A Guide to Heart-Healthy Grains

Barley may lower cholesterol even more effectively than oat fiber, according to some research. A 2009 analysis of studies from the University of Connecticut shows that people who eat barley regularly have reduced levels of LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides, but not high-density lipoproteins (HDL, or "good" cholesterol), compared to people who do not eat barley. Hulled barley, available at health food stores, is higher in whole-grain nutrients but is very slow-cooking. New varieties of hull-less barley are becoming available. Lightly pearled barley is partially refined, missing small amounts of the bran, but still rich in fiber.

Buckwheat, often used in pancakes, Japanese soba noodles and kasha cereal, contains high levels of an antioxidant called rutin, which improves circulation and prevents LDL cholesterol from blocking blood vessels. Buckwheat is actually not wheat at all, or even a grain, but a cousin of rhubarb.

Bulgur (wheat kernels that are boiled, dried and cracked) cooks quickly, has a mild flavor and contains more fiber than oats, millet, buckwheat or corn. It's often used in the Middle Eastern dish tabbouleh.

Rye promotes a rapid feeling of fullness, helpful for people trying to lose weight. Rye may be especially healthy for people with diabetes because of its low glycemic index (a measure of how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar compared to glucose or white bread).

Reviewed By: Kerry Prewitt, M.D., FACC

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