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Oat β-glucan: physico-chemical characteristics in relation to its blood-glucose and cholesterol-lowering properties

  • Qi Wang (a1) and Peter R. Ellis (a2)

The water-soluble, mixed-linkage β-glucan, a form of soluble dietary fibre, is considered the main biologically active component responsible for the capacity of many oat products to lower postprandial glycaemia and fasting plasma cholesterol in human subjects. The present review discusses the physical and chemical properties of oat β-glucan that are considered important predictors of these beneficial metabolic effects. In vitro modelling and animal and human studies have provided compelling evidence showing that the ability of oat β-glucan to increase the viscosity of digesta in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is a primary determinant of its blood-glucose and cholesterol-lowering properties. Therefore, the chemical structure, molecular weight (MW), the rate and extent of dissolution and solution rheology of oat β-glucan are key factors in determining the physiological function of oat-containing foods. The structure and properties of oat β-glucan vary between species and varieties of oats, and are also affected by the growing and storage conditions and processing of oat grain. In addition, the extraction and analysis methods may also contribute to the variations in the structure, MW, hydration and solution rheology of β-glucan obtained from different laboratories. Recent work has demonstrated that β-glucan solubility in foods depends on the source of the material and processing conditions; solubility may also be subject to changes during food preparation and storage (such as freezing). In conclusion, both the amount and MW of β-glucan that are solubilised in the GIT need to be considered when assessing the blood-glucose and cholesterol-lowering properties of oat-containing foods.

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* Corresponding author: Q. Wang, fax +1 226 217 8181, email
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