Oats: Milling over the health benefits

Tuesday, March 7, 2017. Author Tyler Breedlove

Oatmeal is often the typical, “go-to” breakfast for the health conscious individual with a busy morning ahead of them. If you are one of these people, maybe ask yourself, what do I really know about what I’m eating? Let’s mill over what we really know about oats.

Background

Oats, also known as Avena sativa L., are grown in cool, moist climates worldwide with the largest producers being Russia, Canada and the United States. Oats can thrive in less nutrient-rich soil than required for crops like wheat or maize, but on the other hand, require much more moisture for growth. Oats are also often used as feed for livestock, but this has declined in recent years due to the increasing evidence of health benefits in humans.

Knowing your oats

Compared to wheat, oats are higher in protein, calcium and essential fatty acids. Additionally, they are higher in dietary fiber, including soluble fiber. Oats are generally consumed as a hot cereal and come in a variety of forms, such as steel-cut oats, large flake oats, “quick-cooking” oats and instant oatmeals. Oat flakes are typically used to make muesli and granola type cereals that are generally eaten cold. 

The different types of oats are made through processes called kilning and milling. Oats are first dehulled, and then “kilned.” Kilning is actually a steam-heating process that inactivates enzymes and creates the typical nutty, toasted flavor normally associated with oats. After steaming, the oats are dried, cooled, and ready for the milling process, where they are ground or cut down. The milling process is adjusted depending on the type of oat being produced.

Oats are naturally gluten free, however they are often processed in facilities that process gluten containing grains.   Therefore, unless you are super-sensitive to gluten (or diagnosed with Coeliac Disease), you do not need to buy “gluten free” oats. To be clear, the grain itself is gluten free, however, the factory may not be.

With so many kinds of oats, which are the best to eat? Research suggests that steel cut oats demonstrate medium to low glycemic responses. This makes them an ideal choice for those concerned with blood glucose response. Additionally, flake oats used to make muesli and granola have lower glycemic responses. However, these types of oats are often mixed with other foods packed with sugar, reducing those positive benefits. Quick cook oats and instant oatmeal have the highest level of processing and therefore are easiest to cook, but are the least beneficial varieties from a nutritional perspective.

Useful tips for steel-cut oats: Because this type of oats remains largely intact after processing, it takes a much longer time to cook than other formats. To combat the slow cooking times, simply prepare a large amount in advance and place it in the fridge, with some extra spice if you want. I recommend a little cinnamon.  

Here’s another shortcut for steel cut oats to give you the benefit of their nutritional advantages without the long cooking time. The night before, take 1 cup of oats and 2 cups of water and bring to a boil in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Boil for 1 minute, turn off the heat and let the pot sit covered overnight (the moisture will all be absorbed in about an hour, so you can eat them sooner).   Your oats will be perfect in the morning and then you can just reheat them with your choice of toppings. Here’s 4 great recipe ideas depending on your genotype.

Nutritional value

What can oats offer you?

  • Evidence suggests that oats support gut health.
  • Evidence suggests that oats hold various anti-carcinogenic effects.
  • Oats contain a variety of phenolic compounds, possessing a high antioxidative capacity
  • Oats contains β-glucan, a plant polysaccharide shown to aid in the reduction of blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels 

Around ¼ of a cup of dry, unprocessed oats amounts to around 150 calories. This breaks down to around 25 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and around 2 grams of fat (most of which are unsaturated). Oats also contain Vitamin E, Folate, Zinc, Iron, Selenium, Copper, Manganese and many other micronutrients.

The genetics

Now, understanding your genetics can play a key role in knowing if and how you would benefit from the consumption of oats. This becomes very relevant when we look at certain genes.

If you enjoyed this article, please see my other healthy FitnessGenes food blogs to see what other ingredients are most suitable for your genotype: pears, celeriac, brussels sprouts, eggplant, ginger, apples, turmeric, cinnamon, green beans, gritspumpkin, buckwheat, dark chocolate.  

References:

Oats. (n.d.) Retrieved March 7, 2017 from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=54

Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods-a review. Journal of food science and technology, 52(2), 662-675.

Tosh, S. M., & Chu, Y. (2015). Systematic review of the effect of processing of whole-grain oat cereals on glycaemic response. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(08), 1256-1262.

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