Oats – so pale, so small, and so easy to ignore. Some people look at a bowl of oatmeal and say, “blah!” Others gaze upon a lumpy mush of hot oats, with steam clouding their dreamy eyes, and sigh, “ahhh…” Are you an oat-lover? Here’s why you should take the oat oath and eat more of these oh-so-wholesome whole grains.
Oats boast an impressive nutritional profile. Modest oats hide their impressive virtues inside of those unassuming little hulls. One cup of oats provides 6 g of protein and 4 g of fibre. Fibre is a multitalented nutrient, protecting us from any number of potential health problems (see the next several oat benefits!). Eat one cup of oats and you’ll rack up nearly 70% of your daily needs for manganese, a mineral that helps enzymes in bone formation. You’ll also get good helpings of vitamin B1 and magnesium.
Oats fill you up. For all that nutritional intensity, one cup of plain, whole grain, cooked oats will only cost you 147 calories. But it’s not the calories in oatmeal that fill you up – it’s the fibre. In addition, the grain falls on the low end of the glycemic index (GI), which is a ranking of how carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels. When you eat oats, your body will digest and absorb them slowly, keeping you feeling full, controlling your appetite, and delaying hunger pangs.
Oats may help reduce cholesterol. Among all grains, oats have the highest proportion of soluble fibre. This gel-like fibre transits your intestinal tract and may help trap substances associated with high blood cholesterol. Studies show that people with high blood cholesterol who eat just 3 g of soluble fibre per day can reduce their total cholesterol by 8% to 23% (remember that one cup of oats yields 4 g)!
Oats are diabetes-friendly. For the same reason that the fibre in oats helps to stave off hunger, it also helps to steady the levels of glucose in the bloodstream. People with diabetes especially benefit from this awesome oat trait. Most people need about 26 g to 35 g of fibre per day, but those with diabetes need upwards of 50 g. A fibre-filled bowl of oats can provide some of the much needed nutrient. Just be sure not to tip the balance by adding too much sugar or other blood glucose-spiking toppers to your oats.
Oats support healthy digestion. The insoluble fibre in oats scrubs through the intestines, moving food along and helping to prevent constipation. Also, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) who follow a diet higher in fibre and lower in total fat may experience fewer symptoms of GERD, such as heartburn.
Oats can shield your skin. At some point in human history, someone discovered how nice it felt to apply oats to dry, itchy, irritated skin. Moms have been stirring raw oats into hot baths for generations to soothe children’s chickenpox symptoms, and many people make DIY facial masks by blending oatmeal with yogurt and honey. The starchiness of oats creates a barrier that allows the skin to hold its moisture, while the rougher fibrous husk of the oat acts as a gentle exfoliant.
There is so much more to oats than oatmeal. Oats are an affordable and nutrient-dense food that can be used in many ways. Beyond the breakfast bowl, oats can be added to cookies, breads, pancakes, or stuffing; sprinkled atop fruit cobblers or crumbles; plopped into a smoothie to boost its fibre and bulk; and grounded to make flour for baking. Anywhere you need a little texture, a little extra oomph, turn to oats. And oatmeal itself comes in several varieties (i.e., slower-cooking steel-cut, old-fashioned rolled oats, or quick “instant” oats) and can be dressed with fresh berries, bananas, honey, seeds, or nuts.
If you choose to buy oats in bulk, only purchase as much as you could eat in two months time, after which the oats are more likely to spoil. Store in an airtight container tucked away in a cool, dry, dark spot in your cupboard.
Despite all of oats’ virtues, not everyone should eat them. If you have celiac disease, be warned – though oats may not be completely off-limits, some oat products are contaminated with wheat. Check with your doctor before deciding to try oats or oatmeal.