From immune system support to cardiovascular health, beta-glucans are emerging as nature's allies in our quest for optimal health. But how can you get a hold of these powerhouse nutrients? Let’s find out.
Whether you're seeking to fortify your immune defences, improve heart health, or simply enhance your overall wellbeing, understanding the role of beta-glucans in the body can provide valuable insights into making informed and health-conscious choices in your daily nutrition. Get ready to explore the foods that can serve as your daily dose of this immune-boosting powerhouse – you might already have some of these in your cupboard!
What Are Beta-Glucans?
Beta-glucans are a type of soluble fibre found in certain foods, known for their potential health benefits, including immune system support and cholesterol reduction.
Beta-glucans are considered beneficial for health due to their various physiological effects, particularly in supporting the immune system and improving cardiovascular health. Here are some reasons why these nutrients are so good for us.
Immune System Support: Beta-glucans have immunomodulatory properties, meaning they can help regulate the immune system. They can enhance the activity of immune cells known as macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells – all of which function to keep us healthy – thereby improving the body's defence against infections and diseases.
Antioxidant Properties: Some beta-glucans, especially those derived from certain mushrooms, possess antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which are associated with various chronic diseases.
Cholesterol Reduction: Beta-glucans, particularly those found in oats and barley, have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol) levels. This can contribute to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Blood Sugar Regulation: Beta-glucans may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of glucose in the intestines. This can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing diabetes.
Gut Health: Beta-glucans can serve as prebiotics, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. A healthy gut microbiota is associated with various aspects of health, including digestion, immune function, and mental well-being.
Wound Healing: Some research suggests that beta-glucans may have a positive impact on wound healing. They can stimulate the production of collagen, which is essential for the repair of tissues.
Anti-inflammatory Effects: Beta-glucans have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial for individuals with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases.
Here are four foods that are rich in beta-glucans:
Oats are one of the most well-known sources of beta-glucans. The soluble fibre in oats, particularly in oat bran and oatmeal, has been associated with lowering LDL cholesterol levels by a whopping 5%.
- Oat Groats: These are the whole, minimally processed oats. They have the highest beta-glucan content among oat products.
- Steel-Cut Oats: These are oat groats that have been chopped into pieces. They also have a relatively high beta-glucan content.
- Rolled Oats: These oats are steamed and flattened with large rollers. While the rolling process reduces their beta-glucan content compared to whole oats, they still contain a significant amount.
- Instant Oats: These are pre-cooked and then dried, making them quick to prepare, but processing can result in a slight reduction in beta-glucan content compared to rolled oats, not to mention the fibre reduction! Plus, you’ll want to be careful that you’re not getting added sugars in these – your best bet would be to stick to minimally-processed oats.
- Oat Bran: Oat bran, the outer layer of the oat kernel, is particularly rich in beta-glucans. Adding oat bran to your diet is an effective way to increase beta-glucan intake.
Barley is another cereal grain that contains significant amounts of beta-glucans – drop some of this stuff into your favourite soups or use it to make bread. Why? You’ve got the following benefits to look forward to:
Fighting LDL Cholesterol: Barley beta-glucans have the ability to form a viscous gel in the digestive tract. This gel acts like a sponge, trapping cholesterol and preventing its absorption in the intestines. They’ve been associated with a reduction in LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. By lowering LDL cholesterol, barley beta-glucans contribute to cardiovascular health and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Blood Sugar Regulation: Slowing Glucose Absorption: Barley’s beta-glucans slow down the absorption of glucose in the digestive tract. This helps to regulate blood sugar levels and can be particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those aiming to manage blood sugar.
Increased Feeling of Fullness: The gel-forming properties of barley’s beta-glucans contribute to a feeling of fullness. This can be beneficial for weight management by reducing overall calorie intake and promoting satiety.
Mushrooms like shiitake and maitake contain a good dose of beta-glucans, and they’ve been extensively studies for their potential immune-modulating effects – let’s dive into how it works (and what immune-modulating even means!)
Stimulation of Immune Cells: Beta-glucans are recognised as immunomodulators, meaning they can modulate or regulate the activity of the immune system. Studies have shown that beta-glucans from mushrooms can stimulate certain immune cells, enhancing the body's defence mechanisms.
Enhancement of Macrophage Activity: Activation of Macrophages: Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in the immune response. Research suggests that beta-glucans, including those from shiitake and maitake mushrooms, can enhance the activity of macrophages, improving their ability to engulf and eliminate pathogens.
Protection Against Infections: Some studies have explored the antiviral and antimicrobial properties of beta-glucans from mushrooms. They may contribute to protecting the body against certain infections.
Some types of seaweed, including laminaria and wakame, contain beta-glucans – here’s what they can do:
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some studies suggest that the compounds found in laminaria and wakame, including fucoidans and fucans, may possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties are associated with various health benefits.
Cardiovascular Health: Certain compounds in seaweeds, including laminaria and wakame, have been studied for their potential cardiovascular benefits, such as blood pressure regulation and lipid metabolism.
Digestive Health: The alginates in seaweeds may contribute to digestive health by providing soluble fibre and forming gels in the gastrointestinal tract.
Mineral Content: Seaweeds are also notable for their mineral content, including iodine, which is essential for thyroid function. However, it's important to be mindful of iodine intake, as excessive consumption can have adverse effects.
Need a little help getting your health back on track? Join us for the 8-Week Program and we’ll help you change the way you look at food – and that doesn’t mean you have to follow restrictive diets or miss out on your favourite foods; we believe you can still enjoy delicious food without jeopardising your health. With celebrity chef Sarah Glover on our panel of experts, you’ll have an array of fun recipes at your fingertips, along with our own exclusive armoury of simple, tasty and healthy recipes for everything from daily meals to impressive entertaining. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
- Community forums to share your journey.
- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
- Exclusive content from our panel of experts.
So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!