Boost Your Immune System & Lower Your Cholesterol
Ever since we were kids, our moms would make us eat bland mushy oatmeal or gross earthy mushrooms. But as researchers are slowly finding out, our moms were onto something. Both these foods along with yeast, seaweed, barley, wheat and rye all contain a compound called β–Glucans, or Beta Glucans. This compound is a form of fiber bonded by sugar molecules joined together, also known as polysaccharides. This compound is known as an immunomodulator, meaning it can naturally raise your body’s immune system making it less susceptible to viruses and diseases. Also its structure as a soluble fiber gives it many cardiovascular benefits. In this article we will discuss the many benefits of the underappreciated Beta Glucans, the best ways to add them to your diet and why you should enjoy them!
Beta Glucan Benefits
This fantastic compound has many benefits and you might even know some of them already. If you’ve ever eaten oatmeal and read the little label which reads something along the lines of “As part of a heart-healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal can help reduce cholesterol”, you guessed it, they are talking about Beta Glucans. This was proven in a study conducted by the US Department of Agriculture at Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Maryland, in which individuals with elevated cholesterol were put on a regulated diet as well as an oat fiber extract consisting of either 1% or 10% Beta Glucan. After five weeks both groups showed positive decreases in their low density lipoprotein (LDL), with the group consuming 10% Beta Glucans lowering their overall cholesterol significantly more than the 1% group.
As mentioned earlier, Beta Glucans are known as immunomodulators, meaning they can help regulate the immune system without overdoing the effect. Unlike immune system stimulators, Beta Glucans are different in the way that they do not have the potential to overstimulate your immune system. An over stimulated immune system can sometimes attack threats in your body that aren’t present, which will eventually lead to a weakened immune system over time. As you might’ve guessed nobody wants a weakened immune system as that could lead to a higher risk of contracting infections and types of cancers. Because Beta Glucans are quite safe in this sense, they are being used quite frequently to help prevent the spread of cancers as an alternative to chemotherapy or radiation. Research supports the ability of Beta Glucans to reduce the growth rate of cancer cells and stimulate a stronger immune response to foreign invaders.
The other benefit I will cover in the article includes Beta Glucans ability to help combat diabetes and lower insulin resistance. Like other types of soluble fiber, it can help slow the digestion of glucose after a meal. Some studies showed the glycemic response after a carb heavy meal that included Beta Glucans was lowered by up to 25%. This can be very helpful for individuals struggling with weight or at an elevated risk for diabetes. This process happens in the intestines, the soluble fiber turns into a gel which delays nutrient absorption into the bloodstream. Bacteria ferment Beta Glucans in the intestinal tract, producing short-chain fatty acids. These stimulate insulin to be released from the pancreas and alter glycogen breakdown by the liver and therefore play a role in glucose metabolism and protect against insulin resistance.
There are many other benefits, but there isn’t room in this article alone to explain them all. Do some research yourself about Beta Glucans and find out more.
Beta Glucan Supplements
Unlike most other compounds, our body is unable to produce Beta Glucans, meaning we must supplement them in our diet. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, foods that are rich in Beta Glucans include:
✓ Whole grains
The daily recommendation of Beta Glucans is anywhere from 3-6 grams, from as many different sources as possible. Mushrooms that have the highest concentrations of Beta Glucans include shiitake, maitake, reishi and shimeji. Beta Glucans in mushrooms have a very strong immune boosting benefit as well as the ability to lower cholesterol. Particularly in maitake and shiitake the anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) benefits are significantly greater.
Whole grains that contain the highest amount of Beta Glucans include oats and barley. Whole wheat and rye also contain the compound, but to a lesser degree. The benefits of the Beta Glucans in mushrooms are also present in whole grains, but these have a stronger correlation with lowering cholesterol (by as much as 20%) than with improving the immune system.
Dates have a special type of Beta Glucans called Beta-D-Glucan, which is both a soluble and insoluble fiber. Like the rest, its solubility allows it to bind with cholesterol and allow your body to dispose of it (effectively lowering your overall cholesterol). While the insoluble portion of the fiber helps keep you regular and prevent constipation. Beta-D-Glucans are especially good at slowing the absorption of sugar into the blood stream making them a delicious and low Glycemic Index fruit to snack on. There are certain supplements that exist which include Beta Glucans. But like most other supplements that are abundant in whole foods, it will be much cheaper and nutritional to find a way to add foods high in Beta Glucans over buying an extra supplement.
Take Home Message
When it comes to your health there are no excuses, and the more you know the better you can eat, feel and live. Hopefully for the majority reading this article, you already have a source or two of Beta Glucans in their diet, maybe without even knowing it! But if your diet is void of the above foods don’t be afraid to try and introduce them into your daily diet. It could be as easy as putting some mushrooms on your salads or eating a big bowl of oats for breakfast (which actually tastes very good and creamy when you add a scoop of whey protein and some cinnamon).
Even if you’re not worried about diabetes, high cholesterol or cancer, Beta-Glucans are simply a very good fiber source that have the added benefits of possibly preventing you from contracting a virus or disease, contracting diabetes or developing high cholesterol. Whatever your dietary situation may be I hope you learned something valuable from this article and now understand about the importance of Beta Glucans.