Allies of health, beta-glucans are found in many foods of plant origin. What are they, what are they used for, and which foods are rich in them? Beta-glucans have numerous health benefits and are found in various foods, some of which may already be present in our pantry. It is, in fact, a type of soluble fiber present in foods of plant origin which, thanks to their slow digestion, have a positive effect on the functioning of the digestive system, the heart, and the immune system.
For this reason, increasing the intake of beta-glucans through the diet helps take full advantage of these substances’ many benefits to our body’s health. Let’s find out everything there is to know about beta-glucans: what they are, what they are used for, and in which foods they are found.
Beta-Glucans: What Are They?
Beta-glucans are a specific form of soluble dietary fiber found in the cell walls of some plants and some yeasts, bacteria, fungi, and algae. Soluble fibers, including beta-glucans, work by absorbing water and swelling in the digestive tract, slowing down digestion as it takes longer to pass through the intestines. However, it is precisely thanks to this mechanism that beta-glucans produce beneficial effects for health.
Their passage through the intestine creates a patina on the walls that prevent fats absorption. Although beta-glucans primarily focus on the digestive system, these substances are associated with various other positive health effects. Therefore, it is no coincidence that the pharmaceutical-food sector has also started producing beta-glucan supplements to encourage adequate intake. But what are beta-glucans specifically for, and where are they found? Let’s find out right now.
What Are Beta-Glucans Used For?
Taking beta-glucans has been linked to a long list of potential health benefits, and they have been studied extensively for their ability to lower cholesterol levels. While they help lower bad cholesterol, they don’t affect good cholesterol levels, which helps reduce risk factors for heart disease. Furthermore, since beta-glucans are soluble fibers, their intake can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This is because when food is digested more slowly, the body can more effectively control the rise in sugar, releasing enough insulin in response.
For this reason, foods high in fiber and beta-glucans can be part of a healthy diet for those with diabetes. A further benefit of beta-glucans derives from the fact that these substances, as well as other dietary fibers, act as prebiotics, feeding the probiotics, i.e., the good bacteria of the intestine. In this way, the digestive system benefits and, in turn, also helps to support and strengthen the immune system. Consuming foods containing beta-glucans is also very suitable for those who follow a low-calorie diet, thanks to the increased feeling of satiety. Finally, beta-glucans are an excellent source of antioxidants, substances that help fight oxidative stress and free radicals responsible for cell aging.
Where Are You?
As we said, these particular fibers are found in foods of plant origin. The foods richest in beta-glucans are above all whole grains, with oats, barley, and bran in the pole position. Oats in flakes, grains, or flour for making biscuits rich in beta-glucans contain the most significant quantities. Therefore it is a recommended cereal for reducing cholesterol levels. In addition to oats, barley is one of the wealthiest cereals in fiber and beta-glucans you can eat.
Furthermore, the beta-glucans of barley are those that produce more excellent antioxidant activity. Among the whole grains that contain beta-glucans, there is also bran. For this reason, consuming wholemeal bread is an excellent way to integrate these substances into your diet. Wholemeal bread is produced using all parts of the wheat grain, including the bran and germ. White bread products made with white flour are deprived of these substances and fibers, proteins, and beneficial nutrients.
Among the lesser-known cereals, sorghum – considered an ancient grain – also contains this important fiber, although it is at lower levels than oats, barley, and bran. Not only Cereal beta-glucans are also found in mushrooms and brewer’s yeast. Finally, wide varieties of edible seaweed also contain this type of fiber, so much so that it is from these foods that beta-glucans are extracted to produce supplements, useful for those who want to ensure an adequate intake of these beneficial substances.