By Dr Megan Chircop
Serve them hot as a porridge, in a smoothie or as a crunchy topping over yoghurt. Whichever way you like them, including oats in your diet on a daily basis, provides a wide range of health benefits.
Oatmeal and oat bran are significant sources of dietary fibre. Per 100g, oats have 11g of dietary fibre (5g beta glucan soluble fibre and 6 g insoluble fibre). Soluble fibre has proven effective in lowering blood cholesterol due to its ability to form a gel in your digestive tract, trapping some cholesterol-related substances, resulting in the reduction of the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Thus, reducing the risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Oats have a higher concentration of well-balanced protein than other cereals. Oats contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) which have been associated with protection from chronic disease such as cancer. Phytoestrogen compounds, called lignans, in oats have been linked to decreased risk of hormone-related diseases such as breast cancer. The insoluble fibers in oats are also thought to reduce carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract.
They contain a good balance of essential fatty acids, which have been linked with longevity and general good health, and also have one of the best amino acid profiles of any grain. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that help facilitate optimum functioning of the body. It is also rich in essential vitamins and micronutrients such as calcium, selenium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, niacin, folate, biotin, vitamin E and more.
Enhance immune response to infection
Beta-glucan found in oats also appears to help speed up response to infection, which may result in faster healing. According to a new study, it was discovered that beta glucan can enhance the ability of certain human immune cells to navigate to the site of a bacterial infection, resulting in faster healing.
Stabilise blood sugar and reduce risk of type II diabetes
Oat beta-glucan slows the rise in blood glucose levels following a meal and delays its decline to pre-meal levels. The ability of this soluble fibre to form a gel increases the viscosity of the contents of the stomach and small intestine to be increased, which slows down digestion and prolongs the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. This means that you do not get major highs and lows in blood sugar levels. Control of blood glucose and insulin levels is essential in preventing many of the complications associated with diabetes.
Again, the ‘magic’ component of oats is the fibre. Because insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and absorbs many times its own weight of liquid, it makes stools heavier and speeds their passage through the gut, relieving constipation.
The delay in stomach emptying caused by the beta-glucans to make a gel in your digestive tract makes you feel full longer. The result is you won’t feel hungry as often, which helps with weight loss. New research suggests that children between ages 2-18 years old who have a constant intake of oatmeal lowered their risk of obesity. The research found that the children who ate oatmeal were 50% less likely to become overweight, when compared to those children that did not eat it.
So don't delay and start eating more oats today!
Oat recipes regularly feature in our meal plans and TastyFitFood eCookbook
Types of oats
Oats can be found in several forms, each being dependent upon the degree of processing they have been subjected to.
Oats gain part of their distinctive flavour from the roasting process that they undergo after being harvested and cleaned. Although oats are then hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and their germ, allowing them to retain a concentrated source of fiber and nutrients. Different types of processing are then used to produce the various types of oat products, which are generally used to make breakfast cereals, baked goods and stuffings:
Oat groats: are the whole oat grain, with only the hard unpalatable outer hull removed, but with the kernel's outer bran layer left intact. They are long and thin with a smooth shiny surface and look like brown rice. They can be eaten at this stage, e.g breakfast cereals and stuffings, but are typically further processed into one of the forms below.
Steel-cut oats: featuring a dense and chewy texture, they are produced by running the grain through steel blades that thinly slices them.
Old-fashioned oats: have a flatter shape that is the result of their being steamed and then rolled.
Quick-cooking oats: processed like old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling.
Instant oatmeal: produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. Oftentimes, sugar, salt and other ingredients are added to make the finished product.
Oat bran: the outer layer of the grain that resides under the hull. While oat bran is found in rolled oats and steel-cut oats, it may also be purchased as a separate product that can be added to recipes or cooked to make a hot cereal.
Oat flour: Oats can be ground in to flour which usually comes in three grades - coarse (ie steel-cut oats), medium and fine. Medium oatmeal can be used in cakes and crumble toppings to give a nutty flavour, or added to soups as a thickener/creamer. Fine oatmeal (flour) adds a great flavour to bread and improves its shelf life due to the natural preservatives found in oats. It is often combined with wheat or other gluten-containing flours when making leavened bread.
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