You’ve probably been told that oats are good for you. Trouble is, you know they’re a bland, tasteless grain. Don’t get me started on overnight oats either — there’s nothing appetizing about a cold sloppy mess. Despite my clear prejudice, I just couldn’t ignore the health benefits. It turns out all I had to do was learn how to spice up these little nutrient dense grains. I’ve had a bowl every day since.
What is an Oat?
Classified as a cereal grain, it is grown for the sole purpose of consuming its edible portion.
Oats are primarily carbohydrates, with some protein and little fat content.
One cup, or 80 grams, contains approximately 297 calories.
This nutrient dense food provides a number of B vitamins and several dietary minerals.
Iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and phosphorus are but a few.
Roughly 11% of an oat is made up of dietary fiber, with the majority being soluble fiber.
One such soluble fiber is called beta-glucan, often better described by it’s true function — the super power of the oat.
To understand all the health benefits of the oat is to understand why it was the source of inspiration for this article. After all, the list is quite robust.
The beta-glucan found in each and every bowl of oats has the ability to lower your cholesterol. This is true for both your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). It is also true that this occurs at an incredibly fast rate.
You can expect to see significant reductions in both total and LDL cholesterol in just 4 weeks. In fact, it is likely a reduction of between 5 and 10 percent will occur. The mechanism through which this occurs involves beta-glucan playing an interference role.
It blocks the reabsorption of bile acid in the gut, causing cholesterol levels to lower. This is an extremely powerful health benefit as elevated cholesterol levels are a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease. LDL cholesterol is often labelled as the ‘bad’ type of cholesterol, with high-density lipoprotein (HDL) being labelled as the good guy.
To understand this you must know the functions of both types. Cholesterol itself is essential for a number of tasks required for normal bodily function — so we do need some of it. Have too much cholesterol floating around and it is likely to bind to the walls of our arteries, potentially blocking the flow of blood.
LDLs are responsible for carrying cholesterol particles around the body. The problems occur when there is an excess amount. With nowhere to go, LDL can bind to the arterial walls as plaque. HDL on the other hand can help to reduce this as it works in the opposite fashion.
HDLs absorb cholesterol particles from arteries and return it to the liver. From there it can be disposed of, and flushed out of the body. You can see then that it’s important to maintain an ideal balance of both. Fortunately, beta-glucan does not have the same lowering effect on HDL, allowing us to maintain more of it.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
There are two main ways in which cardiovascular health is positively impacted; the first being directly related to our cholesterol levels. You see, the process of plaque building up in our arteries has a name; atherosclerosis. It causes our arterial walls to become hardened — potentially restricting blood-flow around the body.
As we know, LDL can play a contributing role in this condition. With plenty of studies providing evidence that regression of atherosclerosis is possible, there is reason to believe lowering LDL levels will help. This regression depends on the removal of plaque deposits on our arterial walls — the role of HDLs.
The process of ‘reverse cholesterol transport’ is promoted by the presence of HDL. Studies have shown that an increase in HDL levels, with concurrent reductions in LDL levels, are able to regress the severity of atherosclerosis. Whilst oat consumption won’t increase HDLs in the body (a healthy diet will), it will help to improve our balance via LDL reduction. Regression is particularly important as it is not often identified as a risk factor until symptoms appear; by which time there is already a significant amount of plaque build up.
The antioxidants found in oats can actually help to guard against artherosclerosis. These are called avenanthramides, and are not present in any other cereal grains. Working in the opposite way, they promote widening of the arteries, or vasodilation.
By promoting the release of the molecule nitric oxide, arterial walls ‘relax’. With the walls of our veins and arteries widened, blood flow throughout the body can increase. Vasodilation of the blood vessels will essentially increase the available pathway — very handy around sites of significant plaque deposits.
Promotes Weight Loss
It’s time to give yet more love to beta-glucan. It is the reason eating oats makes you feel fuller for longer. Because of its high viscosity, beta-glucan impedes the digestion and absorption of nutrients. This is the mechanism during digestion of the fiber that causes perceptions of satiety to accelerate. Because total calorie intake is the driver of weight loss, it can only be beneficial to eat a food that helps to manage appetite.
Better Glycemic Control
Because beta-glucan does slow down the digestion process, the rate at which the carbohydrates from the oats are metabolized is slower. This is especially important for type 2 diabetics. But it’s also important in the prevention of the condition.
Oat consumption is associated with better glycemic control, helping to prevent the development of diabetes. This can also be seen over the long term using the HbA1c test. Your HbA1c is the measurement of average blood sugar levels over a 6 week period. Increased oat consumption is associated with a reduction in HbA1c, suggesting that it can be a valid strategy for lowering total blood sugar in the body.
Enhances Bowel Health (and movements)
There’s both long and short terms benefits of oat consumption on bowel health — again thanks to beta-glucan. In the long term, early research suggests that beta-glucan may have a protective effect against colorectal cancer. And if you’re someone dealing with irritable bowel syndrome beta-glucan will definitely help. Symptoms such as bloating, flatulence and abdominal pain are often reduced.
When talking short term we must discuss the (usually daily) bowel motion. Soluble fibre increases stool size and causes it to soften. This allows it pass more smoothly through the bowels for a more pleasant motion — something I have certainly noticed myself. It’s so powerful that the majority of people suffering from constipation are able to find some relief.
How To Make Delicious Oatmeal
It’s time to throw away the instant oats. Your best bet for delicious oatmeal is to use rolled oats — the perfect compromise between convenience and taste.
- 1 cup of rolled oats
- 2 cups of water or milk (it will always taste better with milk, no matter the type)
- A pinch of salt (helps to enhance sweetness)
To make: combine all ingredient in a pot; bring to a simmer; let simmer for 5 minutes or until the desired consistency is achieved. Use any portion size you like — just remember that two parts liquid to one part oats is ideal.
Spice It Up
- Make it creamier — you can always add more liquid after the fact. Too dry? A splash of milk after cooking will sort this out, and add valuable flavor.
- Sweeteners — and I’m not talking about the artificial kind. The best real foods to use are bananas and honey (or agave syrup). Mash up half a banana and add it to the pot during the cooking process (enjoy a smell akin to fresh banana bread). For the honey, just add a generous squeeze before anything else and mix well.
- Fruit — another way to sweeten the oatmeal naturally, and to add valuable nutrients and fibre. Anything goes here, with bananas (just slice up the other half), strawberries and blueberries among my favorites.
- Seeds — we’re looking more at nutrients than flavor here. They are easily hidden within the oatmeal, just be sure to mix well. Chia, sunflower, flax and pumpkin are just a few examples. All great for adding various nutrients like fiber and protein.
- Nut butters — whether it be of the peanut of almond variety, both will add flavor and nutrients. Make the most of the high protein and unsaturated fat content. But make sure to use the right type — look for a product that contains 99.9% nuts with a dash of salt.
- Add crunch — directly contrasting the natural creamy consistency of the oats adds immense flavor. Any type of nut or your favorite granola makes a great final topping.
Still not convinced? Well, the good news is you can simply add oats to a shake. Because all oats are processed before human consumption, there are no downsides to consuming them ‘raw’. If you have a good enough blender you wont even know they’re there.
Finally, whilst oats are marketed as breakfast food this should not stop you from eating them at any time. With a lot of us choosing to skip breakfast — myself included — you will have to include them in your diet at another time. I eat my bowl of oatmeal every day at lunchtime and I can confirm that it still tastes delicious.
Source : Youngsters