The usefulness of dietary strategies against cardiometabolic risk is increasingly being acknowledged. Legumes and whole grains can modulate risk markers associated with cardiometabolic diseases, but their possible additive/synergistic actions are unknown. The objective of the present study was to assess, in healthy subjects, the effect of a diet including specific whole-grain barley products and legumes with prior favourable outcomes on cardiometabolic risk parameters in semi-acute studies. A total of forty-six overweight women (50–72 years, BMI 25–33 kg/m2 and normal fasting glycaemia) participated in a randomised cross-over intervention comparing a diet rich in kernel-based barley products, brown beans and chickpeas (D1, diet 1 (functional diet)) with a control diet (D2, diet 2 (control diet)) of similar macronutrient composition but lacking legumes and barley. D1 included 86 g (as eaten)/d brown beans, 82 g/d chickpeas, 58 g/d whole-grain barley kernels and 216 g/d barley kernel bread. Both diets followed the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, providing similar amounts of dietary fibre (D1: 46·9 g/d; D2: 43·5 g/d), with wheat-based products as the main fibre supplier in D2. Each diet was consumed for 4 weeks under weight-maintenance conditions. Both diets decreased serum total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol levels, but D1 had a greater effect on total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels (P< 0·001 and P< 0·05, respectively). D1 also reduced apoB (P< 0·001) and γ-glutamyl transferase (P< 0·05) levels, diastolic blood pressure (P< 0·05) and the Framingham cardiovascular risk estimate (P< 0·05). D1 increased colonic fermentative activity, as judged from the higher (P< 0·001) breath hydrogen levels recorded. In conclusion, a specific barley/legume diet improves cardiometabolic risk-associated biomarkers in a healthy cohort, showing potential preventive value beyond that of a nutritionally well-designed regimen.