What are oats and oatmeal?
Oats are a whole grain food, known scientifically as Avena sativa.
Oat groats, the most intact and whole form of oats, take a long time to cook. For this reason, most people prefer rolled, crushed, or steel-cut oats.
Instant (quick) oats are the most highly processed variety. While they take the shortest time to cook, the texture may be mushy.
Oats are commonly eaten for breakfast as oatmeal, which is made by boiling oats in water or milk. Oatmeal is often referred to as porridge.
They’re also often included in muffins, granola bars, cookies, and other baked goods.
1. Oats are incredibly nutritious
The nutrient composition of oats is well-balanced. They are a good source of carbs and fiber, including the powerful fiber beta-glucan.
They are also a good source of high quality protein, with a good balance of essential amino acids.
Oats are loaded with important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant plant compounds. Half a cup (78 grams) of dry oats contains:
Oats have 51 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and 8 grams of fiber in 1 cup. This same serving has only 303 calories.
This means that oats are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.
2. Whole oats are rich in antioxidants, including avenanthramides
Whole oats are high in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Most notable is a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are almost solely found in oats.
Both old and newer research has found that avenanthramides may help lower blood pressure levels by increasing the production of nitric oxide. This gas molecule helps dilate (widen) blood vessels and leads to better blood flow.
In addition, avenanthramides have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects.
3. Oats contain a powerful soluble fiber called beta-glucan
Oats contain large amounts of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber. Beta-glucan partially dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like solution in your gut.
The health benefits of beta-glucan fiber include:
4. They can lower cholesterol levels and protect LDL cholesterol from damage
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. One major risk factor is high blood cholesterol.
Many studies have shown that the beta-glucan fiber in oats is effective at reducing both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Beta-glucan may increase the release of cholesterol-rich bile, which reduces the circulating levels of cholesterol in your blood.
Oats may also protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation.
Oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol occurs when it reacts with free radicals. This is another crucial step in the progression of heart disease. It produces inflammation in arteries, damages tissues, and can raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
5. Oats can improve blood sugar control
Type 2 diabetes is a common health condition, characterized by significantly elevated blood sugars. It usually results from decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Oats may help lower blood sugar levels, especially in people with overweight or who have type 2 diabetes. The beta-glucan in both oats and barley may also improve insulin sensitivity.
However, a randomized clinical trial in 2016 saw no improvement in insulin sensitivity, so further research is needed.
These effects are mainly attributed to beta-glucan’s ability to form a thick gel that delays the emptying of the stomach and absorption of glucose into the blood.
6. Oatmeal is very filling and may help you lose weight
Not only is oatmeal (porridge) a delicious breakfast food, it’s also very filling.
Eating filling foods may help you eat fewer calories and lose weight.
By delaying the time it takes your stomach to empty of food, the beta-glucan in oatmeal may increase your feeling of fullness.
Beta-glucan may also promote the release of peptide YY (PYY), a hormone produced in the gut in response to eating. This satiety hormone has been shown to lead to reduced calorie intake and may decrease your risk of obesity.
7. Finely ground oats may help with skin care
It’s no coincidence that oats can be found in numerous skin care products. Makers of these products often label finely ground oats as “colloidal oatmeal.”
The FDA approved colloidal oatmeal as a skin-protective substance back in 2003. But in fact, oats have a long history of use in the treatment of itch and irritation in various skin conditions.
For example, oat-based skin products may improve uncomfortable symptoms of eczema.
Note that skin care benefits pertain only to oats applied to the skin, not those that are eaten.
8. They may decrease the risk of childhood asthma
Asthma is the most common chronic condition in kids.
It’s an inflammatory disorder of the airways — the tubes that carry air to and from a person’s lungs.
Although not all children have the same symptoms, many experience recurrent coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Older research indicates that early introduction of oats, for example, may actually protect children from developing asthma.
One study reports that feeding oats to infants before they are 6 months old is associated with a decreased risk of childhood asthma
9. Oats may help relieve constipation
People of all ages and populations experience constipation. This refers to infrequent, irregular bowel movements that are difficult to pass.
Constipation affects nearly 16 out of 100 adults and about 33 out of 100 adults who are ages 60 and over.
Studies indicate that oat bran, the fiber-rich outer layer of the grain, may help relieve constipation in older adults.
One trial found that well-being improved for 30 older adults who consumed a soup or dessert containing oat bran daily for 12 weeks.
What’s more, 59% of those people were able to stop using laxatives after the 3-month study, while overall laxative use increased by 8% in the control group.
Oat bran was also shown to decrease gastrointestinal symptoms and aid digestion in people living with ulcerative colitis.
However, while the soluble fiber in oats is generally effective against constipation, it has been found to be less effective against opioid-induced constipation, since it doesn’t affect the movement of the colon that the drugs may suppress.
How to incorporate oats into your diet
You can enjoy oats in several ways. The most popular way is to simply eat oatmeal (porridge) for breakfast.
Here is what you need to make oatmeal:
Combine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook the oats, stirring occasionally, until soft.
To make oatmeal tastier and even more nutritious, you can add cinnamon, fruits, nuts, seeds, and Greek yogurt.
Oats are often also included in baked goods, muesli, granola, and bread.
Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they are sometimes contaminated with gluten. That’s because they may be harvested and processed using the same equipment as other grains that contain gluten.
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, choose oat products that are certified as gluten-free.
Oats are incredibly good for you
Oats are an incredibly nutritious food packed with important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, they’re higher in fiber and protein compared to other grains.
Oats contain some unique components — in particular, the soluble fiber beta-glucan and antioxidants called avenanthramides.
Benefits include lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, protection against skin irritation, and reduced constipation.
In addition, they are very filling and have many properties that should make them a food helpful for weight loss.
At the end of the day, oats are among the nutrient-dense foods you can eat.