While oats may not be number one on the world consumption chart, they are still a very important grain. Oats generally fall behind corn, wheat and sorghum as far as grains go, but they have numerous health benefits and seem to be experiencing a surge in popularity.
Oats do go through a hulling process but still manage to retain important nutrients and fiber. Various types of processing can be used to produce the many oat products which are found in today’s marketplace. Most are found in baked goods or cereals, but stuffing is also a common use for oats.
Approximately 4-5% of the oats which are grown today are used for human consumption: the rest are grown as feed for horses, cattle and other livestock. Those countries which cultivate the most oats for humans are Russia, Poland, Finland, Germany and the United States.
History of Oats
Oats can be traced back to Asian ancestry and the wild red oat. The last type of grain to be formally cultivated worldwide, oats are somewhat of a “newcomer” to the grain scene, only going back as far as 500 B.C.B. when it comes to European usage. Because oats are highly perishable not too long after being harvested, the ancient Romans and Greeks looked upon oats as a weed and fed this grain to their horses. Oats were brought to the New World by the first Scottish settlers in the 1660s.
Different types of harvesting can be used to process oats, resulting in the following:
- Oat groan – The un-flattened kernels of the oats which are best used as stuffing or in breakfast cereals.
- Old-fashioned oats – Steamed and then rolled, this type of oats has a flatter appearance than other oats.
- Quick-cooking oats – This version is very similar to old-fashioned oats, but after being steamed they are finely cut before the rolling process takes place.
- Steel-cut oats – These oats are produced by running the product through steel blades which slice them very thinly, creating a chewier, denser texture.
- Instant oatmeal – A popular item on today’s grocery shelves, instant oatmeal is partially cooked rather than simply just steaming the oats and rolling them thin. Sugar, salt and several other ingredients can be added at this point to make the final product.
- Oat bran – The bran of the oat is the outer layer that is found under the hull. Oat bran can be found in all whole-grain oat products, but it can also be purchased separately to be added to recipes or cooked into a hot cereal.
- Oat flour – This is a type of flour which is made from hulled oats. It is used in baking and is frequently combined with other flours which contain gluten to make leavened bread.
This grain is a good source of several minerals, including magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorous and selenium. Oats contain more than three times the magnesium as they do calcium. Oats are also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin B1.
Just one bowl of ready-to-eat oatmeal or oat bran cereal provides three grams of fiber. While oat bran does have a higher fiber level, oatmeal can boast of being higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids, thus leveling out the playing field when it comes to nutrition and content.
Oats Health Benefits
The dietary fiber found in boat bran is high in beta-glucan, which is known to help lower cholesterol. This takes place by binding bile and removing it from the body through the feces. All types of oat products have been studied since roughly 1963 to ascertain oats’ health effects on the body, and the majority of this research has proven oats have a favorable effect on cholesterol. In fact, for those patients who have very high cholesterol levels (above 220 milligrams per deciliter), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day lowered their total cholesterol by anywhere from 8% to 23%. This is especially worthy of note given the fact that each 1% drop in serum cholesterol has an equivalent 2% decrease in the likelihood of the individual developing heart disease.
Research has also shown that eating oat bran has very beneficial effects on blood sugar as well. Those adults with type 2 diabetes who participated in a study utilizing oat fiber, oatmeal and oat bran experienced lower rises in blood sugar levels than the participants who ate bread or white rice.
Because oats have a lipid profile of some 20% saturated fat and 80% unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, they contain a slightly higher fat content than many other grains and therefore can become rancid more quickly.
Oats are not difficult to prepare and should be added to cold water and then heated to a simmer when cooking. No rinsing is required when making oats.
An easy recipe for eating oats as a breakfast food is to cook oats, add ½ teaspoon of organic butter, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, raw walnut pieces, and sliced, dried prunes or other fruit. A tablespoon of flax seed can also be added, as well as maple syrup or honey for sweetness.
This grain is not commonly an allergenic food, but it is classified as a “gluten grain.” This grouping is usually avoided by individuals who have wheat-sensitive conditions and includes wheat, barley, rye and oats. Some researchers disagree with this stance and think oats should not be added to the gluten grains category. Persons known to have celiac disease may want to avoid oats as this intestinal disorder is caused by an inability to process gluten in the body. The disease is characterized by a failure to absorb nutrients, frequent diarrhea, and an abnormal small intestine condition which becomes normal when dietary gluten is avoided and removed from the diet.
Oats are also known to contain moderate to high levels of oxalate. Those people who have a history of kidney stones formed by calcium oxalate should limit their intake of this particular grain.
- Holford, P. The optimum nutrition bible, Little Brown Group (2004)
- Holford, P & Lawson, S. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health, Piatkus Books (2008)
- Murray, M.T. et al., Encyclopedia of healing foods, London : Piatkus (2005)
- The National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences (1989)
- Werbach, M. Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd ed, Third Line Press (1993)
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