Curious about why oats are commonly recommended to be eaten if you want to start eating healthy? In this article, you’ll learn more about this particular grain, its health benefits, nutrition, and how you can use it aside from your oatmeal and granola.
Oats, formerly called as Avena Sativa, are among the healthiest cereal grains on earth. The grain refers to the edible seeds of the oat grass. It is a great source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants – A ‘superfood’ on its own.
There are a number of evidenced-based researches available supporting its potential health benefits which makes it one of the popular “health foods.” These health benefits include the risk reduction of coronary heart disease and colorectal cancer, weight loss, and lowering levels of cholesterol and blood sugars to name a few.
4 Key Health Benefits of Eating Oats
1. Supports Weight Management
Oats are low in calories, very nutrient-dense and classified under complex carbohydrates. They contain fiber, particularly soluble fiber that can help you feel full much quicker after eating, especially if you pair this grain with good fats and protein for a balanced meal. Thus, it may help support weight loss in a calorie-deficit diet.
Though oats are low-calorie, it gives you the feeling of fullness due to its beta-glucan compound that delays the time it takes your stomach to empty out food. This compound also increases cholecystokinin, the hunger-fighting hormone.
2. Can Lower Cholesterol Levels and Protect Heart Health
Oats contain a higher portion of soluble fiber that help lower cholesterol levels by forming a viscous gel in the intestinal tract that traps substances associated with blood cholesterol. Moreover, oats’ beta-glucan fiber is also effective at reducing both total and LDL cholesterol levels, and may increase the excretion of bile acids which are made of cholesterol resulting in a reduction of circulating cholesterol levels in the blood.
Since cholesterol is associated with heart health, oats can be considered a key food item that has been proven to be good for the heart.
3. Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels
The different types of oats are at par in terms of nutrition values. However, oats that are least processed which are oat groats, steel-cut, and rolled oats have a lower glycemic index (GI) which ranges from 50-55, while quick or instant oats range from 71-75.
As a result of oats’ high soluble fiber, complex carbohydrate content, and low glycemic index, its sugar is released more slowly into the bloodstream which makes it beneficial for people who have type 2 diabetes.
A systematic review and meta-analysis found that oat intake has beneficial effects on glucose control and lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic patients. Though consuming oats helps manage diabetes, eat it in moderation. Prepare your oats in ways that will better regulate your blood sugar. Monitor also how your body is responding after eating oats by monitoring your blood sugar, if possible.
4. Relieves Constipation
Including oats in your diet helps keep waste in the gastrointestinal tract moving which can relieve or prevent constipation. These are due to its fiber content, both soluble and insoluble.
A study found that the use of oat-fiber allowed discontinuation of laxatives by 59%, while improving the body weight and well-being among seniors.
A ½ cup of dry (39g) of whole rolled oats with no sugar or salt added that is equivalent to 1 cup of cooked oatmeal using water contains the following nutrients according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
Iron: 1.8mg, 10% DV*
Calcium: 187mg, 14% DV*
Phosphorus: 178mg, 15% DV*
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie beads.
Oats are also high in antioxidants and the most notable are the avenanthramides. These antioxidants increase the production of nitric oxide that may help in lowering blood pressure levels. Moreover, they have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects.
Types of Oats, Their Differences, and Some Recipes to Enjoy Them
Confused about which type of oats is healthier, less processed, and suited for your recipe or meal? Find the answers here.
All of these types came from Raw Oats where the hulls and stalks are still intact just like the rice grains. You can check the illustrated list here from the Whole Grains Council.
Whole Oat Groats. This is the grain kernel of raw oats as a result of harvesting, cleaning, and removing the hulls of the harvested raw oats. This is not most often available in the market, unlike the other types. They cook the longest because it is the nearest to its raw form- uncooked, least surface area, and whole.
Recipes to Try:
- Oat Groats with Fruit and Nuts by Eat Simple Food
- High-Protein Oat Groats and Lentil Salad by Charlie Rioux
- Healthy Risotto with Spring Vegetables by Delicious From Scratch
Steel Cut Oats. These less-processed oats are whole oat groats that are sliced into coarse nubs by steel blades, thus they appear to be cut-up grains of rice. They cook quicker than whole oat groats but longer (about 20-30 minutes) than rolled oats, and their texture is a bit chewier which makes them best to be enjoyed in stews or soups.
Recipes to Try:
- Perfect Steel-Cut Oats by Cookie and Kate
- Steel Cut Oatmeal Energy Bites by Together As Family
- Savory Steel Cut Oats by Indian Healthy Recipes
Rolled Oats (or Regular Old Fashioned Oats). To make rolled oats, the whole grains undergo the processing of steaming and pressing flat with steel rollers which is the rolling process that makes the cooking time shorter (about 5-7 minutes) than the whole oat groats and steel-cut oats because of its greater surface area than the two. It is best to use them as oatmeal because they have the most texture unlike the finer Quick or Instant Rolled Oats. You can also use them in baking goods!
Recipes to Try:
- Banana Bread Oatmeal with Caramelized Bananas by Eating Bird Food
- Peanut Butter Overnight Oats by Minimalist Baker
- 3-Ingredient Apple Almond Breakfast Bars by Nest and Glow
Quick or Instant Oats. These oats are steamed and dried longer, cut, and rolled thinner than the whole rolled oats which makes it cook faster about 1-2 minutes, thus the “quick” or “instant” label. Its texture is different and when cooked, it can be mushy. Does making it “instant” mean it is less healthy? No, if it is used as it is without the additional ingredients of salt, sugars, and other ingredients just like most one-serving packs in the grocery stores. Better to check the ingredients and its nutrition label to verify if it’s still healthy.
Recipes to Try:
- Quick-Cooking Oats by Eating Well
- Instant Oats Dosa by Raks Kitchen
- 2-Ingredient Banana Oatmeal Cookies by Kirbie’s Cravings
Oat Flour. This type of oats is a whole-grain flour made from whole rolled oats and is often used in recipes that require a dense texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor like in baking and for thickening soups and stews. Here’s the simple way to make your own oat flour.
Recipes to Try:
- Healthy Banana Bread by A Couple Cooks
- Oat Flour Muffins by Food with Feeling
- 3-Ingredient Chocolate Cereal by Sarah Grandominico
Which one is the healthiest? Good news! All the types of oats are equally healthy because they all include the 100% whole grain or raw oats so they all have the same nutritional information and give the same health benefits. They’re only major differences are shape, texture, and cooking time. If you’re still not convinced, you can check this oatmeal nutritional face off in the article on the Cooking Light website.
Oats is one of the healthiest staple plant foods you can add in your diet. It is a great source of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants in addition to its insoluble and soluble fiber.
Consuming oats are associated with health benefits which include weight control, heart health, digestive health, and diabetes.
The nutrients in all types of oats are at par with each other whether it is oat groats, steel-cut oats, whole rolled oats, quick or instant oats, and oat flour. The only significant difference between the least and most processed types is their glycemic index. Thus, if you are controlling your blood sugar, opt for the least processed types.
You can enjoy oats in different ways aside from oatmeal. You can bake bread, cookies, and muffins with it. You can also include it in your savory meals.