Wheat vs Barley - 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in price|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Rich in minerals||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values