thing about HULLESS barley. it has a ton. The hulls from non-hulled barley is non-soluble fiber. good bulk, but not the same …

  • Ann Lachman at

    Hi- if you roast the barley first over the stove, until it ‘pops’ open (sort of like popped corn but less dramatically) and add this to soup, it cooks WAY faster and adds a nice roasted flavor to the soup. Just try it w/your favorite mushroom and/or beef barley soup recipe.
    I roast the barley in a stainless steel mesh collandar right on the gas flame…keep it shaking…

  • alan at

    alton brown has a great way to cook:

    1 cup (rinsed) hull-less barley in baking dish
    2 cups water or chick/beef/veg stock or broth
    heat to boiling
    pour over barley & mix well
    cover dish with aluminum foil and put lid on dish
    to cover tightly.
    bake @ 375 for 1 hour – fluff with fork & serve.

    you can google alton’s recipe; i think he may
    add butter and/or salt too.

    the barley always turns out great.

  • Acharya at

    Barley(along with rice) is the most ancient food of India, It is mentioned in the Vedas. It is the traditional diet in some parts of India. The bizarre food and agricultural policies of Government of India is killing barley and millets and has resulted in a major spurt in metabolic diseases. Barley with it hull removes(not the pearl) and broken can be used in almost all cereal dishes of India. It can be used as a flour pure or mixed in rotis, chapatties etc. And it has an enhanced taste. It has rightly been described as the food of Gods.

  • fiber is our friend at

    If you want yet more fiber along with your barley, look for ‘sprouting barley’–it has even more husk on it than hulled barley does.

    If your local store doesnt carry it, you may have to order some online.

    Both hulled and sprouting barley do best if put in water, brought to a boil, then slam a lid on, an let sit an hour or so before a final cooking session.

    And yes, yes, yes, barley flakes are a blessed convenience if you want to eat barley cereal but are in a hurry.

    ?? Toasting barley brings out the flavor. However, I dont know if the browning might add oxidized substances that are bad for us, biochemically.

    Another foodstuff: There is now tofu available, made from sprouted soy. This has more protein than carbohydrate–all one has to do is compare the label on sprouted soy tofu with the label ingredients on ‘ordinary’ tofu.

    If my memory isnt too bad, I think the brand is wildwood. Ive ground a chunk of it into liquid and used it to boost protein content in cooked cereal and also when making bread or pancakes (done with a long fermentation for both flavor and to lower GI)

  • Geo at

    Job’s Tears or Hato Mugi is an entirely different grain than barley. It is excellent and a whole grain but it will have a different nutritional profile from barley.
    Just wanted to set the record straight.

  • Kathy at

    I would like to know how can barley be cooked without losing its properties….I would think that once it gets to a bowling heat of 150+ and cooking for a long time, it would lose properties.
    Hope you can find out.
    Thank you

  • Doug Jewett, Ann Arbor at

    I would like to respond to some of the questions and comments above by mentioning my most recent experience with (in this case purple) hulless barley.

    I bought the barley from Western Trails Food (westerntrailsfood.com) a farm-to-table CoOp in Glendive Montana. My contact there was Peggy Iba. I bought 60 lbs altogether. They shipped it, 3 5 lb. bags per priority mail flat rate box for $10.70 per box. This rate applies to anywhere in the continental US. This is a great bargain on shipping, making it possible to consider hulless barley as a substantial component of one’s diet.

    Being a little on the uncivilized side, I handle the barley minimally so it stays alive as long as possible. I soak it in excess water overnight, then wash and drain it, then keep it moist in the strainer for up to an additional 24 hours. When small sprouts have emerged I transfer the barley to containers to go into the refrigerator. (It tastes the same if you freeze it, but I assume freezing kills the embryos.) To prepare it I simply put the desired amount in a bowl that I can cover, add about 1/4 cup water and microwave on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes. If you have time to chew this well and mindfully it’s quite subtle and satisfactory, and can be used instead of rice or pasta. I’m pretty sure the glycemic index is low, but I haven’t checked my glucose response yet. More later on this.

  • Ann Lachman at

    just wanted to update the info in above article – the Cowboy Foods was sold to: http://www.farmtotablecoop.com/they have nice hulless barley products.
    If you want to try my 100% hulless barley cereal, please email me: [email protected]
    I can ship it anywhere.

