In a new ground breaking study by University of Queensland, researchers investigated the cholesterol-handling mechanisms of beta-glucans, which are found in very high levels in oats and barley grains.
Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fibre known to lower the risk of heart disease but the way they do this has been only partly understood, until now.
This unique study used a very high quality animal model in pigs, an animal model very important to studying human digestion because of the similarity to human’s digestive make up, allowing a more detailed study that otherwise could never have been obtained in a human study.
Nutritional Advisor for Freedom Foods, Dr Jo Mcmillan says, “Diets high in wholegrains have been associated with a lower risk of several cancers, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and better weight control. This study is important as it contributes to our understanding of the mechanisms behind these associations. Oats and barley stand out in the research for their health benefits and it seems their high content of beta-glucans contributes to this. Freedom Foods has a range of products to help people get more oats and barley into their diets, including the CSIRO developed supergrain BARLEYmax with even higher levels of beta-glucans than regular barley. Enjoying these products regularly has the potential to significantly improve the health of Australians.”
Professor Mike Gidley and colleagues, conducting the study, reported that they demonstrated that beta-glucan added to the diet for 26 days caused a 57% decrease in LDL cholesterol [commonly known as the bad blood-cholesterol], a 34% decrease in total cholesterol and a decrease of 24% in blood total bile acids, compared to a control diet.
While past human studies have shown that beta-glucans do lower levels of blood LDL-cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, the detailed mechanism has not been defined, and although scientists have believed that beta-glucans prevent bile acids from being reabsorbed back into the blood, the new research shows it’s not as simple as that.
Bile acids are made using cholesterol and secreted into the intestine to help with digestion. Having less bile acid reabsorbed is a good thing because then the liver needs to break down more cholesterol to make more bile acids needed to maintain a regular supply for digestion.
In the past, researchers believed this was the main mechanism by which beta-glucans in oats and barley kept blood cholesterol levels down in people who ate diets rich in oat and barley.
However, Professor Gidley and his team have found that the reduced blood cholesterol levels seen with eating beta-glucans in the diet “not only physically hinders the active reabsorption of bile acids and uptake of cholesterol, but also changes the bile acid profile with lower circulating levels …, resulting in reduced blood total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol.” Cholesterol absorption from the gut is also decreased.
A diet rich in beta-glucans essentially allows the body to reset its blood bile acid levels and this ultimately reduces the body’s blood cholesterol levels. All this means that there is less LDL-cholesterol circulating in the blood, and so less LDL-cholesterol available to do damage to the heart blood vessels.
The study also proved that there is prebiotic activity associated with beta-glucan feeding (which includes the non-absorbed bile acids providing food for the good gut bacteria) which results in favourable changes in the large intestine.
A diet rich in beta-glucans can be achieved by eating oats and barley. Freedom Foods Nutritional Advisor, Dr Joanna McMillan, has compiled five delicious ways to enjoy oats, not just within your porridge but also during the summer months:
- Make a Bircher style muesli by soaking a mixture of oats or a mixture of oats and barley, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in milk, or a dairy alternative such as soy or almond milk, overnight in the fridge. In the morning stir through some natural yoghurt and top with summer fresh fruits.
- Substitute some of the flour in a muffin recipe for rolled oats which will give you a great fibre boost.
- Make homemade cookies using rolled oats. Why not try my mouth-watering Chai Spiced Oat Seed Cookies – recipe available on request.
- Make your own toasted muesli by tossing rolled oats, or a mixture of oats and barley, with nuts, extra virgin olive oil and a little honey or maple syrup. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake on 160C for 20 minutes, shaking the tray every now and again to ensure it cooks evenly. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and store in an airtight container.
- Make a fibre rich, dairy free breakfast smoothie by blending almond milk or soy milk with rolled oats, berries, banana and almond butter.
Chai Spiced Oat & Seed Cookies
Time: 40 mins
Makes 12 cookies
Vegan, Vegetarian, Dairy free
PER SERVE: Energy 700kJ, Protein 4g, Fat 11g (saturated 2g, polyunsaturated 3g, monounsaturated 5g), Carbohydrate 12g (sugars 5g, all naturally present), Fibre 3g
These cookies are perfect as your morning or afternoon snack with your tea or coffee. They have no added sugar, deliver the good fats from extra virgin olive oil, almonds and seeds, have only 12g of carbohydrate and 700kJ per cookie, they are a good source of fibre and best of all they are delicious!
This recipe will make 12 cookies and a serve is one cookie. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days or you can freeze them for later use.
3 tsp chai spices
¼ cup raisins
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 ½ cups rolled oats
¼ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2tb chia seeds
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Put the chai spices in a small bowl and cover with ¼ cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. Drain through a tea strainer (or small sieve) into another bowl and add the raisins. Soak for at least 10 minutes, stirring every so often.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Have a non-stick baking tray ready, or line a baking tray with baking paper.
3. In a separate larger bowl, combine the oats, coconut, almond meal and three types of seeds.