I have fond memories of sitting down to the kitchen table with my mom to eat oatmeal when I was little. I was the youngest of three kids, and these morning bowls of oatmeal were something that we shared, just the two of us, after my older brothers had left for school. It wasn’t something we did every day, but I remember it vividly because I liked getting to pour my own milk to make it creamy and I loved mixing in (probably a few too many) spoonfuls of brown sugar to make it taste just right.
Years later, I still enjoy oatmeal as a hearty, filling breakfast from time to time. I now replace the brown sugar with alternative sweeteners (or I skip it all together), and I like to add healthy nuts, berries, or other additions like flax seed to my oatmeal to make my meal more wholesome. But why are oats good for you in the first place?
Oats are rich in protein, vitamins (like vitamin E), antioxidants, and fiber, making them a good food to start your day off with.[1,2] One of the reasons oats are believed to be so healthy is that they contain an especially important form of fiber, called β-glucan, which has a wide range of health benefits. This kind of fiber is thought to help contribute to lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar, and many other positive effects in the body. Oats also have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, which helps to keep the body healthy and fight disease.
Whole grains, in general, and oats in particular have been linked to lower rates of disease, such as certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.[2,4,5] Some of the specific health benefits of oats include:
1. Lowering cholesterol. There are numerous studies showing that oats have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels.[1,3,6-8] In one review of various studies, oats reduced cholesterol levels by and average 3 percent to 6 percent, correlating to a 6 percent to 18 percent decreased risk for heart disease. The beneficial effect on cholesterol levels seems to be particularly important for people with elevated cholesterol to begin with. β-glucan fiber plays a large role in the cholesterol-lowering effects of oats, and their antioxidant capacity also helps by preventing the oxidation of lipids.
2. Reduce blood pressure. There is also some evidence that oats can help to manage high blood pressure. One review estimates that the intake of β-glucan found in oats can significantly decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, by 2.7 to 4.7 mmHg and 1.5 to 2.7 mmHg, respectively.
3. Aid in healthy digestion. Oat intake can help promote healthy bowel movements and decrease constipation, an effect that may help treat irritable bowel syndrome. Oats also can act as a prebiotic, something that feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut, which may be beneficial for treatment of irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis.
Steel Cut, Rolled, Instant – What’s the Difference?
Oats can be purchased in many different forms, as they can be prepared and processed in numerous ways.
• Whole oat groats are the purest form of oats, which are the entire oat kernel with the inedible hull removed. These take the longest to cook, about one hour.
• Steel cut oats are whole oats cut into pieces, which makes them faster to cook (about 20 minutes). They are nuttier in flavor and chewier in texture than rolled or instant oats.
• Rolled oats have been steamed and then rolled to produce flakes. They only take a few minutes to cook and produce a creamier finished product. These are the kinds of oats that are used in baked goods and things like granola.
• Instant oats are precooked rolled oats that only require the addition of hot water to be immediately prepared. Instant oatmeal is often pre-sweetened and may contain various additives.
Oats themselves are gluten-free, but they are often contaminated with gluten, either due to shared processing facilities or because they are grown near other corps that contain gluten. Uncontaminated, gluten-free certified oats can be found in most natural health food stores, and are generally well tolerated by those with celiac disease.
Oatmeal is delicious with fresh berries, dried fruit, walnuts, pecans, flax meal, chia seeds, and a variety of other healthy add-ins. What are your favorite oatmeal recipes?
Chelsea Clark is a writer with a passion for science, human biology, and natural health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. Her research on the relationship between chronic headache pain and daily stress levels has been presented at various regional, national, and international conferences. Chelsea’s interest in natural health has been fueled by her own personal experience with chronic medical issues. Her many profound experiences with natural health practitioners and remedies have motivated Chelsea to contribute to the world of natural health as a researcher and writer for Natural Health Advisory Institute.
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