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Consistent with recommendations from leading cancer and heart disease authorities, my Daily Dozen recommends at least three daily servings of whole grains, such as barley. Two of Harvard University’s preeminent nutrition studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—have so far accumulated nearly three million person-years of data. A 2015 analysis found that people who eat more whole grains tend to live significantly longer lives independent of other dietary and lifestyle factors. No surprise, given that whole-grain intake is associated with lower risks of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, weight gain, and colon cancer.

Take note of the whole, however. While whole grains, such as oats, whole wheat, brown rice, and barley, have been shown to be associated with a lower risk of developing chronic disease, refined grains may actually increase your risk. Harvard University researchers, for example, found that while regular consumption of brown rice was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, consuming white rice was associated with higher risk. Daily servings of white rice were associated with a 17 percent greater risk of diabetes, whereas replacing one-third of a serving a day of white rice for brown rice might lead to a 16 percent drop in risk. And it looks like replacing white rice with oats and barley may be an even more powerful step, associated with a 36 percent drop in diabetes risk.

Eating more whole grains could save the lives of more than a million people around the world every year, so why not add some barley to your diet? Intact barley groats, rather than pearled barley—which has had some of the nutrition processed away—is the better choice.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons. This image has been modified.

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