Beta-glucan is recognised for its heart health benefits globally.

Diet supplements oat grain on canvas closeup
Oats for lowering cholesterol. Copyright: morisfoto / 123RF Stock Photo

♦ Beta-glucan recently received EFSA recognition for its health benefits.

The hypercholesterolaemic effect of dietary soluble dietary fibre is well known (Davidson et al., 1991). The beta-glucans are homopolysaccharides composed of glucopyranosyl units with (1->3) and (1->4) linkages in a ratio of about 1:2.5 (Staudte et al., 1983).

Beta-glucan prevents cholesterol in food from being absorbed in the intestine, as well as cholesterol derivatives solubilised by bile. By preventing absorption from the gut, the body removes cholesterol from the blood stream to turn into bile as part of digestion.

Beta-glucan products from individual suppliers have also been approved around the world. Sources are mainly oat or barley. From a product development aspect, barley derived beta-glucan is much more bland in flavour whilst the oat derived form retains some taste. Clever formulation however can suppress the oatiness of the product if it is undesirable.

EFSA (EFSA, 2010) passed an Article 14 health claim linking consumption of 3g of oat beta-glucans per day with a reduction in cholesterol levels. The claim request was submitted by the Swiss firm CreaNutrition AG. The submitted dossier of evidence included 22 references, with three meta-analyses and 19 randomised controlled trials. The EFSA claim is titled:-

Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to oat beta glucan and lowering blood cholesterol and reduced risk of (coronary) heart disease pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006

To be able to make the claim, a product must contain oat beta-glucan with an average molecular weight between 100 and 2000 kiloDaltons (kDA). At least 3g of beta-glucan per day must be consumed. It is quite easy to prepare single-serve products offering 3g of beta-glucan.  It is possible though to split the serve to 1g as the ingredient can be added to a variety of food products. Soups, cereals, beverages, bars and other product types are all suitable vehicles for beta-glucan.

Barliv™  – a ‘novel’ dietary fibre was supplied by Cargill as a 70% pure form of barley derived beta-glucan but has been withdrawn from sale, although it was shown to have considerable  health benefits. Health Canada approved the use of Barliv™ as a dietary fibre too. Studies by the University of Minnesota showed this particular beta-glucan lowered LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. Subjects in the study consumed 3g per day of the ingredient. The study showed a 9.5% reduction in LDL cholesterol. Biovelop AB in Sweden released PromOat ™ – an oat derived beta-glucan which is now marketed by Tate&Lyle.  

The long awaited Hearty Atta flour is to be released soon where customers will be able to enjoy the claims being made for beta-glucans. The intention is to use it to replace ordinary white flour for rotis, chapattis and other unleavened breads. Predicted sales are likely to show year on year growth of 11% initially.

Marks & Spencer produced their own-label cholesterol lowering fruit drink, Super Juice™  containing red grape, blueberry and blackcurrant. This product contained 0.75g of PromOat™ beta-glucan which was 25% of the 3g required daily to meet the EFSA claim, in a 300ml serving and was launched in 2011. It was selling at the rsp of £1.40/300ml but appears to have subsequently been withdrawn because of poor sales volumes.

The Cholesterol Charity, HEART UK has an excellent fact sheet on the benefits of beta glucan (HEART UK, 2014).

References

Davidson, M. H., Dugan, L. D., Burns, J. H., Bova, I., Story, K., Drennan, K. B. (1991) The hypocholesterolemic effects of β-glucan in oatmeal and oatbran. J. Am. Med. Assoc. 265 pp. 1833-1839.

EFSA (2010) EFSA Journal 2010;8(12):1885 [15 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1885

HEART UK (2014) Fact Sheet FO9. The Power Of Oat Beta Glucan. Accessed 30th July 2014

Staudte, R. G., Woodward, J. R., Fincher, G. B. Si Slone, B. A. (1983) Water-soluble (l->3), (l->4|-β-glucansfrom barley (Hordeum vulgare) endosperm. III. Distribulion of allotriosyl and cellotetraosyl residue. Carbohydr. Polym.. 3 pp. 299-312.

Revised 30th July 2014

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