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Barley vs Wheat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Zvart Movsisyan by Zvart Movsisyan | Last updated on November 29, 2020
Education: Medical biochemistry MD
Barley
vs
Wheat

Summary

Wheat and barley are versatile, widely used grains. Wheat is mainly used as a source of food in different states, and barley is mostly used for beer brewing and as cattle feed.

Although there is no significant difference in nutritional content comparison, wheat is a better source of minerals while barley is richer in vitamins.

Despite the fact that most of the market today offers gluten-free products, the number of people suffering from gluten sensitivity is not as frightening as it seems.

Introduction

Wheat vs. barley - both of them are whole grains, widely consumed worldwide. Some people consider them to be the same, but they are absolutely different cereals, although they belong to the same family.

Can you differentiate wheat and barley? Let’s gain insight into the main key points to distinguish them.

Historical Background

Wheat, Triticum aestivum, is originated from the Levant. The cultivation of wheat dates back almost 10000 years. It is the second most-consumed grain after rice. The plant’s stalk is long, with spiky kernels in clusters.

Barley, Hordeum vulgare, is the fourth most popularly consumed grain cereal after rice, wheat, and maize. It was domesticated and cultivated in the Near East during the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia about 11000 years ago.

Consumption

Wheat is a staple food; it is used to make bread, biscuits, crackers, pasta, bulgur, cookies, noodles, and other breakfast products, and, to a lesser extent, for beverages and animal food.

Barley is mainly used in beer brewing and the production of other alcoholic beverages. It is also largely used as livestock fodder.

Both wheat and barley are used for direct cooking.

There are two forms of produced and edible barley – hulled and pearled. Hulled barley is minimally processed; the bran and germ are intact, and only the edible outer shell is removed, saving by this way most of its nutrients. Pearled barley is polished and has no bran.

Barley is easy to cook like rice, and wheat needs some preparation before cooking - it should be milled into flour or broken and pre-boiled into bulgur, which unfortunately diminishes wheat’s nutrient content. So, below we will reveal the nutritional content comparison of wheat and barley.

Nutritional Content

There is no significant difference between the nutritional content of wheat and barley. They are considered to be nutritional goldmines since they are powerful sources of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals.

Barley is higher in dietary fiber than wheat; on the other hand, wheat is higher in protein. They contain almost equal quantities of fats and carbohydrates.

Among all proteins found in wheat and barley, gluten is worth mentioning. Gluten is a common name for some proteins in cereal, which ensures the shape and chewy texture of foods like glue. The gluten protein in barley is hordein, and the gluten found in wheat is gliadin. There are some gluten-related disorders, which we will discuss later.

Minerals

Let’s look at the mineral content of wheat and barley. From the viewpoint of minerals, wheat is the winner because it is radically higher in selenium, inconsiderably higher in phosphorus, slightly higher in copper and zinc, as well as in magnesium and manganese. Wheat also contains less sodium.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Barley
2
:
6
Wheat
Contains more Phosphorus +92.4%
Contains less Sodium -83.3%
Contains more Zinc +50.2%
Contains more Copper +11%
Equal in Calcium - 34
Equal in Iron - 3.52
Equal in Magnesium - 144
Equal in Potassium - 431
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 10% 135% 95% 114% 40% 2% 76% 166%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 11% 132% 103% 218% 39% 1% 114% 185%
Contains more Phosphorus +92.4%
Contains less Sodium -83.3%
Contains more Zinc +50.2%
Contains more Copper +11%
Equal in Calcium - 34
Equal in Iron - 3.52
Equal in Magnesium - 144
Equal in Potassium - 431

Vitamins

What about vitamins comparison? Wheat is considerably higher in vitamin B5 and somewhat higher in vitamin B3. On the other hand, barley is richer in vitamin B2 and vitamin B1, while wheat is higher in vitamin B6.

Barely also contains some content of vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin E, which are absent in wheat. So, in this context, barley is the titleholder.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Barley
5
:
4
Wheat
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +54.2%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +135.5%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +46.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +231.6%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +31.8%
Contains more Folate +126.3%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 2% 12% 0% 0% 162% 66% 87% 17% 74% 15% 0% 6%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 0% 0% 0% 0% 105% 28% 127% 57% 97% 33% 0% 0%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +54.2%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +135.5%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +46.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +231.6%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +31.8%
Contains more Folate +126.3%

Health impact

Health benefits

Wheat is higher in selenium – the essential element for our health. Higher selenium status is essential for human reproduction function. It has antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects and reduces the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease as well as the risk of different types of cancer (1). On the other hand, a high intake of selenium-rich foods may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Wheat is also higher in copper, which contributes to the formation of red blood cells, body tissues, and the proper function of the endocrine and cardiovascular systems. It is also involved in the pigmentation of hair and skin (2).

All B vitamins are concentrated in the bran or germ of wheat and barley, so most of these are lost during processing. The group of B vitamins contributes to the metabolism and nervous system function, providing us with essential energy and nourishing our skin and blood vessels (3).

Barley is higher in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, prevents constipation, contributes to weight loss, shortens intestinal transit time, reduces the risk of colorectal and breast cancer, reduces cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease (4, 5). According to one study, a high intake of food rich in dietary fiber prevents gallstone disease and the need for cholecystectomy (6).

