What are oats?
Oats, scientifically named as Avena sativa, is a type of whole grain that belongs to the Poaceae (grass) family of plants. To be specific, Oats are the edible seeds of oat grass. Much loved for their mushy texture when cooked, Oats hit the priority list for breakfast or as a snack for their nutritional value and unmatched health benefits they offer.
Types of Oats
Oats are available in various forms depending on the way they are processed. Among the various types available, the least processed ones are the groats which take quite a long time to digest unlike the rolled or instant oats. Let’s have some insight on the different types available.
Oat Groats: The whole oat kernels that have been cleaned, with only the loose, inedible hulls removed. Groats contain the intact germ, endosperm and bran.
Steel cut (or) Irish Oats: Oat Groats that have been cut into two or three smaller pieces using a steel blade fall under this category. The larger the size of the pieces, the longer it will take to cook them.
Scottish Oats: Oat Groats that have been stone ground into a meal, creating porridge –like texture when cooked.
Rolled oats: Oat Groats that are steamed, rolled & flattened into flakes and then dried to remove moisture so that they can be stored for a long time.
Quick (or) Instant Oats: Oat Groats that are steamed for a longer period and rolled into thinner pieces so that they can absorb water easily and get cooked quickly.
What is Oat meal?
Oatmeal is commonly eaten for breakfast. It is often referred to as ‘Porridge’ which is prepared by boiling oats in water or milk. A comforting bowl of oatmeal is as much nutritious as it is delicious.
You can add different toppings and textures so that you are not bored with your daily breakfast. You can add crushed almonds, walnuts or top it with fruits like banana, blue berries, strawberry etc. to make it more nutritive as well as to enhance the taste.
What are the Nutritional benefits of oats?
Oats are considered the most valuable cereal from the nutritional point of view. They are rich not only in carbohydrates & fiber but also in proteins and fats than most grains. Oats are loaded with vitamins, mainly vitamin B1 & B5. Small amounts of vitamin B3 and B6 are also present.
Oats also packed with minerals such as manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, Iron, Zinc. Small amounts of calcium and Potassium are also present. Oats also contain large amounts of a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan.
Beta glucan offers a huge number of health benefits which include –
· Reduces the LDL & total cholesterol level in the blood.
· Reduces Blood sugar and insulin response.
· Increases feeling of fullness.
· Stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Approximately, 78g of oats contains- 51g of carbohydrates, 13 g of protein, 5g of fat and 8g of fiber. Although oatmeal contains many calories-as high as 303 calories, it is not necessarily fattening.
Whole oats are high in anti-oxidants & beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. . This makes it clear that oats are amongst the most nutrient dense foods one can eat.
What are the health benefits of consuming Oats?
Oats are incredibly nutritious & packed with important vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants that make it top the healthy food chart. The soluble fiber in oats, beta-glucan, helps to slow down digestion, increases satiety and suppresses appetite.
The phenolic compounds present in oats act as anti-oxidants & reduce the damaging effects of chronic inflammation that is associated with various diseases like cardio vascular diseases & diabetes. Well, these are a few good reasons why oats need to be incorporated into your menu.
Additionally, this unique food offers a wide range of health benefits such as it stabilizes the blood sugar & cholesterol level in the blood, prevents constipation, reduces risk of colon cancer and supports weight loss and many more. Let’s dive deep & try to have a better understanding of these benefits.
Prevents Cardio-vascular disease
Heart disease is one of the major causes of death globally. Studies have shown that daily intake of whole-grains such as oats, brown rice, wheat, barley etc. is associated with a 21% reduced risk of heart disease.
One of the major factors that contribute to heart diseases is high blood cholesterol. Many studies have shown that the soluble fiber present in oats called Beta-glucan plays a vital role in reducing both total cholesterol & LDL level in the blood.
Stabilizes blood sugar
Type-2-diabetes is a disease characterized by significantly elevated blood sugars which results from decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Oats have a low glycemic index. Foods that are digested quickly can cause the blood sugar to spike, making it difficult to manage the blood sugar level. But oats, due to their high fiber content are digested slowly .This helps regulate the sugar level in the blood.
