Barley vs Rye - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Even though rye and barley have similar nutritional values, barley is comparably richer in calories, proteins, fats, and dietary fiber, whereas rye is richer in net carbs.
Both grains are great vitamin B and mineral sources, barley being notably richer in vitamin B1 and rye being notably richer in vitamin B5. Barley is richer in iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper, whereas rye is richer in phosphorus.
The high content of dietary fiber, phytochemicals, and iron shows beneficial effects on health, while the presence of gluten proteins can adversely affect some individuals' health.
Table of contents
Rye and barley are cereal grains from the same grass family, sharing similar characteristics and nutritional values. Rye, barley, and wheat are the only naturally gluten-containing foods.
This article will compare the nutritional values of rye and barley, their effects on health, and possible risks.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) belongs to the Hordeum genus, and rye (Secale cereale) belongs to the Secale genus. Barley and rye are part of the Pooideae subfamily and Poaceae family, also known as grasses. This family includes cereal grasses such as wheat, oats, and maize.
Rye and barley have similar uses in the kitchen; they can be eaten as such or added to salads, soups, and stews. Rye and barley can be used in flour, bread, whiskey, gin, and beer production.
The nutritional values in this article are presented for 100g grain rye and hulled (whole-grain) barley.
Macronutrients and Calories
Barley and rye are nutrient-dense grains, and as they belong to the same family, they are similar in nutritional value. However, barley is comparably richer in calories, proteins, fats, and dietary fiber, whereas rye is richer in net carbs.
The grains have an average serving size of one cup: ~169g for rye and ~184g for barley.
Rye and barley are high-calorie grains.
A 100g of rye provides 338 calories, whereas a 100g of barley provides 354 calories.
The grains are great protein sources. When compared, hulled barley is richer in proteins. Hulled barley contains 14.48g of proteins, pearled barley contains 9.91g, whereas rye contains 10.34g of proteins (1).
Barley and rye are low-fat foods that contain mainly unsaturated fatty acids and no cholesterol.
Carbs are the primary source of calories in rye and barley. One cup of either rye or barley may fully cover the daily carb and dietary fiber need.
Rye is richer in net carbs, whereas barley is richer in dietary fiber.
A 100g of rye contains 75.86g of carbs, 15.1g of which is dietary fiber, whereas hulled barley contains 73.48g of carbs, 17.3g of which is dietary fiber, and pearled barley contains 77.7g of carbs, 15.6g of which is dietary fiber (1).
Barley and rye provide a good amount of vitamin B complex.
Barley is two times richer in vitamin B1 (100g covers over 50% of the daily need) and somewhat richer in vitamins A, B2, B3, and B6 (2).
Rye is over five times richer in vitamin B5 (100g covers ~30% of the daily need) and somewhat richer in vitamin B9 (folate) and vitamins E and K (3).
Barley and rye are absent in vitamins B12, C, and D.
Barley is richer in calcium, iron, selenium, magnesium, sodium, zinc, and copper, whereas rye is richer in phosphorus, manganese, and potassium.
Barley and rye contain 3.6mg and 2.63mg of iron, respectively. The recommended daily iron intake is 8mg for men and 18mg for women (2).
Rye and barley have low glycemic index (GI) values of 34 and 28, respectively.
Rye bread has a medium GI value of 60, whereas barley bread has a medium GI value of 68.
Barley flour has a high GI value of 70.
Barley is calculated to have an insulin index value of 46.
Rye bread has a calculated insulin index value of 73.
Rye has a pH value of 5.9, and barley has a pH value of 5.2 (4).
The PRAL (potential renal acid load) value shows how much acid the organism produces from consumed food. The PRAL value of barley and rye is 2.5 and 3.5, respectively, which makes them both acid-producing.
Rye and barley are great for a low-fat diet, as it consists of foods low in fats, moderate in proteins, and moderate or high in carbs. These grains are also great for high-fiber, anti-inflammatory, and Mediterranean diets.
However, barley and rye and avoided during low-carb diets such as the keto and Atkins diets. Consumption of grains during a high-protein diet is also avoided, as the diet limits carb intake.
Whole grain rye and barley are considered superfoods - nutrient-dense foods with health-promoting properties. They are great sources of B vitamins, iron, zinc, proteins, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.
Dietary Fiber on Health
Rye and barley contain varying amounts of insoluble and soluble fibers.
Insoluble fiber speeds up stomach emptying, decreases intestinal transit time, and increases stool bulk, promoting digestive regularity and having beneficial effects on constipation (5, 6).
According to a study, increased long-term intake of insoluble dietary fiber can reduce the risk of gallbladder removal surgery (7).
Barley is rich in soluble fiber called beta-glucan; rye also contains some amounts of this fiber. Long-term intake of foods rich in beta-glucan beneficially affects immunity, blood glucose control, diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease, liver disease, obesity, skin disorders, and colon cancer (8, 9,10). Rye arabinoxylans are also associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (11).
Phytochemicals on Health
Whole-grain rye and barley are rich in phytochemicals such as phenolics, flavonoids, and anthocyanins. It is well known that phytochemicals promote health, protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, and reduce the risk of metabolic disorders, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (12, 13).
Gluten on Health
Just like wheat, barley and rye contain gluten proteins.
Consumption of barley and rye should be avoided for people with gluten-related disorders such as Coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity, dermatitis herpetiformis, and gluten ataxia, as it will likely trigger the disease (14).
Several studies recommend a low-gluten or gluten-free diet (GFD) for people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, suggesting it may slow down the progression of the disease; however, other studies find no associations between the diet and Hashimoto’s disease and don’t recommend a GFD (15, 16, 17, 18).
Type 1 diabetes
Current evidence suggests a gluten-free diet for people with type 1 diabetes (with or without Coeliac disease).
A study on animal models shows gluten intake might trigger the development of type 1 diabetes (19).
Several studies suggest GFD may beneficially affect glycemic control in type 1 diabetes (19, 20).
A gluten-free diet for people with type 1 diabetes with Coeliac disease may protect against the development of diabetes-related complications (21).
Iron on Health
Rye and especially barley are rich in iron; they may prevent microcytic anemia and restore the iron supply when needed. Microcytic anemia is caused by iron deficiency, which can be physiological or caused by several diets, chronic blood loss, pathological absorption, and various chronic diseases (22, 23).
B Complex Vitamin on Health
As previously mentioned, rye and barley are rich in B complex vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate.
The body needs B complex vitamins for energy metabolism, DNA synthesis and repair, methylation, adequate immune and brain functions, and synthesis of numerous neurochemicals and signaling molecules (24, 25).
Consumption of whole grains is associated with a decreased risk of colorectal, esophageal, stomach, and breast cancers (13, 26, 27, 28).
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025
- pH values of foods and food products
- Barley Basics
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
All nutrients comparison - raw data values
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low Calories diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|