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Did you know that Americans consume only about half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber? While the new FDA daily value (DV) for fiber is 28 grams, the average intake for Americans is 15 grams per day.1 Dietary fiber has been identified as a nutrient of a public health concern due to the health impacts of underconsumption. However, as food manufacturers work to boost the fiber content of their food products, it is important to know that not all fibers are created equal.

For example, beta-glucan is a fiber that may be best known for its FDA-approved heart health claim. The approved health claim for beta-glucan states that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 3 grams of beta-glucans per day from oats or barley may reduce the risk of heart disease.

A health claim petition submitted to the FDA in 1995 presented strong scientific support linking whole oat consumption to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The FDA concluded that beta-glucan was responsible for the effect. In 1997, the beta-glucan heart health claim for oats was authorized. Barley beta-glucan was added in 2005.

What Are Beta-Glucans?

Beta-glucans are polysaccharides made up of connected glucose units. The connected glucose rings resemble a chain, but some branching may be present, depending on the type of beta-glucan. Different types of beta-glucans have different solubilities, molecular weights, glycosidic linkages, and degrees of branching. These differences may enable them to have different effects on the body.

Food Sources of Beta-Glucans

Beta-glucans are found in certain grains, especially oats and barley, with smaller concentrations found in wheat, rye, and sorghum. Another important source is mushrooms like maitake, shiitake, and reishi. Baker’s yeast and some seaweed and algae also contain beta-glucans.

Beta-Glucans and Heart Health

The FDA recognizes that certain soluble fibers, such as oat and barley beta-glucans, help to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels when they are consumed as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.2 The role of beta-glucan in lowering cholesterol is especially important due to the link between high cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.3 Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women.4 Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease.

Coronary heart disease, which affects the heart and its supporting arteries, can occur when cholesterol accumulates inside the artery walls. The cholesterol binds with other substances in the blood, such as calcium and fat, to form plaques. Over time, these plaques cause a narrowing of the arteries which restricts blood flow to the heart. A heart attack can occur when blood flow to the heart is sufficiently reduced.

In addition, hardened plaques can rupture, causing blood clots to form. A blood clot blocking a coronary artery is another cause of heart attack. Furthermore, a piece of plaque can break off into the bloodstream and become lodged in an artery. A heart weakened by reduced blood flow from plaque build-up is also prone to heart failure.

FDA-Approved Heart Health Claim

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Applications in Bakery Products

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The Benefits of Beta-Glucans

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