Oatmeal makes the contents of the stomach thicker, thereby delaying the emptying of the stomach and absorption of glucose in the blood, thus preventing sharp rise in blood sugar immediately after eating.
However, not all kinds of oats are good. Stay away from the flavored or instant varieties which are loaded with sugar which do not offer the benefit you are looking for.
Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem that affects everyone at some point of time in their life.
Elderly people often experience constipation with irregular bowel movements & depend upon laxatives to relieve constipation. While laxatives are effective, they also lead to habit formation. This in turn will add up to their daily woes. Since oatmeal contains high amounts of soluble fiber, it can help ease bowel movement & relieve constipation.
If you are suffering from high blood pressure, a daily dose of oats will help combat this problem. Oats have a unique group of anti-oxidants called the ‘Avenanthramides’ found solely in oats. They are said to lower the blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide that dilate the blood vessels leading to a better blood flow.
So, you are recommended to savor a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, everyday. Being a rich source of magnesium, oats help to prevent heart attacks, stroke etc. by relaxing the blood vessels & regulating BP.
Oat meal has shown to help lower the cholesterol level in the blood. Oats contain a soluble fiber called Beta-glucan which alters your cholesterol profile favorably while the anti-oxidants that are present protect the blood vessels from bad cholesterol or LDL.
Compared to other grains, oats have the highest proportion of soluble fiber that helps to reduce the absorption of cholesterol into your blood stream.
Studies reveal that in people with high blood cholesterol, consumption of just 3g of soluble fiber per day can reduce their total cholesterol by 8% to 23%. The good news is that one cup of oats can provide 4g of fiber! So, one can expect the cholesterol level to decreases substantially with consumption of oats on a regular basis.
Helps control weight
There is no magic mantra to weight loss. However, oats can help in shedding those extra pounds that might bother you.
Oatmeal satiates well & is a desired asset to those trying to lose weight and control hunger. Its high fiber content is credited for the cereals ability to keep you satiated & satisfied for a long time.
Another greatest benefit of eating oats is that they help a lot to reduce food cravings. Rich in healthy carbs and fiber, oats make a perfect breakfast for weight watchers.
The fiber, beta- glucan present in oats attracts water & increases the viscosity of the digested food in the gut, slowing down the pace at which food moves through the digestive tract. This aids in better absorption of nutrients, increase in satiety which can help a person achieve their weight loss goals.
Oats are a good source of complex carbohydrates which are the primary source of energy. Oats also contain good amounts of B-complex vitamins like Thiamin, Riboflavin, niacin, Folic acid and minerals like magnesium and phosphorus that are involved in energy metabolism.
Although it provides as high as 332 kcal per 100g, it is an excellent meal even for the obese as it does not add up any extra pounds. It provides lot of energy & keeps you energetic for most part of the day.
Builds Strong teeth & Healthy bones:
Whole grains like oats, buckwheat are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber & various vitamins. They are also a rich source of essential nutrients that are required for your bone health & teeth such as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and iron which boost the absorption of calcium.
Calcium helps to increase the bone strength, prevents their weakening & degeneration. Thus, oats assist in maintaining healthy bone structure by helping the body make enzymes needed to build strong bones.
Effective against Gastrointestinal Problems.
Oats are a fantastic gut friendly food & a proven house hold remedy for gastro-intestinal problems. The high fiber content of oats ensures regular & healthy bowel movement.
Oats also encourage the growth of gut friendly bacteria & help to absorb more nutrients from our food. They also help in removing toxins and wastes efficiently from the body. Also, reduce our risk of getting hemorrhoids & diseases of colon.
Some of the fiber present in oats is fermentable. When the gut friendly bacteria ferment these fibers, they produce short chain fatty acids that act as a barrier and prevent the absorption of harmful substances from the gut into the blood stream.
Reduces the risk of Asthma
Asthma is an inflammatory disorder of the airways that can be extremely distressing, especially in small children. Common symptoms include- recurrent cough, wheezing and shortness of breath.
There is significant evidence that while some foods may increase the risk of developing this disease, the others reduce the risk. One such notable food that is proven to be highly beneficial in this regard is oats.
