Barley, a versatile high-fiber cereal grain with a distinct nutlike flavor and chewy, pasta-like consistency, may help reduce the risk of diabetes and lower blood sugar levels, suggest new findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition, Medical News Today reports.

For the study, researchers at the Food for Health Science Center at Lund University in Sweden carried out a study with 20 healthy, middle-aged patients. One group ate barley kernel bread at breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days, while the other participants ate white bread at meals as a control for the duration of the study. After patients ate dinner each day, researchers assessed participants for various risk indicators of diabetes and heart disease.

Results showed that the participants who ate the barley kernel bread at meals experienced lower blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as improved appetite control and increased insulin sensitivity up to 14 hours after consuming it.

"We saw an increase in gut hormones that regulate metabolism and appetite and an increase in a hormone that helps reduce chronic low-grade inflammation among the participants," said Anne Nilsson, associate professor at Lund University and one of the study’s lead researchers. "In time, this could help prevent the occurrence of both cardiovascular disease and diabetes."

Barley is also high in protein and B vitamins and has a much lower glycemic index than white flour. Glycemic index, a.k.a. GI, is a measurement of the effect foods containing carbohydrates have on blood sugar levels. Foods with a low GI curb appetite and lower overall blood sugar spikes when compared with other carbohydrate-containing foods.

Scientists suggested people eat breads made with as much whole grain as possible, and to avoid white flour. They also suggested adding barley grains into soups and stews, and to replace cooked rice with barley.

For some more diet tips for diabetes prevention, click here.