HEALTH : Kids Benefit From Oat Bran, UCI Data Show


Children on a low-fat diet can significantly lower their cholesterol level--and their risk of coronary heart disease--by eating oat bran, a UC Irvine study concludes.

“Our study showed that supplementation of a low-fat diet with oat bran products can produce an even greater reduction in cholesterol” than a low-fat diet alone, said Dr. Nathan D. Wong, an assistant professor of cardiology. “And if children enjoy oat bran products, they should be encouraged to consume them.”

Wong, principal researcher Kurt Gold and five other investigators studied 49 fourth- and fifth-graders from the Westminster School District who had high blood cholesterol levels--at least 185 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or more.

Gold presented the study Wednesday in Bethesda, Md., at a national scientific meeting on high cholesterol levels in children organized by the New York Academy of Sciences.


When the UCI study began last June, researchers asked 49 children to begin a low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Assn. In that diet, which limits fat intake to 30% of all calories, fat is cut from meat, skin is removed from chicken, and more vegetables, cereals and fruits are consumed.

In addition to the low-fat diet, 25 children were asked to eat 38 grams--or half a cup--of oat bran each day in the form of cereal or oat bran snack bars.

Four weeks later, those on the oat bran regimen showed significantly lower blood cholesterol readings.

Wong noted that a molecule called apoprotein B, a key component of the cholesterol responsible for causing heart disease, decreased by nine milligrams per deciliter in the oat bran group but rose two milligrams per deciliter in a control group.

The UCI study appeared to conflict with a controversial Harvard University study earlier this year. The Harvard study found subjects’ blood cholesterol levels were no different after six weeks of eating oat bran muffins and oat bran cereal than they were after six weeks of eating fiber-free, white-flour muffins and Cream of Wheat.

But Wong said that both the UCI and Harvard studies showed that when people consume less fat and more carbohydrates, “cholesterol will naturally go down.”

For all the beneficial effects of oat bran, Wong discouraged “going out and buying huge quantities of oat bran. The most important step in lowering cholesterol . . . is by a standard cholesterol-lowering diet, composed of 30% or less calories from fat, 300 milligrams or less of cholesterol per day. . . .

“The addition of oat bran or other kinds of fiber can be used, but it should never be used as a substitute for a healthy diet,” Wong said. “It isn’t like a secret pill which can prevent heart disease.”