Will we shortly be able to pluck an oat juice from the supermarket shelf or grab an oat ice cream from the freezer cabinet? European scientists currently investigating how a soluble dietary fibre from oat or barley could help consumers reduce high blood cholesterol levels and balance blood glucose peaks seem to think so.
Called beta-glucan, researchers suggest that this soluble dietary fibre could, in turn, help prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
On the agenda for the three-year project, launched in 2001, are methods to isolate beta-glucan from cereals, designing new food products enriched in beta-glucan, evaluating consumer acceptance of the new foods and finally, evaluating the physiological effects of the food prototypes in people.
During the first year of the project, scientists succeeded in manufacturing beta-glucan preparations. Some of these preparations were then tested in mice trials, where results revealed they were effective in lowering blood lipid levels. The beta-glucan fractions were also included in a beverage prototype and tested by sensory assessors.
An ongoing human clinical trial is currently assessing the food products containing beta-glucan, and tracking the influence these foods could have on cholesterol levels and glucose metabolism.
As type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels continue to increase in Europe the researchers, co-ordinated by Dr Gunilla önning at Lund university in Sweden, are hoping that their studies will lead to new beta-glucan enriched functional foods which, not only appeal to consumers, but also help in the control of blood cholesterol and in the balance of blood glucose levels.