Bakers Journal

Norwegian researchers develop bread that ‘tastes good’ and curbs rise in blood sugar

May 17, 2024
By Nofima food research institute, Norway

"The bread we have developed resembles a typical loaf, but it contains a significant amount of beta-glucan. The idea is that the foods we develop will have a real health effect,” says Simon Ballance, senior scientist at Nofima. Photo: Wenche Aale Hægermark/Nofima

Norway – After 10 years, scientists at the Nofima food research institute have developed a bread that “tastes good” with a high content of the dietary fibre cereal beta-glucan intended to be a healthier bread that can prevent diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The next step is to use the recipe to scale up production from pilot to industrial scale at a medium-sized bakery.

It’s beta-glucan that makes this bread healthier than most other breads. A special type of beta-glucan is found in oats and barley and is a type of dietary fiber that can reduce levels of unfavorable cholesterol and curb the rise in blood sugar after a meal.

“What we are doing is expanding the range of foods that can have cereal beta-glucan as an ingredient. The goal is to tempt more people to eat healthier. The bread we have developed looks like a typical loaf, but it contains a significant amount of beta-glucan. The idea is that the foods we develop will have a real health effect,” says Senior Scientist Simon Ballance at Nofima.

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Develop foods with approved health claims

The researchers and the bakers have worked together in Nofima’s test bakery. They have baked bread with a type of oatflour that is rich in beta-glucan. The problem is that such bread dough will usually become sticky and get stuck in the equipment. Without taking special measures beta-glucan can also be rapidly broken down during the baking process.

Nofima’s master baker Fredrik Andresen has tested several baking techniques and different types of equipment. He confirms that it has presented several technical challenges to produce a good dough that gives a bread with the desired health properties and maintains a good bread quality. The baking process is quite demanding so it is not something everyone could tackle in the household kitchen. What’s more, oat flour enriched with beta-glucan is not currently available in today’s grocery stores.

The bread has been baked and tested in a large clinical trial in Europe.

“The bread qualifies for the health claims of reduced cholesterol and reduced blood sugar rise after meals. We are now investigating whether bread also has positive long-term effects on blood sugar levels,” says Nofima scientist Anne Rieder.

Exchanging bread

Instead of trying to control what you eat, the researchers try to make a difference by starting from what most of us eat every day.

“Our intention is for you to replace the bread you eat today with a healthier bread that tastes quite similar to several breads available on the market. There is a high threshold for getting most people to eat so much of a food that it has a health effect that lasts, for bread this will be possible, because the daily intake of bread in Norway is high,” says Ballance.

A natural food additive

It may be possible to use isolated and thus pure beta-glucan as a more natural additive with functional properties, for example as a thickener and stabilizer. This can replace other additives that consumers do not want in their food. Ready-made mayonnaise is an example of a product were beta-glucan can be added to prevent it from separating when stored in your refrigerator.

“As of today, beta-glucan is not sold in pure form for use as a more natural food ingredient, and the industry is uncertain whether the market is large enough. However, consumers want more natural additives, and beta-glucan would be a good alternative,” says Simon Ballance.

He goes on to say that it is its properties as a thickener that make beta-glucan good for health. The research suggests that the beta-glucan you ingest makes fluids in the small intestine more viscous, blocking the absorption of substances used to form cholesterol, or the absorption of glucose that causes increased blood sugar.
Large beta-glucan molecules are best

For beta-glucan to have the desired health effect and have properties as a thickener, the molecules in the dietary fiber, in addition to being present in food in a certain amount, must also have a certain size or molecular weight. “It is essential to have accurate and standardized measurement methods for the molecular weight (size) of beta-glucans,” says Ballance.

In this area, Nofima scientists have established a pan-European comparison of different measurement methods through the strategic SUSHEATH program.

“We found that many methods are well suited, but there were also some that gave misleading results. The common feature is that all the methods are demanding, and require special equipment and expertise,” Ballance concludes.


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