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In foreground, a hand holds a tiny pile of oats; in background is large pile of the harvested oat crop. Link to photo information
The new HiFi oat cultivar is about 50 percent higher in beta-glucan than oats you'd buy at the grocery store. Click the image for more information about it.

New Heart-Healthy Oat Now Available

By Jan Suszkiw
February 6, 2006

Health-conscious consumers can now get more of the soluble oat fiber called beta-glucan in their diets, thanks to a new oat variety developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) scientists.

Combined with a healthy diet, beta-glucan can help lower blood levels of so-called "bad" cholesterol, diminishing the risk of heart disease. In August, ARS and NDSU scientists published their joint registration of "HiFi," a new spring oat bred specifically for increased beta-glucan content.

According to Doug Doehlert, a cereal chemist with ARS' Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center in Fargo, N.D., HiFi boasts 50 percent more beta-glucan than whole-oat products now sold in grocery stores.

This means a consumer could eat less of a whole-oat product made with HiFi to get the same health benefit. Or, more of the food could be eaten to gain even more of beta-glucan's benefits, according to Doehlert, in the ARS center's Cereal Crops Research Unit.

Doehlert and Mike McMullen of NDSU have been cooperatively breeding oats since 1993. During routine grain analysis, Doehlert noticed something odd: One of the oat lines furnished by McMullen contained more beta-glucan than usual.

The oat also had good agronomic characteristics and excellent disease resistance, so its seed was made available for production in the northern Plains region. There, farmers grow oats primarily to feed livestock, and they prefer varieties with high fat content rather than high fiber.

Interest in HiFi for food products initially looked bleak, since such oats are normally imported from Canada or oat-producing regions of the United States other than the northern Plains. But health-label claims now permitted for foods containing beta-glucan have rekindled interest in HiFi, according to Doehlert. In fact, Organic Grain and Milling, Inc., of Hudson, Wis., is negotiating licensing rights with the NDSU Research Foundation to market HiFi as an organic brand.

Read more about the research in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.