It is believed that children below 5 years of age when introduced to oats are less likely to get asthma. Thus, oats help in preventing asthma and other allergic diseases.
Lowers risk of Colon cancer
What you eat and don’t eat can have a powerful effect on your health, including your risk for cancer.
There are many risk factors including genetics and environment which can cause cancer. However, these are beyond our control. But the power to change or reduce the risk lies within you.Avoiding cigarettes, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and exercise can help prevent cancer.
In addition to boosting your immune response, the insoluble fiber in oatmeal increases the functioning of your digestive tract and promotes colon health. The selenium present in oatmeal helps repair DNA that is linked to cancer, especially colon cancer. Also, the anti-oxidants present in oats may help fight cancer by getting rid of free radicals before they cause any potential damage to the cells.
Enhances Immune response
Oats are one of the healthiest grains on earth. A study stated that beta-glucan present in foods like oats, barley and buck-wheat improves the body’s immune response to fight against the micro-organisms. Selenium and zinc present in oats also empowers you to fight against infection.
Shields your skin.
Finely ground oats can work wonders on your skin. Oats are very gentle on skin and can be used even for the most sensitive skin types. Apart from absorbing excess of oil, it can calm acne.
It is a natural cleanser & moisturizer as well. Since oats have exfoliating properties, they remove dead skin and deliver deep hydration to your skin. The compounds known as 'saponins' help eliminate dirt, bacteria and other impurities from deep within the skin.
Oat based face pack prepared with egg white or simply rose water is known to improve the skin texture. The anti-inflammatory properties of oats alleviate itching and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with skin diseases like Eczema. The B-vitamins contained in the oat flakes together with zinc, manganese and copper ensure that your skin is beautiful & healthy.
Nourishes your hair
Oats that are brimming with vitamins and minerals can nourish your hair to a greater extent and prevent split ends. Oats are beneficial for itchy and dry scalp too. Oats act as a natural cleanser and help to get rid of dirt, oil and other impurities from your scalp.
Oat meal when applied to the hair removes excess of sebum production, soothes your scalp and promotes hair growth.
A common hair problem that most of us face is dandruff. If you have tried everything under the sun and if nothing seems to work, you can give oats a try. Oats work well to eliminate dandruff and leave your scalp thoroughly hydrated and moisturized.
Promotes good sleep.
An easy to make bowl of oats can help you sleep so much better. The national sleep foundation (NSF) suggests trying a carbohydrate-protein combo such as a wholegrain & milk for sound sleep.
Oats contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid which our body cannot synthesize. Our brain converts this amino acid into serotonin, which impacts not only our mood, behavior but also relaxes our body & induces sleep. Thus, oatmeal consumed at dinner time makes sleep to come naturally.
Stimulates growth of useful bacteria in the gut.
The lower part of the large intestine has been identified as a key organ affecting general health. It is the store house of many beneficial bacteria that are essential for the normal functioning of the body.
The growth and metabolism of many of these bacterial species inhabiting the colon depends primarily upon the substrates available to them, most of which come from the diet. These are called the 'prebiotics' which are basically non-digestible ingredients present in the cereal matrix that selectively stimulate the growth and activities of some bacteria.
In case of oats, it’s the fiber beta-glucan which makes it a good substrate for the growth of bacteria found in the colon. The end product of this prebiotic fermentation is production of short-chain fatty acids that serve as nutrients for the mucosal cells.
Other benefits: Another major reason why oats are widely preferred is - Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, barley and rye & is said to be an allergen. But oats are gluten free and hence considered safe for people who are intolerant to wheat.
People with gluten intolerance develop digestive problems such as gas, abdominal pain and diarrhea. For such people, oats are the best choice!!
In some people, gluten seems to precipitate symptoms of celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine & prevents it from absorbing the vital nutrients.
Therefore, to reap all the said benefits, do make oats your top priority!
Is eating oatmeal everyday bad for you?
Eating a bowl of oatmeal everyday is not at all bad. In fact, it is a good idea!! Oats do not create any digestive issues. Rather, the fiber that is present in oats is great for digestive health. If you have chronic constipation, consuming oats every morning will be extremely beneficial.
