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Oat bran.

Oat Bran: Part II

The way things are going, it would have taken less effort to write an article about the few remaining foods that don't contain oat bran.

"I've never seen a phenomenon like oat bran in my 24 years [of covering new products]," Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News, told The Washington Post last May. "Soon we'll see oat-bran matzos [and] dog biscuits..."

But if you can't stomach the thought of eating still another Oat Bran Something, take heart. Manufacturers are already tripping over themselves to find oat bran's successor.

Among the hottest candidates are rice bran, corn bran, and psyllium--the plant used in laxatives like Metamucil.

What's behind the scramble? For the growing number of people concerned about their cholesterol, eating oat bran and its cousins seems like a simple solution to a messy problem.

And the food industry is only too happy to help. Companies are particularly eager to cash in on the craze because they're not bound by law or regulation to: * test to see if their product actually lowers cholesterol, * add more than a smidgen of oat bran (or whatever), * divulge how much oat bran they've added, or * provide even ordinary nutrition labeling.

To sort through the confusion, we offer a guide to the new cholesterol-lowering products. (Older ones were described in December, 1988. For a copy, send us $1 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope marked "Oat Bran, Part I.") Oat Bran. Oat bran does seem to lower cholesterol. The question is, by how much? The answer is still unclear, but here's what we know so far: * In Quaker Oats' studies of healthy people with average cholesterol levels, about 35 grams of hot oat bran cereal or oatmeal (slightly more than a 2/3-cup cooked serving) lowered cholesterol levels an average of three percent when eaten every day for four to six weeks. * In smaller studies of people who started out with higher cholesterol levels, the equivalent of 3 1/2 servings of hot oat bran cereal a day lowered average cholesterol by as much as 20 percent.

Here's what we don't know: * A serving of oatmeal has nine grams of oat bran, while a serving of oat bran cereal has 28 grams. Yet each was equally effective in lowering cholesterol. * Researchers think it's the soluble fiber in foods that lowers cholesterol. But oat bran has more (2 grams per 2/3 cup, cooked) than oatmeal (1.4 grams). Yet both appear to lower cholesterol equally.

It's possible that the studies conducted so far are not precise enough to detect the difference between 1.4 and 2 grams of soluble fiber. Or it might be something in the oats other than the bran or soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol.

Despite these uncertainties, consumers need some yardstick by which to judge oat-bran foods. Since few manufacturers have analyzed their products for soluble fiber, we use oat bran content in our chart.

Except for oatmeal, we assume that if one serving of any food has 35 grams of oat bran, it will lower the average person's cholesterol by three percent. The last column of the chart provides that information for 45 new foods. Cereals. Cereals still offer the most oat bran for the least fat and fewest calories. Just be careful to pick one with oats in the box, not just the name.

Post Honey Bunches of Oats, for example, has only one gram of oat bran per serving. The company says the cereal isn't intended to be a good source of oat bran, but the name implies otherwise.

On the bright side, two new cold cereals--Nabisco's 100% Bran with Oat Bran and Quaker's Ready-to-Eat Oat Bran--have 20 grams of oat bran per serving. That's still about one-third less than a bowl of the hot stuff, but it's more than you get in most other cold oat bran cereals, such as Kellogg's Common Sense Oat Bran (15 grams) or Ralston's Oat Bran Options (10 grams). Breads, Muffins, Doughnuts. Why eat cereal when you can get your oat bran in a moist, sweet muffin or doughnut? Fat and sugar, that's why.

Sugar is the first ingredient in Dunkin' Donuts' huge blueberry oat bran muffin. The modest 10 grams of oat bran come with a 270-calorie price tag, not to mention 1 1/2 teaspoons of fat.

A Sara Lee muffin has fewer calories (220), but only because it's smaller. A higher percentage of its calories come from nearly two teaspoons of fat.

Oat bran is just a bad excuse to eat Hostess and Duncan Hines muffins, Dunkin' Donuts and Safeway doughnuts, Lender's oat bran bagels, or Oatmeal Goodness English muffins. They have too little oat bran and (except for the bagels and English muffins) too much fat.

Hostess' label says "Oat Bran in 2 Muffins = 1 Bowl of Oatmeal." Perhaps, but two muffins pack 340 calories and four teaspoons of fat. The oatmeal has about 100 calories and less than half a teaspoon of fat.

The Best Bites in this category are Arrowhead Mills muffin mixes and Joseph's Calorie Conscious Oat Bran Pita. Snacks. Chips are fatty, with or without oat bran (and Robert's American Gourmet's are closer to without than with). The same goes for Season's Oat Bran (Cheetos-like) "puffs." Each product has two teaspoons of fat per serving.

Ralston's Oat Bran Krisp crackers aren't as fatty, but they aren't rich in oat bran either. Keystone won't even say how much oat bran its pretzels contain, but we estimate that it's no more than one gram per ounce. Other Products. This grab-bag category has both gems and duds. Health Valley's Oat Bran Fettucini dinners have 21 grams of oat bran and less than a teaspoon of fat. Health Valley supplies the pasta and dry sauce mix; you add water and cook.

Arrowhead Mills' Oat Bran Pancake & Waffle Mix is another winner, though it might not turn out the lightest, fluffiest pancakes. Or you can create your own sauce to top Edward & Sons Oat Bran pasta, available in natural foods stores.

In contrast, Kellogg's Common Sense Oat Bran Waffles is a Dud. It doesn't take much common sense to know that two grams of oat bran do not an oat bran waffle make. Psyllium. General Mills launched psyllium's food career last April when it introduced Benefit cereal.

To its credit, General Mills at least sponsored a study to test Benefit's ability to lower cholesterol. According to a summary, two servings a day lowered cholesterol by six percent. It's logical to assume that one serving might have lowered cholesterol by about three percent--the same drop you'd get from a bowl of oatmeal or oat bran.

But the participants in the General Mills study started with high cholesterol levels.

Since a higher initial cholesterol usually means a bigger drop, Benefit might be slightly less effective than oat bran when it comes to lowering cholesterol. But it's really too early to say.

General Mills wouldn't tell us how much psyllium is in a serving of Benefit, but we estimate that it's about as much as in 2 1/2 teaspoons of Metamucil. According to General Mills, Benefit should act like a laxative.

Kellogg wouldn't talk either, but judging by its Bran Buds' soluble-fiber content, we estimate that the cereal has 2/3 as much psyllium as Benefit. So far, Bran Buds with psyllium is only available in Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and Hartford. Rice Bran. In March, Antoinette Betschart at the USDA in Albany, California, reported that rice bran lowers cholesterol as much as oat bran. But before you sink your life savings into brown rice futures, keep in mind that: * Betschart's study used hamsters. No one has carefully tested rice bran's ability to lower cholesterol by itself in humans. * The hamsters' diets were one-third to one-half rice bran (by weight). * Researchers don't think the fiber in the rice bran was responsible for lowering cholesterol. Research is now focusing on rice oil.

Not surprisingly, the rice industry is planning human studies on rice bran. Until they're done, sit tight. Methylcellulose. Methylcellulose is another soluble fiber, now available in laxatives like Citrucel. (We mistook it for its cousin, cellulose, and incorrectly pronounced it insoluble in a March, 1989 "Dr. Tastebud.") It's a synthetic fiber, made by treating wood pulp.

A small, poorly designed study suggests that methylcellulose might lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. But until a good study is completed, don't jump to conclusions.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:part 2; includes related information
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Low-cholesterol eggs.
Next Article:Cutting cholesterol.

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