  • Ann Lachman at

    Hulless barley has a modulating effect on the serum glucose and insulin levels. The large amount of beta-glucan soluble fiber slows down digestion and absorption of complex carbohydrates so serum glucose levels are kept at an even level for a longer period of time. This also results in not feeling hungry quite so fast.

  • Naina at

    If hulled barley is different from hulless (naked)barley, does eating ‘hulled’ barley help in controlling sugar for diabetics? Any idea what is its GI?

    • David Mendosa at

      Tbey are different. Hulless barley is lower glycemic for sure. But hasn’t been tested.

  • DUG853 at

    I have no access to a stove, so I have to use a microwave or other devices with which to cook

  • Ann Lachman at

    I bet if you soak the barley overnight, rinse it off, add fresh water and boiled it on the stove – it would taste better and cook faster than in the microwave.

    A pressure cooker would also work really well & fast. Better than a rice cooker, I would think.

  • DUG853 at

    I tried cooking the barley (1 cup dry) in the microwave tonight, the container that I cooked it in has a ‘steam-vent’ so after I’d cooked it on the lowest power setting for an half-hour I noticed that it was almost dry.

    I added four more cups of water and cooked it for another half-hour, then I had to add 2 more cups of water and cooked it for another half-hour. (90 min total)

    It came out ‘edible’-enough. IMPO

    I’ll next buy a rice cooker and see how that goes.

  • Ann Lachman at

    me again –
    I just wanted to clarify something for some people – “Hulless” barley grows without a big hull.
    “Hulled” is a completely different type of barley – it has a big hull and needs alot of processing to make into human food. “hulled” variety is mainly grown for pig feed and beer making. “Pearled” is the hulled but even more processed down.

    “Hulless” variety has been cultivated by people for human food for something like 8,000 yeas, at least. There are many types of hulless. white, purple, blue, red, yellow…if you can find it!

  • Ann Lachman at

    You can buy “rolled” hulless barley and cook it like oatmeal in the microwave.

    I suppose you could boil whole hulless barley in the microwave, but i have never tried that.

    soaking overnight & rinsing before cooking is a good idea. It makes the barley cook faster and get softer.
    or you can toast the grain first. that adds a nice flavor and cuts down on the cooking time.

    OR you could buy my INSTANT Tibetan barley cereal! No cooking needed – its already roasted.

  • DUG853 at

    I’m wondering if there is any way to cook the hull-less barley in a microwave-?

  • Ann Lachman at

    The Tibetan people have been eating the hulless variety of barley for thousands of years. I make and sell the traditional Tibetan barley cereal, called, tsampa. The grain is roasted to a ‘pop’ and then ground it in a stone mill. You can then mix it with butter and tea, as the Tibetans do, into a very thick porrage, or make any kind of porridge with it, adding anything you like. It has a delicious toasty, nutty flavor. Since tsampa is aready cooked, it is a quick convenient meal or snack. It is so healthful. Since I have been eating it almost everyday for 2 years, I have lost a considerable amount of weight and kept it off pretty effortlessly. I do not mean this to be just an advertisment for my product, but wish to get the word out about the wonderful properties of hulless barley.
    thank you,

  • David Mendosa at

    Dear Dick,

    Sorry that I confused you!

    Rolled barley is not hulless barley. And hulless barley does not remove the hulls!

    Best regards,


  • Dick Rochon at

    Hi again, David.

    What about rolled barley? Is it hulless?

    Above, in paragraph 8 you say, “They just remove the hulls, leaving the endosperm and pearl. But even this minimally processed barley has lost the vast majority of protein, fiber, fat, and minerals.”

    Than in paragraph, you say, “They don’t remove anything from hulless barley. When we eat hulless barley, we eat the whole kernel, including the nutrient-rich bran and germ.

    This means that hulless barley is truly the best form of the best grain.”

    Does “hulless” mean they have removed, or left on the hulls?


  • David Mendosa at

    Dear Sherry,

    Interesting. I’ve never heard of Jobs Tears before!

    Best regards,


  • Sherry Masser at

    You can find hulless barley in some Asian markets. It also sometimes called Jobs Tears.