Super Food of the Week: Barley

Barley is a wonderfully versatile cereal grain with a rich nut-like flavor, in addition to a chewy, paste-like consistency. It is similar in appearance to wheat berries, but with a slightly lighter color. Sprouted barley is naturally high in maltose, a sugar that serves as the basis for malt syrup sweetener and when fermented is used as an ingredient in beer and other alcoholic beverages. Barley is often used in soups to boost the nutritional value, thickness, and flavor. Some of the key nutrients found in barley include dietary fiber, selenium, tryptophan, copper, manganese, phosphorus and niacin. All of which are beneficial to overall health and well-being, a few of which we will examine.

In addition to providing bulk and decreasing the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, barley’s dietary fiber also provides food for the “friendly” bacteria found in the large intestines. When these helpful bacteria ferment barley’s insoluble fiber, a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid is produced. This serves as the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps maintain a healthy colon. These friendly bacteria also create two short chained fatty acids which are thought to also be partly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering benefits of fiber. Barley’s fiber can also prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high in those diagnosed with diabetes and help to prevent gallstones. The fiber content in barley has been found to be much higher than the fiber content of oats.

Barley, in addition of being a good source of fiber, is also a good source of niacin, a B vitamin that provides numerous protective properties against cardiovascular risk factors. Niacin can help reduce total cholesterol and lipoprotein (a). Lipoprotein (a) or Lp (a). Lp (a) is very similar to LDL cholesterol (the unhealthy cholesterol) but is even more dangerous because it has an additional molecule making it more capable of attaching to blood vessel walls causing a hardening. Niacin can help lower these levels as well as help prevent free radicals from oxidizing LDL. Niacin also helps reduce platelet aggregation, the clumping together of platelets forming blood clots. Niacin has also been thought to promote healthy hair (and possibly growth by some reports) by increasing circulation to the scalp.

Other benefits seen in regular consumption of barley include cardiovascular benefits for postmenopausal women, prevention of heart failure, a lowered risk of Type 2 Diabetes, protection against postmenopausal breast cancer, as well as providing protection against childhood asthma. Barley is generally available in pearled, hulled or flaked form. It is available prepackaged as well as in bulk containers. The nutritional benefits of barley can be reaped by mixing barley flour with wheat flour when making breads and muffins, or adding cracked or barley flakes to hot cereal, or simply adding barley to your favorite stews and soups.

Fit Tip of the Week: Tips for Flexibility Training

Flexibility is one of the three major components of exercise but is often over looked. Most prized are cardiovascular and strength training for their role in helping us to lose weight, build muscle and get fit. Staying limber not only offsets age-related stiffness, but also improve athletic performance and optimize functional movement in daily life. Research has shown that flexibility can develop and maintain healthy ranges of motion in the body and may help prevent and treat injury. For some time now The American College of Sports Medicine has included flexibility training to their general exercise recommendations, stating that stretching exercise for the major muscle groups should be performed two to three days a week. Here are a few guidelines for adding an effective flexibility workout to your fitness program.

1. Think in terms of serious flexibility training and not just brief stretching. I will admit that squeezing in one or two quick stretches after a workout is better than nothing at all, but this approach will only yield limited results. Taking it a bit further, generic stretches (like those done after a group fitness class) may not be effective for your particular body. As with anything else, the more time and attention you give your flexibility training, the more benefits you will experience. A qualified personal trainer, physical therapist or health professional can help in designing a functional flexibility program specifically to your needs.

2. Consider your activities. Are you a golfer? Do you run, or play tennis? Are you into dance fitness? Do your routinely bend, lift, or sit for long periods. Functional flexibility can improve the stability and mobility of a person in his or her specific environment (running, golfing, gardening, and so on). Again an individualized flexibility training program can help you see improvements.

3. Warm up first. If you’re stretching on your own, remember to warm up your muscles before beginning. Walking briskly for 10 or 15 minutes is the simplest way to do this.

4. Be creative. Varying your flexibility training (like any other form of physical activity) can help you stick with it. Towels, resistance balls and other props help to add diversity and increase the effectiveness of your training.

5. Listen to your body. This piece of advice goes with all physical activity and is just as important in flexibility training. Pay attention to your body’s signals and don’t push yourself too far. Avoid ballistic stretching, which uses bouncing or jerking movements to gain momentum. This approach greatly raises changes of injury. Instead slowly stretch your muscles to the end point of movement (to where you feel a solid stretch) and hold the stretch for about 10 to 30 seconds. Older adults, pregnant women and people with injuries should take special precautions.

6. Pay attention to areas that seem tighter than others. This goes back to point number five and listening to your body. Often the shoulders, chest, hamstrings, and hips are particularly tight but it is very possible to carry or hold tension in other areas, especially if there is a history of injury or muscle imbalance. Not catering your flexibility training to your specific muscle strengths and weaknesses can cause you to stretch already overly stretched muscles and miss the areas that really need flexibility training.

7. Do it consistently. Consistency is the key to any fitness program and the same goes for stretching. Just like it doesn’t help to engage in cardiovascular training and then stopping the same goes for flexibility training. Regular stretching should be integrated into your permanent fitness program to gain maximum benefit.

Hopefully, you’ll find these tips helpful in implementing flexibility training into your regular fitness routine to improve your daily activities as well as enhance your fitness performance.

Until next week…

KinkySheaPT