Why Are Oats An All-Star Grain?

Steel Cut Oats

Believe it or not, grains are not evil! Among all grains, oats are a morning comfort food all-star and can also be used extensively in baking. While oats have a similar amino acid profile as wheat, they retain more of their original nutrients than refined wheat products as only the outer inedible husk is removed during milling. According to research, it is the bran component of oats and all whole grains which contain the most important bioactive constituents. But, the nutrient-rich bran is removed during processing of most other grains. Also, according to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, resulting in slower digestion, a feeling of satiety and appetite suppression.

What’s So Special About Oats?

Avenanthramides. Aside from helping stabilize blood sugar and removing cholesterol from the digestive system, the latest research suggests oats may have another cardio-protective mechanism. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, antioxidant compounds unique to oats, called avenanthramides, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol. The study also suggested that this benefit may extend over a longer period of time when oats or oat bran are consumed with vitamin C.

Beta-glucan. Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal all contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber, known to lower cholesterol. Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%.

So, if you think of oats and oatmeal as nothing but a source of carbohydrates, think again. Serving up the morning bowl of hot oats just may help balance your blood sugar, weight, cholesterol levels, cardiovascular risk all while boosting your immune system.

Other Nutritional Considerations for Oats

Oats are an excellent source of manganese and molybdenum. They are also a very good source of phosphorus as well as a good source of copper, biotin, vitamin B1, magnesium, dietary fiber, chromium, zinc, and protein.

Gluten? Pure oats do not inherently contain gluten. But, the concern around oats and gluten has to do with cross-contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye, which are gluten-containing grains. The gluten in these ingredients can contaminate oats. Contamination can also happen in the field, when oats are grown near fields of wheat. Unfortunately, for individuals who are gluten-intolerant, even a trace amount of gluten can cause severe discomfort. So, these individuals need to look for brands of gluten-free oats, such as Bob’s Redmill.

Whole grains overall are important dietary sources of both water and fat-soluble vitamins as well as antioxidants, such as vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants release over various time periods, ranging from immediate release to slow-release, making them available throughout the gastrointestinal tract for a long period after being consumed.

Consumption of whole grain products in general and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, childhood asthma and premature death. In many studies, eating whole grains has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health, providing protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, high blood pressure and heart attack. In fact, Harvard researchers found that among 21,376 participants in the 19.6 years of the Physicians Health Study, that men who consumed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends eating at least 3 servings of whole grains daily.

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