Barley water is made from barley, which is believed to be one of the oldest grains in the world. Although it is not a staple of most American diets, there is growing evidence that barley and barley-based foods have a variety of health benefits.
Barley water is a drink made from water that has been cooked with barley. Sometimes the barley grains are strained out. Sometimes they are simply stirred in and mixed with a sweetener or fruit juice to make a drink that’s similar to lemonade. Barley water is consumed in some cultures for health benefits.
Unstrained barley water is high in calorie content, but low in fat. An average cup of barley water can be 700 calories or more. Because of this high calorie content, you shouldn’t drink more than two servings of unstrained barley water per day. When barley water is strained, or when barley grass is boiled into a tea, the drink has far less calories, but also less fiber, which is the source of many of its benefits.
Barley water is often flavored with lemon rind or lemon juice. The drink claims to help aid weight loss, flush toxins, keep your digestion regular, and more. Some of the health claims about barley water aren’t yet supported by medical research. Keep reading to find out if drinking barley water for health benefits is something you should consider.
Health benefits of barley water
Supports the immune system
In addition to the free-radical fighting properties of barley, and the vitamins and minerals in barley, barley water can support your immune system in another important way. When you flavor barley water with citrus (like lemon rind or orange peel), you’re giving your drink a supercharge of vitamin C that makes it even more beneficial for your health.
May reduce risk of cancer
Emerging cancer research points to the importance of diet and lifestyle choices to lower your risk of cancer. The fiber in barley can help protect your colon by expelling toxins that aren’t being removed during regular digestion. Beyond the fiber, it contains, barley also has ferulic acid which may actually keep tumors from growing. And one study found that colon cancer cells were stopped from reproducing by the antioxidants found in barley.
Cereal grains like barley contain high amounts of digestive fiber. Your body needs digestive fiber to move food through your stomach and out of your bowels. When you drink unstrained barley water, you’re adding a hydration component to this high fiber concentration. This means that your body’s ability to process toxins and get rid of water weight is supercharged. The Mayo Clinic recommends barley as a source of soluble fiber.
Rich in vitamins and antioxidants
Whether your barley water is made with pearl barley or hulled barley, it’s rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Folate (a B vitamin), iron, copper, and manganese are all found in large amounts in barley water. The antioxidants in barley water contribute to its many other health benefits because they enable healthy cell growth while getting rid of the free radicals that cause oxidative stress on your organs.
Promotes weight loss
The fiber content in unstrained barley water can help your digestion become more regular. It can also make you feel fuller for longer. Barley water hydrates you and contains lots of calories, but very little fat. These factors can make drinking barley water an effective strategy to stave off hunger and keep you from snacking in between meals. Combined with a healthy diet and exercise, barley water can aid in weight loss because it digests slowly and keeps you fuller for longer.
Controls blood sugar
Barley water has been tested for its ability to control blood sugar. Drinking unsweetened barley water can give you the benefit of controlling blood sugar spikes. People with diabetes may be particularly interested in the ability of barley water to lower blood sugar after eating. Barley water’s antioxidants help improve diabetes outcomes, too.
Drinking barley water or barley tea can affect your cholesterol levels. Chemicals in barley, called tocols, have been found to suppress LDL cholesterol and contribute to better overall cardiovascular health. The antioxidants in barley water also scavenge free radicals, which can cut down on the oxidative stress your heart feels from being exposed to toxins. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also studied and reported on the benefits of barley betafiber for heart disease and cholesterol.
How to make barley water
Barley water is easy to make. Many people choose to add natural flavorings, such as lemon, to the water to give it a better taste.
To make 6 cups of lemon barley water, a person will need:
- ¾ cup of pearl barley
- 2 lemons (juice and peel)
- ½ cup of honey
- 6 cups of water
A person can follow the steps below to make barley water:
- Rinse the barley under cold water until water runs clear.
- Put the barley in a saucepan, along with lemon peel and 6 cups of water.
- Bring the mixture to the boil over a medium heat.
- Turn down the heat and simmer for between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Strain the mixture into a heatproof bowl and discard the barley.
- Stir in the honey until it dissolves.
- Pour into bottles and refrigerate until chilled.
Note that while the honey will enhance the flavor, it will also add sugar. People looking to reduce sugar in their diet may wish to replace honey with a pinch of stevia.
Side effects and risks
Just because barley water has many health benefits doesn’t mean that you should consume it in high amounts. Some barley water recipes contain high concentrations of artificial sugars or sweeteners. Always read the ingredients before you drink barley water that’s been processed or packaged.
Drinking a lot of barley water when you aren’t used to drinking it can cause constipation or loose stools due to its dense fiber content. And the calorie count of one serving of barley water is equivalent to a full meal, so be careful not to drink too much in one sitting. It is also a gluten-containing grain so it should be avoided for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Barley contains gluten, so anyone with a wheat allergy or intolerance should avoid it. Symptoms of a wheat allergy may include:
- nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea