Beta-glucans are carbohydrates, or sugars, found in the cell walls of some plants such as oats and barley.

Beta-glucans are one form of fiber called soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is recommended by Registered Dietitians to help improve cholesterol levels. Scientific studies have examined the potential health benefits beta-glucans may have, particularly in the area of cholesterol and heart disease and diabetes.

Beta-glucans are also found in certain bacteria and fungi, including certain mushroom varieties. Researchers have been studying the positive effects of mushrooms on the immune system. As part of this physiology, research is also showing that beta-glucans have anti carcinogenic (cancer-preventing) activity.

Beta-glucans in oats is showing promise to significantly reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Because beta-glucans are a soluble fiber, they help slow down digestion in the intestines. This can be particularly beneficial for those with diabetes, as the slower carbohydrates are digested and broken down into glucose (sugar), the slower these sugars are absorbed, keeping blood sugar levels more stable. As beta-glucans travel through the digestive system they take cholesterol with it, keeping it from building up in the body which otherwise could end up contributing to clogged arteries.

Food labeling guidelines allow certain health claims to be used on food packaging. The effects the soluble fiber, including beta-glucans, has on cholesterol is one such allowance. Cereal advertisements, such as Cheerios commercials are using such health claim allowances to promote their food product.

Oats are an easy and delicious way to include beta-glucans into your diet. As a breakfast cereal, quick snack or even dessert such as a topping to an apple crisp, it’s avery versatile food. Add dried fruits to oatmeal to add even more nutrition. Sprinkle oat cereal on yogurt for a more satisfying and filling snack.

By: Cara Zechello, Dodge Park and Oasis Nutritionist