You may have heard that fiber is good for you, but did you know that not all fibers are the same? There are two main categories of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Within each category, there are different types.
Beta glucan is a form of soluble dietary fiber that is strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and increasing heart health. Like many fibers, it is available in supplement form. You can also find it in whole grains, oats, bran, wheat, and barley. Baker's yeast and some types of mushrooms, such as maitake and reishi mushrooms, also contain beta glucan.
Why do we need fiber?
We get dietary fiber from the plant-based foods we eat. Soluble fibers, such as beta glucan, partially dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve at all. Most foods have both types of fiber, but the amounts can vary. There are also different types of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Fiber supports good health by helping your body lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. It also helps with constipation and intestinal problems, maintains healthy gut bacteria, and helps with weight control. The Mayo Clinic recommends that men and women age 50 and younger eat 38 grams (g) and 25 g per day, respectively. Men and women 51 and older should get 30g and 21g per day. Adolescents may need 30 to 35 g per day.
What are the benefits of beta glucan?
- Increases heart health:There is strong evidence that beta glucan can improve heart health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Trusted Source has approved a heart-healthy label for foods that have high amounts of beta glucan, based on this evidence. Several studies suggest that beta glucan can lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Eating oatmeal with at least 3 g of beta glucan per day was found to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels by 5 to 7 percent.
- Regulates blood sugar levels. Beta glucan can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also improve blood sugar control for those who already have diabetes.
- Stimulates the immune system:Researchers believe that beta glucan may have some positive effects on the immune system. However, more research is needed. Most of the research to date has been done in the form of animal testing. Scientists believe that beta glucan can boost the immune system and help the body fight disease and infection more effectively. However, the human immune system is complicated, and researchers are still learning how it works. It may take some time before we know the exact effects beta glucan has and if it can improve immune system function.
How does beta glucan work?
Because it is a soluble fiber, beta glucan slows down the transit of food in the intestines. This means that it takes longer for the body to digest food. Slower digestion means that the body does not absorb sugar as quickly, which reduces the likelihood of spikes in blood sugar and helps keep blood sugar levels stable. Beta glucan is indigestible, so it passes through the entire digestive tract. As you travel, you can eliminate cholesterol and lower levels.
Beta glucan occurs naturally in some foods and is generally considered safe. If you choose to take supplements, make sure they come from a reputable source. The FDA does not regulate supplement manufacturers well, and there is the potential for contamination and false marketing claims. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
People with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease can use extra caution with beta glucan supplements. This is because your immune system is already overactive. Be sure to speak with your doctor before taking supplements if you have any chronic health conditions.