Suddenly, everyone is abuzz about a tiny fiber with massive benefits. We already know fiber is good for us, so what makes beta-glucan so special? Aside from its multiple health benefits, it’s pretty easy to work into your diet in simple and delicious ways. If you’re looking to lose weight and improve your overall health while eating yummy things like chocolate cake for breakfast (seriously!), keep reading.
What is beta-glucan, and what are its benefits?
Beta-glucan is a type of soluble dietary fiber found in oats and barley. Once you eat it, it begins rapidly soaking up fluid and becomes what Cleveland Clinic experts call a “thick goo.” This goo moves through us, working wonders as it goes. Scientists say it may help heal wounds, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and more. Here are a few more specific examples of what it can do.
Beta-Glucan Benefit #1: Higher Satiety
Beta-glucan suppresses hunger and increases satisfaction in multiple ways. First, it absorbs so much liquid, it swells to many times it original size. “That’s why cooked oats have just 350 calories per pound versus 1,500 calories per pound for most cereal. The water and fiber have a bulking effect that magically fill us up with very few calories,” says nutrition expert and Plant-Strong author Rip Esselstyn.
The satisfaction lasts too, because beta-glucan slows down digestion. At the same time, the gel may lower hunger hormones, says one animal study. No wonder another study found a fiber-rich meal made people want fewer calories for the rest of the day.
Beta-Glucan Benefit #2: Weight Loss
Another fun fact about beta-glucan gel: It fully coats your gut lining, which seriously slows the speed at which sugar can enter your bloodstream, says Tufts University–trained nutrition specialist Melina Jampolis, MD. She notes that blood sugar is well-controlled “for up to 10 hours.” When sugar stays steady, levels of insulin may naturally improve; there’s even evidence that the more soluble fiber like beta-glucan we consume, the less belly fat we may carry. Bonus: Steadier blood sugar also cuts cravings and may help stave off a whole host of health issues caused or worsened by blood sugar spikes, including joint pain and diabetes.
Beta-Glucan Benefit #3: Boosted Immunity and Overall Health
Compounds in beta-glucan stimulate the immune system so much that one study showed a daily serving may lessen sick days. And eating healthy, fiber-rich foods like oats prompts us to reach for healthier foods overall, per Harvard-trained researcher James M. Rippe, MD. One explanation: Beta-glucan feeds beneficial strains of bacteria in our GI tract that help turn off cravings for junk, explains a 2020 study. Shifts in gut bacteria are behind many of beta-glucan’s other benefits too: The same study that found it may protect against memory loss. “Research shows the more fiber you get from oats, the better your results,” says Esselstyn.
How much beta-glucan should I eat in one day?
The FDA recommends that you consume 3 grams of beta-glucan daily from barley and/or whole oats for lower cholesterol and heart health. 1 ½ cups of cooked barley or oatmeal contains about 3 grams. Try this dessert-like recipe to get most of your day’s intake in one morning meal.
Chocolate Cake Baked Oats (Serves 2)
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1 ripe banana
- 2 ½ tablespoons nut butter or 2 eggs
- ½ cup nut milk
- 2 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- Pinch of salt
- Blitz all ingredients except chocolate chips in blender.
- Divide batter into 2 ramekins misted with cooking spray and top with chocolate chips.
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Still struggling to find motivation? Check out these stories from real-life women who incorporated more healthy beta-glucan into their diets and experienced improved blood pressure, weight, and more.
Jean Boyes’ Beta-Glucan Health Transformation
When 61-year-old Pennsylvania nurse Jean Boyes found herself struggling with autoimmune issues, she reported that her treatment caused her to gain weight that was difficult to lose. Bouncing between well-known plans, she eventually found a weight loss coach who urged her to choose foods that made her feel good and turned off hunger for a long time. Staples became protein, veggies, and oats. “I used to be hungry again right after breakfast. Oatmeal keeps me full most of the day,” said Boyes. Before long, her health transformed: She lost weight, reversed her diabetes and high blood pressure, and got off five meds. “I never thought I could see such a turnaround at my age,” she said.
Coach Karen Drexler’s Boost From Beta-Glucan
Tennessee mother, Karen Drexler, 51, and her pilot husband have always loved family travel. But she reported feeling like weight gain was sapping her energy and making adventures more difficult. Fad diets only made matters worse, so a friend suggested Esselstyn’s oat-forward, plant-based approach. “I loved the science and the simplicity. There’s no measuring or counting. You eat as much as you want of a large variety of food like oats, beans, fruit and veggies,” she said.
On day one, Drexler swapped her usual morning cereal for oatmeal with fruit and flaxseed. “It made me feel full for a few hours longer than usual—and set me up to make better choices all day.” Soon, she was experimenting with healthy versions of oat waffles, muffins, cookies, even oat-based burgers and savory oats with veggies. Her fave? Baked oatmeal. “I make mine with frozen black cherries, almond extract and slivered almonds. It’s delicious,” she said.
Within a year, Karen lost weight and gained energy, inspiring her to coach other folks. “You can go all in like I did, or you can start small and replace one unhealthy habit with a healthy habit and make positive changes over time,” Drexler said. Either way, great things can clearly start with a daily bowl of oatmeal.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.