What is a Beta-Glucan?
Beta-glucans are polysaccharides that occur naturally in the cell walls of functional mushrooms, such as Reishi, Turkey Tail, Shiitake, and Maitake, as well as in oats, barley, bacteria, yeast, and algae. They are a soluble fiber that carries powerful benefits. They help to maintain healthy gut bacteria that support your cholesterol level, blood sugar management, and immune system functionality.
Before we explain how and why you should incorporate beta-glucans into your diet, here’s a breakdown on how they work.
How Does a Beta-Glucan Work?
As soluble fiber, beta-glucans dissolve partially in water and slow the transit of food in the intestine. This allows carbohydrates to be absorbed more slowly and makes us feel satiated longer. As food is digested more slowly, the body does not absorb sugar as quickly, and that helps to support healthy blood sugar levels. Because it is indigestible, soluble fiber must travel through the entire digestive tract, attaching to the cholesterol in food and helping to excrete it from the body. Beta-glucans also have high antioxidant properties and the ability to produce short-chain fatty acids in the intestine, which can also have a positive impact on metabolism.
Beta-glucans are thought to provide several health benefits:
- reduce cholesterol and triglycerides for overall heart health;
- help maintain healthy body weight by increasing satiation and supporting blood sugar levels;
- promote healthy gut bacteria in intestinal tract as well as short-chain fatty acids;
- stimulate the immune system, potentially warding off fatigue, infection and stress; and
- moisturize and firm the skin, promoting a smooth appearance and healthy aging.
How to Incorporate Beta-glucans Into Your Diet
Beta-glucans are found in the following foods:
- Functional mushrooms, including Reishi, Maitake, Turkey Tail, and Shiitake
- oats and whole grains
- barley fiber
As humans do not produce beta-glucans, functional mushrooms can play an important role in supporting daily health and wellness. Known for their ability to activate the immune system, beta-glucans act as “immunomodulators” facilitating a balance in a weak immune system, or down-regulating an overactive immune system.
An easy way to incorporate beta-glucans from functional mushrooms into your diet without necessarily having to cook is to take Om functional mushroom powders or capsules like Om Restore, which features certified organic Reishi mushrooms and supports immunity, energy replenishment and detoxification. Om Maitake is also a great source of beta-glucans, for the support of healthy blood sugar management. Finally, Om Turkey Tail is a wonderful source of beta-glucans and prebiotics that support gut health. Om products can be dissolved in liquid, though Om also makes it easy to craft beta-glucan-rich recipes with the functional mushroom product of your choice.
Though research is still emerging on the health benefits of beta-glucans, it is clear that their potential to support immune health, gut health and heart health are enough to make them a smart addition to your diet. Keep in mind that beta-glucans are just one piece of the puzzle. For total cardiovascular health, aim for an overall healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a diet low in saturated fat. View Reishi , Maitake and Turkey Tail, as well as other mushroom superfood products from Om.
Erica Garza is an author and essayist from Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared in TIME, Health, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and VICE.