Beta glucan is a soluble fibre readily available from oats and barley grains that has been gaining interest due to its ability to reduce cholesterol levels.
THE Chinese New Year is synonymous with family gatherings, company functions and “open houses” where we typically eat more than we should. But have you ever considered the effects of that second (or third!) helping of aromatic lap mei fun (waxed meat rice), or the delicious and seemingly harmless bak kwa (barbequed meat)?
We all know fatty foods are bad for our waistlines, but what do they actually do to our hearts?
Cholesterol and the heart
One of the most accurate indicators of heart health is the state of the arteries that supply it.
Atherosclerosis is a condition whereby cholesterol plaques (fatty deposits) build up in the arteries over a long period of time. It is caused by eating unhealthy fats on a regular basis. The result is that the arteries that supply blood to your heart become narrower, which means it becomes increasingly difficult for your heart to get the blood (and therefore, the oxygen) it needs.
When these arteries are blocked, it is common for people to experience chest pain, known as angina. So, where does your heavy festive meal come in? Eating a heavy meal can cause a bout of angina. And if you suffer from unstable angina, this can indicate the possible threat of a heart attack.
A heart attack usually occurs because a cholesterol plaque inside one of the coronary arteries ruptures, and this causes a blood clot to form around the ruptured plaque. The clot then prevents blood from moving through to the heart. Therefore, your best remedy is to cut down on cholesterol-laden unhealthy fats at all times – and not just at Chinese New Year.
Cholesterol comes from two sources: the body and food. The liver and other cells in your body make about 75% of blood cholesterol. The other 25% comes from the food you eat. Cholesterol is only found in animal products.
There are two types of cholesterol – HDL is the “good” cholesterol that helps keep the LDL (bad) cholesterol from getting lodged into your artery walls.
A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may also protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels of HDL cholesterol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. It is thus, essential that we manage our cholesterol levels.
High cholesterol levels were initially associated with the middle-aged and elderly, but are increasingly being found in the younger generation. Many people are not even aware that they have high cholesterol because they don’t do blood checks.
For those who are aware of their high cholesterol levels, their doctors would have prescribed them some cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, for those concerned about high cholesterol levels due to lifestyle habits, try taking high beta glucan cholesterol-lowering drinks.
Oats and barley have high levels of beta glucan, which is recognised by many authorities (such as the Health Ministry, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the European Food and Safety Authority) as a way to lower cholesterol.
Because oats and barley beta glucan is a soluble form of fibre, it dissolves inside the digestive tract, where it forms a thick gel. This gel is able to bind excess cholesterol and saturated fats within the gut, and help prevent these from being absorbed into the body.
The gel and the cholesterol are then excreted as part of the body’s waste.
How does it affect the cholesterol profile?
Experts agree that oats and barley beta glucan can lower both total and the more harmful LDL cholesterol levels, while not affecting the beneficial HDL cholesterol.
This appears to be dose-responsive – in other words, the higher the intake of oats and barley beta glucan, the greater the reduction in total and LDL cholesterol. An optimal intake is considered to be three grams or more of oat and barley beta glucan per day.
In clinical trials, this effect can be seen within six weeks of intake.
Many people find high beta glucan cholesterol-lowering drinks unappealing because of its bland taste. Some people may mix it with sweetened soy milk or fruit juice to make it taste a little bit better, but this increases one’s sugar intake at the same time.
An alternative is a lightly sweetened high beta glucan cholesterol drink, available in pharmacies. It is easy to prepare and tastes delicious. Simply mix it with cold or warm water (it is important not to use hot water), and drink it twice daily (approximately 15 minutes before two of your bigger meals of the day).
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