In olden days, oats were traditionally considered to be the staple food of the poor folk in Scotland, as in England they were only considered fit for horses to eat.
Nowadays, the humble oat is eaten and enjoyed all over the world, and they are a good source of fiber, and high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Whole oats are the only food source of avenanthramides, which are a group of antioxidants believed to lower the risk of heart disease.
Oats can be eaten rolled or crushed, and can be eaten as porridge, used in baked goods, breads, and cereals.
Oats contain starch that is different to the starch in other grains, as it has a higher fat content, and a higher viscosity (a measure of ability to bind with water).
There are three kinds of starches found in oats:
Rapidly digested starch (7%) – this starch is quickly broken down in the stomach and absorbed by the body as glucose. Slowly digested starch (22%) – This kind of starch is broken down and absorbed much more slowly. Resistant starch (25%) This starch works like fiber, as it is not digested. It also helps keep your gut healthy by feeding your good gut bacteria.
Whole oats contain almost 11% fiber, and the majority of it is a soluble fiber called beta glucan. The other insoluble fibers include lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose.
Because oats have more soluble fiber than other grains, eating them leads to slower digestion, an increased feeling of fullness, and decreased appetite.
Oat beta glucans have been linked to lower cholesterol levels, and help to increase bile acid production, as well as reducing blood sugar and insulin levels after eating a meal high in carbs.
Eating beta glucan every day has been shown to lower cholesterol – especially the harmful LDL cholesterol, and could reduce your risk of heart disease.
Oats have between 11-17% of protein at dry weight, which is more than most other grains. The largest protein in oats (80% of the total content) is avenalin, which isn’t found in any grains but oats, and is similar to proteins in legumes.
Although avenin (a minor protein) is related to gluten in wheat, pure oats are considered safe for those with gluten intolerance to eat.
Nutrients in Oats
Manganese: This compound is typically found in high amounts in whole grains, and is needed for development, growth, and metabolism.
Phosphorus: Important for healthy bones and tissues.
Copper: This mineral is often lacking in Western diets, and it’s important to keep your heart healthy.
Vitamin B1: Also known as thiamine, this vitamin is found in other foods like grains, beans, nuts, and meats.
Iron: this mineral is involved with transporting oxygen in the blood, so it is crucial that you get enough in your diet.
Selenium: Low selenium levels in the body is associated with impaired immune and mental function.
Magnesium: Needed for various processes in the body.
Zinc: This mineral is involved with many chemical reactions in the body, and is important for keeping healthy overall.
Oats contain various antioxidants, which include:
Avenanthramides: This antioxidant is only found in oats, and they may reduce inflammation in the arteries, and help to regulate blood pressure. Ferulic acid: Is the most common polyphenol antioxidant in oats and other grains. Phytic acid: Found in the bran of the oat, this compound can actually hinder the absorption of minerals like iron and zinc.
Potential Health Benefits
May Lower Cholesterol
Studies have shown that oats can help to lower cholesterol levels, which could reduce the risk of heart disease – the leading cause of death worldwide.
The beta glucan in oats is thought to be responsible for their ability to lower cholesterol, and it may slow the absorption of fats and cholesterol by increasing the viscosity of the food you’ve eaten.
Research has determined that foods containing at least 3 grams of beta glucan per day could lower your risk of heart disease.
Could Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes is characterized by the abnormal regulation of blood sugar, often because of decreased sensitivity to insulin.
Beta glucans have shown to benefit blood sugar control by moderating glucose and insulin responses after carb-rich meals.
While boiled whole oats trigger low glucose and insulin responses, if oats are ground into flour before cooking, the responses increase significantly. Avoid oat flour and stick to whole oats for the most benefit.
Could Help You Feel Fuller
Feeling full is important for energy balance, as it tends to stop you from wanting to eat until hunger returns. Those who are obese or have type 2 diabetes often find that their fullness signaling is altered, creating the urge to eat when not hungry.
Oatmeal ranked third in a study that showed the fullness effect of 38 common foods, and it came first among the breakfast foods.
Oats are fairly low in calories, and high in fiber, which makes them a good choice as part of a weight-loss diet.
Those who suffer from celiac disease as well as those sensitive to gluten, must follow a gluten-free diet.
Oats don’t contain gluten, but have a similar type of protein called avenin. Pure oats can be tolerated by most people who have celiac disease, but oats are sometimes contaminated with wheat as they are often processed in the same factories.
To make sure, buy oats that have been certified gluten-free.
Possible Side Effects
Oats are generally tolerated well, and don’t tend to have adverse effects in healthy people.
However, those who are sensitive to avenin could experience similar symptoms to those of gluten intolerance, and shouldn’t eat oats.
Oats may also get contaminated with other grains like wheat during processing, so if you are intolerant to wheat, only buy oats that are certified pure and non-contaminated.