by Marion Nestle
Mar 16 2010

Cargill thinks beta-glucan is the new oat bran

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.

  • Anthro

    It just goes on and on and on……

    When will people learn that you’ll get all the fiber (or whatever else they are pushing) you need if you simply eat whole grains, fruit and veg in appropriate serving sizes?

    If that (and a daily walk) fails to keep your cholesterol normal, then pop a cheap, generic statin once a day.

  • And when will people learn that you’re not going to prevent heart attacks by popping a statin drug? The truth is that lowering cholesterol does not reduce your risk of heart disease. There is NO correlation between the two!

  • Subvert

    Fiber from a beverage..? I’m with Anthro, why can’t people eat whole food?

    People would rather pay an exorbitant markup on a processed ‘functional’ drink rather than eat a few pieces of fruit or sides of vegetables every day.

    Maybe if people ate ‘real’ food, they wouldn’t have so many issues with high cholesterol and CHD..?

  • Abhinav F. G. Heist

    …probably just another food-like substance that will help them to add “value” to questionable products…

  • Darin

    Am I missing something? If it’s good for you, why not put it in drinks? You could try to change people’s habits, but it seems way easier just to make their current habits healthier. Is the article challenging the health claim, or Cargill’s motives? I’m confused?

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  • Ah yes, another unncecessary ingredient people that avoid barley have to look out for. Its fun to wake up in the morning and wonder, “where will the gluten be hiding today?”

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