8 Foods High in Beta-Glucan for Healthy Cholesterol Levels

You've heard time and time again that eating fiber is good for you, but did you know that different types of fiber have different benefits?

For example, soluble fiber — such as beta-glucan — can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood, while insoluble fiber doesn't bind to cholesterol but instead helps keep your bowels running smoothly, per the Mayo Clinic.

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Beta-glucan, or β-glucan, is a type of dietary fiber that has been associated with a number of health benefits, per a September 2017 report in the ​International Journal of Molecular Sciences​. It's linked to:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced total and LDL cholesterol
  • Preventing the growth and spread of cancer cells
  • Anti-inflammatory effects
  • Regulating the immune system

One of the most researched benefits of beta-glucan is its effect on blood cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan can attach itself to bile acids and excrete these acids from the body.

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Bile acids are generated by the liver using the body's stores of cholesterol and when they are expelled from the body, the liver is required to use up more cholesterol in order to make new bile acids. This leads to decreased cholesterol levels in the body, according to a July 2012 review in ​Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety​.

How Much Beta-Glucan Do You Need?

There's no Daily Value (DV) for this fiber, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that eating 3 grams per day of beta-glucan from oats or barley is linked to a reduced heart disease risk.

You can get about 3 grams of beta-glucan in 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal or barley — which meets the FDA's recommendation for daily beta-glucan intake, per 2012 research in the ​Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

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Here, you'll find a comprehensive list of foods with the highest beta-glucan content.

1. Oats

Oats are rich in fiber, especially beta-glucan prebiotic fiber.
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Oats are among the richest sources of beta-glucan, with a 3.5-ounce serving providing 3 grams to 8 grams. Oats are perhaps the most studied beta-glucan food sources and are associated with a number of benefits, such as reduced total and LDL cholesterol levels, heart disease risk and blood sugar levels.

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Try them in these high-fiber oat dinner recipes (yes, you can enjoy oats any time of the day). If you're strapped for time, overnight oats may be your best bet.

2. Barley

Barley and oats compete for the number one position for the highest beta-glucan content. Barley contains 2 grams to 20 grams beta-glucan per 3.5 ounces.

A June 2016 study in the ​European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ found that eating 6.5 grams to 6.9 grams per day of barley β-glucans reduced total and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 7 percent in people with normal and high cholesterol levels.

To reap the cholesterol-lowering effects of this cereal grain, try cooking barley in a slow-cooker for a mostly hands-off meal.

3. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms are rich in beta-glucan. They're also considered medicinal mushrooms — along with maitake, shiitake and chaga mushrooms — because of the many health-promoting benefits they offer.

Reishi mushrooms might strengthen the immune response and help your body fight against bacteria, viruses and other harmful compounds, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In animal lab studies, beta-glucan in reishi helped stop or slow the growth of cancer cells and prevented them from spreading.

4. Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are another beta-glucan food source that you can easily add to your diet.

These mushrooms are sometimes recommended during cancer treatment due to their anti-tumor effects. They have also been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, per a September 2014 study in ​Mycobiology.

5. Nutritional Yeast

If you follow a plant-based diet, you may already know about (and love) nutritional yeast, also known as nooch. It's rich in beta-glucan, and, more interestingly, the specific type of beta-glucan found in yeast has immune-supporting effects, per an April 2014 study in ​Nutrition Journal​.

Nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of many B vitamins, such as vitamins B6 and B12, folate, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin, per the USDA. Considering vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal products, people following a vegan or plant-based diet may have trouble meeting their vitamin B12 needs without a supplement, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — that's where nooch can help.

Try adding nutritional yeast to these plant-based recipes for a cheesy taste without the cheese.

6. Seaweed

Seaweed snacks can be a good source of beta-glucan and iodine.
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Yes, seaweed is edible. It's also quite nutritious and rich in beta-glucan, especially brown seaweed such as kelp. The beta-glucan extracted from brown seaweed has been shown to possess anti-tumor and immune-strengthening properties, according to a September 2017 review in the ​International Journal of Molecular Sciences​.

Seaweed is also one of the best food sources of iodine. About 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of nori (a type of seaweed) contains 155 percent of the DV of iodine, per the NIH.

7. Rye Bread

Oats and barley have the highest beta-glucan content, but other whole grains — like rye, wheat and sorghum — are also rich in this prebiotic fiber.

A 3.5-ounce serving of rye contains 1.3 grams to 2.7 grams of β-glucan, per research in the ​Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

8. Whole-Wheat Bread

Wheat is certainly not as high in beta-glucan as some other grains, but it still contains a fair share.

A 3.5-ounce serving of wheat contains 0.5 grams to 1 gram of beta-glucan. Meanwhile, the same serving of sorghum contains 1.6 grams to 6.2 grams. Rice also contains beta-glucan, but only a tiny amount — 0.13 grams per 3.5-ounce serving.

Make sure you're eating whole-wheat bread (rather than just brown bread) to reap the benefits.

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