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Barley vs Wheat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison



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, it is originated from the Levant, the cultivation of it dates back almost 10000 years ago. It is the second most consumed grain after the rice. The plant’s stalk is a long, with spiky kernels clusters. Barley – Hordeum vulgare, is the forth consumed grain cereal after the rice, wheat and maize. It is domesticated and cultivated in the Near East in Bronze Age Mesopotamia about 11000 years ago.


Wheat is a staple food; it is used for making bread, biscuits, crackers, pasta, bulgur, cookies, noodles and other breakfast products, and in a lesser extent for beverages and as an animal food. Barley is mainly used in beer brewing and in production of other alcoholic beverages; it is 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 one is minimal processed, the bran and germ are intact, and only edible outer shell is removed, saving by this way most of nutrients. The pearled one is polished and has no bran either. Barley is easy to cook like rice, and wheat needs for some preparation before cooking -   it should be milled into the flour or broken and pre-boiled into the bulgur, which unfortunately diminishes the wheat’s nutrient content. So, bellow we will reveal nutritional content comparison of wheat and barley.

Nutritional content comparison

There is no big difference between 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 quantity of fats and carbohydrates.

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

Minerals comparison

Let’s look at the mineral content of what and barely. 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, also it contains less sodium.

Vitamins comparison

What about vitamins comparison? Wheat is greatly higher in Vitamin B5, fairly higher in Vitamin B3. On the other hand, barley is higher enough in Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B1, while wheat is higher in Vitamin B6. Barely is also contains some content of Vitamin K, Vitamin A and Vitamin E, which are absent in wheat. So, in this content barley is the title holder.

Health impact

Health benefits

Wheat is higher in Selenium – the essential element for our health. Higher Selenium status is essential for human reproduction function, has antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it reduces the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease as well as the risk of different types of cancer (1). On the other hand, high intake of Selenium rich food may increase the risk of Diabetes type 2. Wheat is also higher in Copper, which contributes to the formation of red blood cells, body tissues, to the right function of endocrine and cardiovascular systems; it is involved in pigmentation of hair and skin (2).

All B vitamins are concentrated in bran or germ of wheat and barley, so they lose most of them by producing processes. The group of B vitamins contributes to the right metabolism, the right function of nervous and metabolic systems, provides us with essential energy, and nourishes our skin and blood vessels (3).

Barley is higher in dietary fiber. Dietary fiber decreases the risk of Diabetes type 2, prevents constipation, contributes to weight lose, shortens intestinal transit time, reduces the risk of colorectal and breast cancer, reduces the cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease (4, 5). According to the study (6) high intake of food rich in dietary fiber prevents Gallstone disease and Cholecystectomy.

Health drawbacks

We finally got to the most concerning contemporary issues related to the gluten. A number of people may react to gluten in different ways. According to the review published in February 2012 (7), there are three main forms of gluten reactions: autoimmune (Celiac disease, Dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia), possibly immune mediated (gluten sensitivity), allergic (wheat allergy).

Celiac disease is the most common immune-mediated small intestinal disorder among the people of European origin affecting about 1% of them. People with Celiac disease have a genetic predisposition related to the HLA-DQ-2 and HLA-DQ-8 gen 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 extra intestinal symptoms (for example, osteoporosis, anemia, neurological symptoms, which are the result of malabsorption of nutrients).

 Dermatitis herpetiformis presents with a blistering rush. 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 with burning and itching.

Non-Celiac gluten sensitivity has similar symptoms as Celiac diseases, which appear in hours to days after gluten consumption. The high levels of antibodies and intestinal damage are absent here contrary to Celiac disease. 

Wheat allergy is the immunological response to the wheat proteins, associated with high levels of immunoglobulin E, which 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, affecting respiratory or gastrointestinal tract, and the skin; wheat-dependent, exercise induced anaphylaxis; baker’s asthma or rhinitis; contact urticaria. Symptoms depend on the type (7).

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

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


Wheat and barley are widely used and versatile grains. Wheat is mostly used as a source of food in different states, and the barley mostly used for beer brewing and as a cattle feed. Although there is no significant difference between nutritional content, wheat is better in minerals, at the same time barley is richer in vitamins. Despite the fact that today most of markets suggest gluten free products, the number of people suffering from gluten is not as frightening as it seems.



Barley vs Wheat infographic
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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
Contains more Copper +11%
Contains more Zinc +50.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +92.4%
Contains less Sodium -83.3%
Equal in Iron - 3.52
Equal in Calcium - 34
Equal in Potassium - 431
Equal in Magnesium - 144
Contains more Copper +11%
Contains more Zinc +50.2%
Contains more Phosphorus +92.4%
Contains less Sodium -83.3%
Equal in Iron - 3.52
Equal in Calcium - 34
Equal in Potassium - 431
Equal in Magnesium - 144

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
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 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%

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

Summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfils human daily needs, the more the summary score is
Vitamin Summary Score
Mineral Summary Score

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 the food

Comparison summary table

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

Which food is preferable in case of diets?

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

People also compare

Comparison summary

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

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

In the column "Opinion" we made some assumptions which could be controversial. For instance we are assuming that less saturated fats is good for you. Please ignore this column if you have your own opinion.We marked the nutrients, comparison of which we considered as not meaningful, as "N/A"
Nutrient Barley Wheat Opinion
Calories 354 339 Barley
Protein 12.48 13.68 Wheat
Fats 2.3 2.47 Wheat
Vitamin C 0 0
Carbs 73.48 71.13 Barley
Cholesterol 0 0
Vitamin D 0 0
Iron 3.6 3.52 Barley
Calcium 33 34 Wheat
Potassium 452 431 Barley
Magnesium 133 144 Wheat
Sugars 0.8 Barley
Fiber 17.3 Barley
Copper 0.498 0.553 Wheat
Zinc 2.77 4.16 Wheat
Phosphorus 264 508 Wheat
Sodium 12 2 Wheat
Vitamin A 22 0 Barley
Vitamin E 0.57 Barley
Vitamin D 0 0
Vitamin B1 0.646 0.419 Barley
Vitamin B2 0.285 0.121 Barley
Vitamin B3 4.604 6.738 Wheat
Vitamin B5 0.282 0.935 Wheat
Vitamin B6 0.318 0.419 Wheat
Vitamin B12 0 0
Vitamin K 2.2 Barley
Folic acid (B9) 0 0
Trans Fat
Saturated Fat 0.482 0.454 Wheat
Monounsaturated Fat 0.295 0.344 Wheat
Polyunsaturated fat 1.108 0.978 Barley
Tryptophan 0.208 0.176 Barley
Threonine 0.424 0.366 Barley
Isoleucine 0.456 0.533 Wheat
Leucine 0.848 0.934 Wheat
Lysine 0.465 0.303 Barley
Methionine 0.24 0.221 Barley
Phenylalanine 0.7 0.681 Barley
Valine 0.612 0.594 Barley
Histidine 0.281 0.322 Wheat
The main source of information is USDA Food Composition Database (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Dietary Guidelines for Americans is used as the primary source for advice in this web resource
Data provided by should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.