By Katrina Mouser

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans tell us to eat three servings of whole grains daily, yet studies show that most of us are eating less than one serving per day, and a shocking 40% of Americans never eat any whole grains. Looks like we have some work to do!

Why whole grains?

Over the past 150 years, we have shifted to eating ‘half-grains’ or should I say ‘barely-grains’ in our breads and cereals. In the late 1800s, milling technology changed to be able to easily remove the bran and germ from the grain to make flour. This was an exciting discovery until we had a nationwide outbreak of two diseases, pellagra and beriberi. Pellagra, a deficiency in vitamin B3 (niacin) and beriberi, a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine) – which can both lead to death if left untreated. The government responded by mandating those vitamins be added back, thus the term “enriched” was born – one which we still see commonly today. Enriched grains solved some major nutrient deficiencies, but pale in comparison to eating grains whole, as many vitamins and nutrients are still missing – as well as most of the fiber.

What is a whole grain?

Following is the official definition of whole grains, approved and endorsed by the Whole Grains Council in May 2004:

“Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”

This definition means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm º must be present to qualify as a whole grain. When consumed in their whole form, here is a list of generally accepted grains.



Brown and colored rice

(not white)


Corn, including whole

cornmeal and popcorn







Wheat (including spelt, farro, emmer, Kamut, bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries

The Whole Grains Council ( is a nonprofit group of nutrition experts who educate consumers about whole grains, and is a great resource for questions regarding whole grains. The council has a handy calendar that highlights one grain each month; for the month of February, it features barley. Barley is an important grain historically speaking, is fourth in world grain production, and yet most of us just associate it with hip brew-pubs, and have maybe never tasted it as a whole grain.

In 1324, Edward II of England established barley as the basis of the English measuring system declaring that one inch is equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.” All other English measurement standards layered upon this – the foot, yard, and mile. The barley measurement standard for one inch lasted all the way into the 1800s.

Today most of the barley produced goes into animal feed or alcohol, and unfortunately does not get the spotlight it deserves for human consumption. The European Union and Russia consume the majority of the world’s barley; the US comes in ninth.

When shopping for barley, get your glasses out. Most barley available is labeled as ‘pearl’ or ‘pearled’ barley, meaning that it has been stripped of its bran and is NOT considered a whole grain. You’ll want to look for ‘hulless’ barley which has had the outer hull removed to make it edible – but leaves the grain intact.  You can also buy barley grits, flakes, or flour – again, look for a hulless barley source.

If fiber is your mantra, then barley is your guy. Barley has the highest percentage of fiber of all grains, 17-30%, whereas wheat is 10% fiber. In 1/3 cup dry barley, which cooks up to 1 cup, there is about 200 calories, 10 grams fiber and 7 grams protein.

I know it’s good for me,

but what do I do with barley?

Barley has a wonderfully nutty flavor and chewy texture, and is easy to cook with.  Depending on the variety, takes 45-60 minutes to cook on the stovetop, but if you are lucky enough to have an instant pot, that will reduce the cook time greatly.  It can be added to stews/soups in the crockpot easily too.  Barley can make a great base for a power bowl or salad, or substituted for bulgur or wheat berries in any recipe.

Barley Lentil Stew (9 servings)

2 large onions, chopped

2 c. chopped carrots

2 T. olive or canola oil

1 T. minced garlic

2 t. ground cumin

4 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained

1 c. lentils, rinsed

1 T. brown sugar

1 cinnamon stick (3 inches)

1/2 c. uncooked barley

1/2 c. minced fresh parsley

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

9 T. fat-free plain yogurt

In a nonstick skillet, sauté the onions and carrots in oil for 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add garlic and cumin; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, lentils, brown sugar and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the barley. Cover and cook for 55-60 minutes or until lentils and barley are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, salt and pepper. Discard cinnamon stick. Serve in bowls with a dollop of yogurt. This soup is even better the next day.

Barley Jambalaya

2 c. chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1-1/4 c. barley

1/2 lb. cooked diced chicken

1/2 lb. sliced andouille or kielbasa sausage

1/2 c. sweet bell pepper (use any color), diced

1 10-oz can diced tomatoes with or without chiles

1/4 c. canola oil

1 T. smoked paprika (must use smoked, not regular!)

Salt, freshly ground black pepper and hot pepper sauce, optional

1 bunch scallions, sliced


In a large stockpot, add the chicken stock and bay leaf and bring to a boil.

Add barley, chicken, sausage, bell pepper, tomatoes, oil and paprika. Stir, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook on the stovetop for 50-60 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Discard the bay leaf. Season to taste with salt, pepper and hot sauce. Top with sliced scallion before serving.

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