When it comes to a contest between barley and pasta, which is better depends on whether you are talking about regular enriched pasta or whole-grain pasta. Whole-grain pasta is slightly healthier than pearled barley, which has had its outer layer removed, but pearled barley is a better option than regular enriched pasta. However, all of these grains provide significant amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals and can contribute to your health.
Dietary fiber may help lower your cholesterol, control your blood sugar levels, regulate your bowel movements and help you maintain a healthy weight, according to MayoClinic.com. Regular enriched spaghetti contains 2.5 grams of fiber per cup, or 10 percent of the daily value for fiber. Choose the healthier whole-wheat pasta and each cup will provide 6.3 grams of fiber. Barley is also a healthy option, with 6 grams of fiber per cup. Beta-glucan, the type of fiber found in barley and oats, helps lower your total and low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, according to a study published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in December 2010. However, you'll need to consume at least 3 grams per day of barley beta-glucan for it to have an effect on your cholesterol, according to Drugs.com.
Each cup of barley contains 3.2 milligrams of niacin, or 16 percent of the DV for this nutrient, which is essential for turning the food you eat into energy and also helps improve your circulation. Since regular pasta is often enriched, it provides more vitamins, with each cup containing 26 percent of the DV for thiamine, 11 percent of the DV for riboflavin, 12 percent of the DV for niacin and 42 percent of the DV for folate. Whole-wheat pasta isn't always enriched, but still provides about 10 percent of the DV for thiamine, which you need for proper brain and nervous system function. Riboflavin is important for forming red blood cells, and folate is needed for forming DNA and cell division.
Whole-wheat spaghetti is a better source of minerals than either barley or enriched spaghetti. Barley provides 11 percent of the DV for iron in each cup, and the same amount of enriched spaghetti contains 10 percent of the DV. Iron is essential for forming red blood cells and preventing anemia. Although whole-wheat spaghetti only contains 8 percent of the DV for iron, it also provides 13 percent of the DV for phosphorus, which you need for repairing cells and storing energy.
Other Health Benefits
Foods made with whole grains, like whole-wheat spaghetti or hulled barley, but not pearled barley, may help lower your risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease through the combined effects of the fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals they contain, according to an article published in "The Journal of Nutrition" in May 2011.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Barley, Pearled, Cooked
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Cooked, Enriched, Without Added Salt
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Spaghetti, Whole-wheat, Cooked
- Drugs.com: Barley
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: β-glucan From Barley and Its Lipid-lowering Capacity: A Meta-analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials
- The Journal of Nutrition: Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber: Essential For a Healthy Diet
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.