A new oat variety containing high levels of cholesterol-lowering beta-glucan has been developed, meaning that food manufacturers could soon offer whole oat products that pack the same health benefits as ordinary oats into smaller portions.
The new variety, termed HiFi, has been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists, together with colleagues at North Dakota State University (NDSU).
"HiFi is about 50 percent higher in beta-glucan than the oats you'd buy in the grocery store, so you don't have to eat as much to get the same health benefits - or you can eat more oats to get more of the benefits from beta-glucan," said ARS cereal chemist Doug Doehlert.
Oats, which contain a soluble dietary fiber source shown to lower cholesterol and improve glycemic control, are becoming increasingly well-known for their health benefits.
Combined with a healthy diet, beta-glucan can help lower 'bad' cholesterol levels in the blood, reducing the risk of heart disease.
HiFi, which stands for 'high fiber,' is a new spring oat cultivar bred specifically for its elevated beta-glucan levels.
Doehlert and Mike McMullen of NDSU have been cooperatively breeding oats since 1993. During a routine grain analysis in 1999, Doehlert noticed that one of the lines furnished by McMullen contained more beta-glucan than the others.
The oat also had good agronomic characteristics and disease resistance, said the scientists, who made its seed available for planting.
The ARS and NDSC, who published their joint registration of HiFi in August, said that although several US oat breeders have been working on the development of high beta-glucan oats, none have so far released a cultivar.
And commercial interest in HiFi was boosted by the publication of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) health claims, said the scientists in this month's issue of Agricultural Research Magazine.
Organic Grain and Milling (OGM), a subsidiary of Ceres Organic Harvest, is currently negotiating licensing rights with the NDSU Research Foundation to market HiFi, and it plans on targeting production in the organic marketplace as a retail and industrial brand, said the scientists.
"Marketing has been a big bottleneck," said Doehlert, "so we're quite thrilled that OGM is interested."
Indeed, functional foods designed to lower cholesterol have gained significant momentum in recent years. Oats have an added advantage over many sterol-containing products as they can be labeled as GM-free. They also contain a number of other nutrients including antioxidants and fatty acids.