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Barley could help people with type 2 diabetes manage blood sugar levels and lose weight

Researchers in Sweden have found a dietary benefit of eating barley that can help reduce blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Published: Feb 23, 2016
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The team at Lund University found that barley contains a mixture of fibres that can help slow down metabolism, which in turn makes people less hungry.

Being overweight is often linked with developing type 2 diabetes and researchers found that in addition to reducing appetite, barley could also lower rates of other health complications, like cardiovascular disease.


Researcher Anne Nilsson cutting barley bread

Anne Nilsson, Associate Professor at the Food for Health Science Centre at Lund University and one of the researchers behind the study, said: “It is surprising yet promising that choosing the right blend of dietary fibres can - in a short period of time - generate such remarkable health benefits.”

The study, recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition, was conducted with healthy middle-aged participants who were asked to eat bread largely made out of barley kernels for three days - at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Approximately 11–14 hours after their final meal of the day researchers looked at the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease for those taking part.

In addition to an improvement in metabolism researchers found other benefits, including decreases in blood sugar and insulin levels, increases in insulin sensitivity and improved appetite control. The positive effects where found when the special mixture of dietary fibres in barley kernel reached the gut, stimulating the increase of good bacteria and the release of important hormones.

Professor Nilsson said: “After eating the bread made out of barley kernel, we saw an increase in gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite, and an increase in a hormone that helps reduce chronic low-grade inflammation, among the participants. In time this could help prevent the occurrence of both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

A previous related study by researchers at University of Gothenburg in Sweden also found that dietary fibres from barley kernel could generate an increase of the gut bacteria Prevotella copri, which had a direct regulatory effect on blood sugar levels and help decrease the proportion of a type of gut bacteria that is considered unhealthy.

The effects from barley kernel were influenced by the make-up of the person’s gut microbiota, meaning people with low concentrations of the Prevotella copri bacteria experienced less effect from their intake of barley products. Eating more barley could, according to researchers, help stimulate growth of the bacteria.

Researchers said they hoped that more knowledge about the impact of specific dietary fibres on people’s health could eventually result in more food products with healthy properties such as barley kernels being available in shops. They added that they would like to encourage more people to use barley in meals for example in salads, soups, stews, or as an alternative to rice or potatoes.

Watch: The below video explains the findings of the study:

Read the DRWF leaflet A healthy diet and diabetes here

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