Over the past couple of years, oats have hit the big time, and perfectly presented breakfast bowls can usually be found on Instagram. While oats are mainly eaten as oatmeal, they are highly versatile and can also be incorporated into a number of baked goods and even some dinners and deserts.
Oats are packed full of dietary fiber and contain a large range of other beneficial nutrients . These include cholesterol-lowering, blood sugar stabilizing and cancer-fighting properties.
Oats: A Basic Nutritional Profile
The first point we should discuss is the nutrient that is found most abundantly in your portion of oats. This is dietary fiber, and oats actually contain more of this than any other grain food – One cup (81g) of dry oats contains as much as 7.5g of fiber!
The specific type of fiber that is found in oats is called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been shown to help lower the levels of bad cholesterol found in the blood . This is beneficial for cardiovascular health and assists in the prevention of atherosclerosis (the hardening of the arteries) and heart attacks.
Dietary fiber in any form is a crucial nutrient that we need an ample supply of in order to remain healthy and happy .
A study that was conducted in 2011 by the National Institutes of Health concluded that individuals who consumed a higher volume of dietary fiber over an extended period of nine years had a significantly lower risk of mortality from chronic disease than those individuals who had a lower intake of fiber.
Fiber consumption by participants in this study varied between 10.8 grams and 25.8 grams per day in women and 12.9 and 29.4 grams per day in men. Those who lay within the top percentile and consumed the highest amounts of fiber each day were found to have a 22% lower risk of death over the study's 9-year duration than those who consumed the least amount of fiber.
The range of health benefits that fiber can provide include:
Improving gastrointestinal health
Lowering cholesterol levels
Helping to control blood sugar
Aiding in healthy weight loss
Oats are also hugely rich in a long list of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. In 100g of oats you will find:
51% of your daily recommended intake of thiamine
8% of riboflavin
5% of niacin
6% of B6
14% of folate
13% of pantothenic acid
26% of iron
44% of magnesium
52% of phosphorus
12% of potassium
26% of zinc
31% of copper
246% of manganese
With all this value within your portion of oats, you might now be wondering how much of a dent that bowl is going to make in your daily calories goals. More good news – one cup of dry oats contains approximately 297 calories. Oats are nutritionally dense and filling and aren’t going to cause you to exceed the calorie count you are aiming for.
The benefits of oats
Heart Health [5,6,7]: Dr. Manoj K. Ahuja states that “The antioxidants present in oats are beneficial for heart disease, and the dietary fiber helps to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) without impacting on the good cholesterol(HDL)”. Numerous studies have been conducted regarding oats and heart health. One particularly strong paper published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2008 found that eating food that was rich in whole-oat sources of soluble fiber can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Oats also contain plant lignans, in particular, enterolactone. This compound helps to protect against a number of cardiovascular conditions. Oats can be seen as a key food item to ensure your heart remains healthy.
Digestion and obesity: As oats are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, eating oats on a regular basis can help to improve the health of your gastrointestinal tract and help to promote regular bowel movements, preventing constipation . Oats can also assist you in obtaining a healthy weight and could be a major player in our population's impending obesity epidemic. A collection of scientific reviews published in 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition  report that oats can play a big part in improved satiety, diet quality, and digestive, cardiovascular, and general metabolic health. Oats are a low-calorie food that slow digestion and makes you feel fuller for longer. They also help to stabilize and maintain your blood sugar levels, which plays a major role in reducing cravings, and as a result, helps you shed a few pounds.
Colorectal cancer: Research that was pooled together from trials located in Britain and the Netherlands has provided substantial evidence that links oats to a reduced risk of colorectal cancers. The pooled research included an estimated 2 million people in total and focused on evaluating whether a high-fiber diet, made up of high quantities of cereals like oats, is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancers. It was found that for every additional 10g of fiber consumed per day, there will be a 10% reduction in an individual's risk of developing colorectal cancer. Authors conclude that “a high intake of dietary fiber, in particular, cereal fiber and whole grains, was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer”.
Blood pressure [7,10,11]: It has been demonstrated through research that a diet which includes high volumes of oats and other whole-grains is just as effective, and usually preferable, to taking anti-hypertension medication. An article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that three portions a day can “significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in the middle-aged population”, this improvement mainly takes place due to the blood pressure-lowering mechanisms of oats.
Antioxidants: Oats contain a unique antioxidant called avenanthramides. Avenanthramides are polyphenols and play a major role in keeping blood pressure low through a mechanism that increases the body’s nitric oxide production . These compounds have also been shown to possess the potential to have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties when applied topically to the skin.
There are almost zero risks to mention when it comes to this wonder-food. Oats aren’t going to provide you with any nasty side effects, just an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
There is one cautionary point worth mentioning, however. While oats themselves do not contain any gluten, they are often grown in the same fields as grains are – crops such as wheat and barley. These crops can sometimes contaminate oats with gluten. If you are someone who is affected by a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you should exercise caution when eating oats. ‘Gluten-free’ oats are available for sale in many locations, ensuring that there is a supply of the cereal that has definitely not been contaminated.
How to Include Oats in your Diet
Oats can be enjoyed in a number of ways.
As we previously stated, the most popular and simple way of eating oats is as oatmeal. It’s quick and easy to make, and you only need two ingredients:
1/2 cup of rolled oats
1 cup (250ml) of water, milk, or plant milk
You will need to combine your two ingredients in a pan and bring it to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and stir occasionally until the oats are soft and cooked through.
To make your oatmeal tastier you might want to add some extra bit and pieces, this could include cinnamon, fruit, nuts, yogurt, chocolate, peanut butter or maple syrup. There are so many different combinations of oatmeal flavors out there, with a bit of research and experimentation you’re bound to find a bowl of oats you can’t wait to jump out of bed for each morning.
The Bottom Line
Oats are an excellent healthy breakfast option and an easy quick fix for your hunger pangs at any time of the day. This superfood is one that can be easily incorporated into all sorts of baked goods and dishes to suit your particular needs.
This simple grain-food is high in fiber, protein-packed and low in fat. Oats are able to boost your energy levels and are super filling – while being great for the stomach and the rest of your digestive system.
Oats also contain a wide range of other nutrients and with their unique components (soluble beta-glucan and antioxidants called avenanthramides), they really are among one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
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Emily has spent the last 8 years comparing, reviewing and analyzing ingredients in the supplements industry. She has worked extensively with dieticians, nutritionists and personal trainers to separate fact from fiction and help people achieve their fitness goals. In her free time she works and enjoys the outdoors with her husband and 2 children.