Oats are one of the healthiest grains available to man.
Not only are they a naturally gluten-free whole grain, they are a superb source of important vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
Studies show that oats can aid weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Here I will provide you with evidence-based health benefits of including oats in your diet.
But first of all, what are Oats?
They are a whole grain food known scientifically as Avena sativa.
Oat groats, oats in their whole form, take a long time to cook. They are therefore processed into household staples, such as steel cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oats. It should be noted that whilst oats are naturally gluten free, they can be contaminated during manufacturing so look for gluten free versions if you are intolerant. Instant, quick-cook oats are the most highly processed variety.
Oats are commonly eaten for breakfast by being boiled with water or milk to make porridge.
They are also often consumed in muffins, bars, cakes and other baked goods.
Oats are Nutritious
Oats have a well-balanced nutritional profile with one serving (30 grams) containing approximately 117 calories.
By weight, raw oats are 66% carbohydrates, 17% protein, 7% fat and 11% fibre. They contain more protein and fat than most grains.
They also include numerous important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants making them the most nutrient dense food you can eat. These include:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B3 (niacin)
Oats are rich in anti-oxidants
Whole oats are high in antioxidants, most notably a group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are almost solely found in oats.
Avenanthramides increase the production of nitric oxide which may help lower blood pressure levels. This helps blood vessels to dilate and leads to better blood flow. These are also anti-inflammatory.
Oats contain soluble fibre which is good for our gut
Oats also contain large amounts of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre. This partially dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like solution in our gut. This encourages good bacteria growth in our digestive tract.
Oats can lower cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a major factor in heart disease which is the leading cause of death worldwide.
According to a number of studies, the beta-glucan fibre in oats can positively impact on total and LDL cholesterol levels. It does this by reducing the levels of cholesterol circulating in the blood.
When the so called ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL, is oxidised, the chances of heart disease increases. This is because it produces inflammation in arteries, damages tissues and can raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It has been suggested that antioxidants in oats work alongside vitamin C to prevent LDL oxidation.
Oats Can Improve Blood Sugar
Oats can help reduce blood sugar levels which may be particularly beneficial to those who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes.
They may also improve insulin sensitivity by slowing down how fast glucose is absorbed in to the blood.
Oats Can Aid Weight Loss
Porridge makes a very tasty and filling breakfast!
The knock on effect may lead to you consuming fewer calories over the course of the day and thus lose weight which could also decrease your risk of obesity.
Beta-glucan may also stimulate a satiety hormone called peptide YY (PYY) which means that you feel satisfied for longer.
How to Make Oats a Part of Your Daily Diet
So with all these amazing benefits, how can you incorporate oats in to your daily diet?
The obvious way is to simply eat porridge for breakfast. Combine oats with your favourite milk (I personally prefer almond milk), add a pinch of salt and simmer in a pot until soft.
To make even more of this already nutritious meal, add fruits, nuts, linseed and/or Greek yogurt. To give your self an essential protein boost, try also adding some protein powder – chocolate always goes down a treat in my house! Then sit back, enjoy and take comfort in the knowledge that you have given your body the best start to your day.