Besides, it keeps your sugar level including your blood pressure & blood cholesterol in check. To put it simply, a bowl of oatmeal a day keeps the diseases at Bay…!
What is the best time to eat oats?
If you are not eating oatmeal for breakfast, then you are missing out on an opportunity to add fiber and the nutrients required for your body, right in the morning. Make oatmeal your breakfast option as it keeps you satiated, reduces food cravings and thus promote weight loss!!
Oats are usually paired with brown sugar or fruits. With a dash of cinnamon, oats can also make a perfect side dish. Oats provide a texture similar to buck wheat. Their bland taste, though not appreciated by all, offers plenty of scope for a adding a variety of seasonings and spices.
Alternatively, you can combine your oatmeal with your favorite veggies or top it with an egg or sprinkle with grated cheese to enjoy your breakfast. Being a power packed food with the highest satiety index, whether you blend it with milk or a handful of assorted fruits, oatmeal is just too delicious to be ignored. So, reserve it for your daily breakfast!!
How to incorporate oats into your diet?
You can enjoy oats in several ways. Generally, oats are served with milk for breakfast or an overnight meal. The most popular way is to simply eat oatmeal (porridge) prepared using milk or water which is best suited for breakfast.
Here is a simple method to prepare porridge out of oats.
Take 1 cup (250 ml) of water/milk in a pan. Add ½ cup of rolled oats & a pinch of salt to it. Mix all the ingredients & bring it to a boil. Simmer the flame and cook the oats, stirring occasionally until soft and mushy. To make oatmeal tastier& even more nutritious, you can spruce your oats fruits, crunchy nuts and seeds.
If you wish to try something different, then you can prepare the oatmeal by adding finely chopped vegetables like peas, beans and carrot. That becomes your oatmeal upma, as it is popularly called in the southern part of India!
Here is a simple method to prepare the oatmeal upma.
To prepare this, take 1 cup of rolled oats in a non-stick pan & dry roast the same for a couple of minutes. Keep it aside. In a wok, take 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add ¼ tsp of mustard seeds, ½ tsp of cumin seeds and allow it to splutter. Add a few curry leaves and a few cashew nuts (broken).
When the cashews turn golden, add finely chopped ginger (1 inch), 2-slit green chilies, ½ onion (finely chopped) and saute well until the onions become translucent. Add ½ carrots (finely chopped), a handful of green peas, a few chopped beans, pinch of turmeric powder, salt and stir fry for 3 min.
Add a cup of water & bring to boil. Then add the roasted oats & give it a good mix. Allow the oats to cook for 5 min on low flame. Garnish with coriander leaves & grated coconut. squeeze a few drops of lemon on to it. Your oatmeal upma is ready to eat !
Oats can come to your rescue- whether you suffer from hunger pangs or crave for a light evening snack. They are not only light on stomach, but are interestingly super filling, satisfying and versatile!
Oats are healthful cereal grains grown in developing countries, not only for human consumption but also as fodder to feed their livestock. Food uses of oats include- oatmeal, oat flour, oat bran, and oat flakes for use as breakfast cereals and as one of the major ingredient in other food stuffs.
Medicinally, oats have been used to prevent heart disease, cancers, to stabilize blood sugars to enhance the immune response to infection etc. Besides, they have also been used to treat rheumatism, chronic neurological pain, insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and nervous exhaustion. Therefore, Avena sativa should be thought of as very good nerve relaxing formula.
Oatmeal or gruel is an ideal food for convalescents and can be flavored with lemon, butter or maple syrup. It is easily digestible and a soothing food for those with fever & for those who have experienced intestinal illness.
Oatmeal is an excellent alternative to eggs sausages or bacon or for those who desire for low cholesterol breakfast routine. Oat straw tea is recommended for chest complaints & can be consumed with some lemon or honey. A strong brew can be added to the bath to benefit Rheumatism, paralysis, liver ailments, Gout and kidney problems.
The demand for human consumption is steadily increasing primarily due to the growing awareness regarding their nutritional and health benefits. Shifting trend towards ready to eat food and healthy breakfast options has also boosted the demand for oats, across the globe. This in turn has prompted researchers to carry out their work on oats and its products which may prove to be of great help in combating various kinds of illnesses in the near future.