Is Pearl Barley More Nutritious Than Rice?

Barley and rice are both carbohydrates — the primary component of most Western diets. Like rice, barley can be either a whole grain or refined product. If you're comparing pearl barley versus rice, you'll find that barley's nutrition has more fiber but can be less nutrient-rich than rice products.

Whether or not pearl barley is healthier than rice completely depends on the type of rice you’re comparing it to. Credit: martinrlee/iStock/GettyImages

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Whether or not pearl barley is healthier than rice completely depends on the type of rice you’re comparing it to. Brown rice is a whole grain with larger amounts of certain essential nutrients, like manganese. However, pearl barley has a wider variety of minerals compared to white rice.

Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!

Pearl Barley Nutrition Facts

Pearl barley is the most common form of barley. It has had its outer husk and bran layers removed, which means it's a refined product, unlike hulled barley. In many ways, pearl barley could be considered to be the "white rice of barley."

The USDA states that every 100 grams of pearl barley contains 0.4 grams of fat, 2.3 grams of protein and 28.2 grams of carbohydrates. Out of these carbohydrates, 3.8 grams come from dietary fiber. Pearl barley's nutrition also includes:

  • 7 percent of the daily value (DV) for iron
  • 5 percent of the DV for magnesium
  • 7 percent of the DV for zinc
  • 12 percent of the DV for copper
  • 11 percent of the DV for manganese
  • 16 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • 13 percent of the DV for vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B6

Pearl barley's nutrition also includes small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent of the DV) of choline, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B5, vitamin B9, vitamin K, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Read more: 16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs

White vs. Brown Rice Nutrition

Rice is a commonly consumed grain product. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice, including wild rice, jasmine rice and basmati rice. Regardless of the variety, rice comes in two main forms: white rice or brown rice. White rice is a refined product, while brown rice still contains the outer husk, known as the bran.

According to the USDA, every 100 grams of brown rice contains 1 gram of fat, 25.6 grams of carbohydrates and 2.7 grams of protein. Out of these carbohydrates, 1.6 grams come from fiber. Brown rice's nutrition also includes:

  • 9 percent of the daily value (DV) for magnesium
  • 8 percent of the DV for phosphorus
  • 6 percent of the DV for zinc
  • 12 percent of the DV for copper
  • 42 percent of the DV for manganese
  • 11 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 15 percent of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  • 16 percent of the DV for vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • 8 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 7 percent of the DV for vitamin B6

Every 100 grams of brown rice also contains small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent of the DV) for choline, iron, potassium and vitamin B9. According to an August 2015 study in the Food Chemistry Journal, brown rice is also rich in antioxidants like phenolic acid, anthocyanin and proanthocyanidins.

In comparison, the USDA states that 100 grams of white rice contains 0.3 grams of fat, 28.2 grams of carbohydrates and 2.7 grams of protein. Out of these carbohydrates, 0.4 grams come from fiber.

White rice also contains:

  • 7 percent of the daily value (DV) for iron
  • 8 percent of the DV for copper
  • 21 percent of the DV for manganese
  • 14 percent of the DV for selenium
  • 14 percent of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  • 9 percent of the DV for vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • 8 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
  • 5 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 24 percent of the DV for vitamin B9 (folate)

Every 100 grams of white rice also contains small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent of the DV) for calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin B2 (riboflavin).

While white rice is extremely popular, brown rice and other whole grains are better for your health. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the refining and milling process white rice products undergo removes most of their vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. Although refined products are often enriched, there are certain nutrients, like fiber, that are not added back. Because the antioxidants in rice are primarily found in rice bran, you won't find many of these in white rice, either.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Not Cut Carbs Completely Out of Your Diet

Barley vs. Rice

Pearl barley contains many of the same micronutrients as brown and white rice. The biggest difference is in fiber content: There are 3.8 grams of dietary fiber in every 100 grams of pearl barley, compared to 1.6 grams of fiber in brown rice and 0.4 grams of fiber in white rice.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the daily value for fiber is 25 grams per day. However, an April 2017 review in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners reported that 95 percent of adults don't consume enough fiber. Most American adults ingest just 15 grams of fiber each day. Insufficient fiber consumption can affect your blood sugar and gastrointestinal health.

Given the lack of this nutrient in the American diet, pearl barley's health benefits primarily come from its fiber content. However, if you're able to consume enough fiber from other sources, there aren't many differences in the nutrition of pearl barley versus rice.

Pearl barley has more magnesium and zinc than white rice. However, since white rice is enriched, it's a better source of vitamin B9 (folate). In comparison, brown rice contains phosphorus and much larger amounts of manganese compared to both white rice and pearl barley.

Ultimately, pearl barley's nutrition doesn't necessarily make it a healthier product than rice. However, pearl barley is a refined version of the barley grain. If you were to consume whole grain barley (known as hulled barley), there would be no contest in the comparison of barley versus rice. Hulled barley has far more fiber (17.3 grams), protein and much larger amounts of nutrients.

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