What is beta glucan?

You may have heard that fiber is good for you, but did you know that not all fiber is the same? There are two main categories of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Within each category, there are different types.

Beta glucan is one form of soluble dietary fiber that’s strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and boosting heart health. Like many fibers, it’s available in supplement form. You can also find it in whole grains, oats, bran, wheat, and barley. Baker’s yeast and some types of fungi, such as maitake and reishi mushrooms, contain beta glucan as well.

We get dietary fiber from the plant-based foods we eat. Soluble fibers, like beta glucan, dissolve partially in water. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve at all. Most foods have both kinds of fiber, but the amounts can vary. There are also different kinds of soluble and insoluble fiber.

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. The Mayo Clinic recommends that men and women ages 50 and under eat 38 grams (g) and 25 g per day, respectively. Men and women ages 51 and over should get 30 g and 21 g per day. Teenagers may need 30 to 35 g a day.

Boosts heart health

There’s solid evidence that beta glucan can boost heart health. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 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 may lower cholesterol and triglycerides. One found that eating oats with at least 3 g of beta glucan daily reduced bad cholesterol (LDL) levels between 5 and 7 percent.

Regulates blood sugar levels

It may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It may also improve blood sugar control for those who already have diabetes.

Stimulates immune system

Researchers believe that beta glucan could have some positive effects on the immune system. However, more research is necessary. Most research to date has been in the form of animal trials. Scientists think beta glucan may be able to stimulate the immune system and help the body fight off 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.

Because it’s a soluble fiber, beta glucan slows down food transit in the intestines. This means that it takes longer for the body to digest food. Slower digestion means the body doesn’t absorb sugar as quickly, reducing the likelihood of blood sugar spikes and helping keep blood sugar levels stable. Beta glucan is indigestible, so it goes through the whole digestive tract. As it travels through, it can take cholesterol out with it, lowering levels.

Beta glucan is naturally in some foods, and is generally considered safe. If you choose to take supplements, make sure they’re from a reliable source. The FDA doesn’t regulate supplement manufacturers well, and there’s a possibility of 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 may need to especially use caution with beta glucan supplements. This is because their immune system is already overactive. Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking supplements if you have any chronic health conditions.

Science may not have unlocked all of beta glucan’s potential health benefits, but we do know that it has a role in improving heart health and preventing diabetes. The best way to get fiber is through your diet. If you haven’t already, think about switching to whole grains.