With a new superfood rising to internet fame just about every other day, it’s no surprise that some of the old staples fall by the wayside. Luckily, oats are having their health heyday revival! And the health benefits of beta glucan are at the center of all the attention. But what are those benefits? And how can you get more of this immune-boosting, inflammation-reducing superfood into your life? We’re glad you asked.
What is beta glucan?
Beta glucan is a soluble dietary fiber. That means it partially dissolves in water (or in our guts after we eat it). As it dissolves, it forms a gel-like material that coats the inside of the small intestine. This coating slows digestion and can help lower cholesterol while regulating blood sugar. Soluble fibers are found in a whole host of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. But the richest source of beta glucan is cereal grains— think oats, barley, and wheat.
Most benefits of beta glucan are tied to a high fiber diet
We’re sure you’ve heard it before: you have to eat your fruits and vegetables. And it’s true, both serve up a portion of essential nutrients. But they’re also excellent sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Why is fiber so important? It plays a few different roles in keeping our bodies happy and healthy. According to Healthline, “Fiber supports good health by helping your body reduce cholesterol and control blood sugar levels. It also helps with constipation and bowel issues, maintains healthy gut bacteria, and aids in weight control.”
Still, the majority of Americans only eat ⅓ of the daily recommended amount of fiber. As one article notes, “The National Fiber Council recommends that adults consume 32 grams of the stuff a day, but as a nation, we’re coming up short. Very short, actually, with most of us getting between 10 and 15 grams a day.” The absence of proper fiber and nutrients in our diets has led experts to coin the very fitting term, Standard American Diet (SAD).
Without enough fiber, we tend to feel hungrier, have digestive issues, and experience higher cholesterol levels. All of which puts us at greater risk of heart disease, obesity, and stroke.
Cue the supplements
So, if we just eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, we should be ok, right? Yes, that’s true. Here at Northerly, we believe that whole food plays a critical role in living our healthiest, happiest lives. Unfortunately, we live in an instant gratification society where “right now” isn’t fast enough. If you haven’t heard of beta glucan until recently, it’s likely you know it as a dietary supplement. And according to the labels, just one capsule per day is enough to boost your immune system, lower your cholesterol, and help you shed weight without even trying.
The reality, however, is a lot more complicated than that. Yes, beta glucan is an excellent addition to anybody’s daily diet. But in supplement form, it can be difficult to reap the full benefits. For one, the quality of supplements varies. Furthermore, though they’re often treated as such, supplements aren’t FDA regulated in the same way that pharmaceuticals are. That means suppliers can make plenty of claims about their products that aren’t necessarily supported by evidence.
Perhaps the worst part? Figuring out the right dose. Overindulging in beta glucan can have some nasty side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Healthline emphasizes, “If you choose to take supplements, make sure they’re from a reliable source… Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.”
Luckily, oats are a natural, whole grain source of beta glucans
That’s right. While the health benefits of beta glucan supplements has been trending, oats have been patiently waiting for you to notice them. One and a half cups of cooked oats supplies 3g of beta glucan, about ten percent of your daily recommended fiber. And according to 33 clinical studies, that’s the perfect amount to decrease saturated fats and reduce heart disease risk. Northerly oats, in particular, are rich in beta glucan.
So, what are the health benefits of beta glucan in particular? In alternative medicine practices, practitioners believe that it can help with everything from allergies and Crohn’s disease to high cholesterol and even colitis. In particular, it:
Supports heart health
There’s enough evidence that beta glucan improves heart health for the FDA to approve a heart-healthy label. The primary benefit is the soluble fiber’s role in reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. It does so by forming a protective layer between the small intestine and the food you eat. Because your body can’t access the cholesterol in the food you just ate, it draws on already circulating cholesterol to produce bile for digestion. Lower uptake plus a higher rate of using the cholesterol you’ve already got leads to an overall reduction.
Regulates blood sugar
That protective layer of soluble fiber is also responsible for better b blood sugar regulation. Essentially, this gummy material slows down the digestion process. When your body can’t absorb the sugar in your food as quickly, you’re less likely to experience blood sugar spikes and the subsequent crash.
Boosts immune defense
Imagine a soluble fiber that could supercharge your body’s immune system, protecting you from infections, disease, and other illnesses. Like a General running supplies to the frontline, beta glucan energizes and organizes your immune system to trigger a defense response.
And according to recent, promising studies, “In cases of cancer, this triggered response helps the body create a coordinated attack on cancer cells. It also helps slow the growth of cancer cells.” True, doctors likely won’t be recommending oatmeal over radiation anytime soon. But beta glucan is quickly becoming a critical piece of many treatment plans.
When it comes to upping your fiber intake, supporting heart health, regulating blood sugar responses, and giving your immune system a helping hand, there’s nothing quite like beta glucan. And the fact that this superfood is a natural part of the humble oat lends weight to the old adage: food is medicine. So enjoy a cup of oats blended into your morning smoothie! Or dig into a bowl of savory oats for dinner. Either way, you’re getting a whopping dose of the heart-healthy fiber you didn’t know you needed.