In 2008, in response to a petition by Cargill, the FDA authorized a health claim for beta-glucan extracted from barley. Beta-glucan is a form of soluble fiber similar to that from oats, psyllium, and other grains or from the cell walls of yeast. It can help lower blood cholesterol levels and, therefore, the risk of coronary heart disease.
Cargill must think that beta-glucan will create another oat bran craze such as the one that occurred in the late 1980s. Or at least that’s the impression given by the latest news from the U.K.: “Cargill says EFSA health claim will transform beverage fibre fortunes.”
The deal with beta-glucan is that it can be added to drinks (presumably sugary). If so, the drinks can carry the claim:
3 grams per day of barley beta-glucan, as part of a diet low in saturated fat, and a healthy lifestyle, can help manage normal blood cholesterol (my emphasis).
Beta-glucan is a “functional” ingredient, meaning that it is something added to a food ostensibly to boost its health value. But the entire point of functional ingredients is to be able to make health claims for them. Health claims sell food products when nobody bothers to read the fine print.