Downsides and Risks

We finally got to the most concerning contemporary issues related to gluten. Different people may react to gluten in different ways. According to a review published in 2012, there are three primary forms of gluten reactions: autoimmune (celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and gluten ataxia), possibly immune-mediated (gluten sensitivity), allergic (wheat allergy) (7).

Celiac disease is the most common immune-mediated small intestinal disorder among people of European origin, affecting about 1%. People with celiac disease have a genetic predisposition related to the HLA-DQ-2 and HLA-DQ-8 gene mutations, but it doesn’t mean that every person with this predisposition has celiac disease. Clinical presentations vary from the classical intestinal symptoms (diarrhea, bloating, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation, weight loss, etc.) to the extraintestinal symptoms (osteoporosis, anemia, neurological symptoms resulting from malabsorption of nutrients).

Dermatitis herpetiformis presents with a blistering rash. The incidence is about 1:10,000 in the UK and among the European Americans, 4:10,000 and 6:10,000 among the people from Sweden and Finland, respectively. The skin symptoms start with small erythematous vesicles, which rapidly turn into the urticarial papule accompanied by burning and itching.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity has similar symptoms as celiac disease, which appear a few hours or days after gluten consumption. In this case, the high antibody levels and intestinal damage are absent, contrary to celiac disease.

Wheat allergy is the immunological response to wheat proteins, associated with high levels of immunoglobulin E, known as the allergic marker in the blood. There are different types of wheat allergy, depending on the way of allergen exposure and the underlying mechanisms. Classic food allergy affects the respiratory or gastrointestinal tract. Other forms include skin allergy, wheat-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis, baker’s asthma or rhinitis, and contact urticaria. Symptoms depend on the type (7).

It is important to note that all these conditions can be treated with a gluten-free diet.

Except for gluten, there are some other points of concern. Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is another type of protein found in wheat, which leads to similar intestinal disorders like gluten by damaging epithelial cells. Researchers use this feature to create anti-tumor drugs (8). According to a study published in 2019, WGA demonstrated maximum toxicity toward acute myeloid leukemia, even in low doses (9).

References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22381456/
  2. https://foodstruct.com/list/foods-high-in-copper-cu
  3. Nutritional Contents and Medicinal Properties of Wheat: A Review
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4998136/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28252255/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25020181/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3292448/
  8. Effects of wheat germ agglutinin on human gastrointestinal epithelium
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6393371/
Article author photo Zvart Movsisyan
Education: Medical biochemistry MD
Last updated: November 29, 2020

Infographic

Barley vs Wheat infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Barley Wheat
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Rich in minerals Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Barley Wheat Opinion
Net carbs 56.18g 71.13g Wheat
Protein 12.48g 13.68g Wheat
Fats 2.3g 2.47g Wheat
Carbs 73.48g 71.13g Barley
Calories 354kcal 339kcal Barley
Starch g g
Fructose g g
Sugar 0.8g g Wheat
Fiber 17.3g g Barley
Calcium 33mg 34mg Wheat
Iron 3.6mg 3.52mg Barley
Magnesium 133mg 144mg Wheat
Phosphorus 264mg 508mg Wheat
Potassium 452mg 431mg Barley
Sodium 12mg 2mg Wheat
Zinc 2.77mg 4.16mg Wheat
Copper 0.498mg 0.553mg Wheat
Vitamin A 22IU 0IU Barley
Vitamin E 0.57mg mg Barley
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Vitamin D 0µg 0µg
Vitamin C 0mg 0mg
Vitamin B1 0.646mg 0.419mg Barley
Vitamin B2 0.285mg 0.121mg Barley
Vitamin B3 4.604mg 6.738mg Wheat
Vitamin B5 0.282mg 0.935mg Wheat
Vitamin B6 0.318mg 0.419mg Wheat
Folate 19µg 43µg Wheat
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin K 2.2µg µg Barley
Tryptophan 0.208mg 0.176mg Barley
Threonine 0.424mg 0.366mg Barley
Isoleucine 0.456mg 0.533mg Wheat
Leucine 0.848mg 0.934mg Wheat
Lysine 0.465mg 0.303mg Barley
Methionine 0.24mg 0.221mg Barley
Phenylalanine 0.7mg 0.681mg Barley
Valine 0.612mg 0.594mg Barley
Histidine 0.281mg 0.322mg Wheat
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Trans Fat g g
Saturated Fat 0.482g 0.454g Wheat
Monounsaturated Fat 0.295g 0.344g Wheat
Polyunsaturated fat 1.108g 0.978g Barley

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Barley Wheat
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
36
Barley
37
Wheat
Mineral Summary Score
80
Barley
100
Wheat

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
75%
Barley
82%
Wheat
Carbohydrates
73%
Barley
71%
Wheat
Fats
11%
Barley
11%
Wheat

Comparison summary

Which food is lower in Sugar?
Wheat
Wheat is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.8g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Wheat
Wheat contains less Sodium (difference - 10mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Wheat
Wheat is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.028g)
Which food is cheaper?
Wheat
Wheat is cheaper (difference - $1.1)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Barley
Barley is lower in glycemic index (difference - 22)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is richer in minerals?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.
Which food is richer in vitamins?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Barley - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170283/nutrients
  2. Wheat - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169721/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.