Oatmeal is one of the easiest and quickest ways to a healthy, balanced breakfast, and is often referred to as a breakfast with benefits.
A bowl of oatmeal in the morning can hold up in the stomach until lunchtime, thanks to its fiber content and slow to digest starch.
What are oats and oatmeal?
Oats, scientifically known as Avena sativa, are nutrient-rich whole grains that are used both for human and animal nutrition. They are mainly grown in the temperate regions of North America and Northwest Europe. (1)
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Oats have numerous uses, but most commonly they make oatmeal or are ground into oat flour. Occasionally, oats may be used to make different types of drinks. For instance in England, they make beer while in America, a sweet cold drink known as Avena is a popular refreshment. Also, oat extracts and oat grass have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes including soothing skin conditions, balancing the menstrual cycle and treating urinary tract infections. (2)
Whole grain oats (frequently referred to as oat groats) are normally crushed or rolled into flat flakes then lightly toasted to make oatmeal. Oatmeal is primarily eaten as porridge, but it can also be baked to oatcake, cookies or bread. Moreover, it can be used as an ingredient in several cold cereals such as muesli and granola.
There are different oatmeal varieties depending on the extent of processing. The most popular types include:
- Instant oats– are the quickest to cook and are at times referred to as quick oats. They are pre-steamed then cut into tiny pieces. All they take to be ready is one to two minutes of steeping in hot water or boiling. They often yield a mushy texture.
- Steel-cut oats– this type of oatmeal is processed by cutting oat groats into rice shaped pieces rather than rolling. They take the longest to cook, retain their shape when cooked and have a chewy texture.
- Rolled oats– are large, irregularly round and flat in shape, due to steaming and flattening. They cook faster than steel-cut oats and absorb liquid more quickly. They are popularly used for baking and making oatmeal porridge.
Nutritional value of Oatmeal
Oatmeal has gained considerable interest as a healthy food due to its rich content of essential nutrients. It is an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber, complex carbohydrates, proteins, several B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese.
Below is a summary of the nutritional value of a 100 grams of oatmeal. (3)
- Calories– 389
- Total Fat – 6.9g, 11% Daily Value
- Saturated Fat – 1.217g, 6% DV
- Polyunsaturated Fat – 2.535g, 6% DV
- Monounsaturated Fat – 2.178g, 6% DV
- Total Carbohydrates – 66g, 22% DV
- Dietary Fiber – 11g, 44% DV
- Proteins – 17g, 34% DV
- Sodium – 2mg, 2% DV
- Potassium – 429mg, 9% DV
- Magnesium – 177mg, 44% DV
- Vitamin B6 – 0.119mg, 26% DV
- Iron – 4.72mg, 26% DV
- Niacin – 0.961mg, 5% DV
- Thiamin – 0.762mg
- Calcium – 54mg, 5%DV
- Manganese – 4.916mg, 246% DV
Health benefits of oatmeal
Oats are rich in beta-glucans, a type of lipid-lowering soluble fiber. (4)
Oat beta-glucans form a viscous layer on the small intestines, to prevent intestinal uptake of cholesterol and re-absorption of bile acids made from cholesterol. In response, the body draws cholesterol from the circulating pool and its stores, to produce new bile acids. This results in reduced levels of total body cholesterol. (5)
To benefit, go for oatmeal products with at least 0.75 grams of soluble fiber per serving and aim to consume about 3 grams of fiber daily. (6)
Cholesterol is essential for the building of healthy cells, insulating nerves, and producing hormones, but then in high amounts, it increases the risk of cardiovascular conditions.
When in excess, it is deposited in the inner lining of blood vessels, causing a condition known as atherosclerosis. (7) The arteries become narrowed and eventually, it becomes difficult for blood to flow, increasing the risk of heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
Interestingly, high cholesterol levels are often a result of unhealthy lifestyle factors that are preventable. A healthy diet and exercise can go a long way in lowering cholesterol, and that is where oatmeal comes in.
2.Regulates bowel movements
Oats have more soluble fiber than most other grains and even better, they provide both of the fiber worlds- soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it move through the gastrointestinal tract easily.
Soluble fiber slows digestion and allows more water to remain in stool, making it softer and bulkier. Together, soluble and insoluble fiber work to achieve smooth, regularly shaped stools that are easy to pass, for normal healthy bowel function. (8)
3.Supports weight loss
There is no one single food that can bring magical weight loss. However, making choices of filling, nutritious foods like oatmeal helps to meet daily nutritional requirements and calorie goals for a healthy weight loss journey.
Oatmeal contains fiber that slows down the emptying of the stomach and increases the time taken for digestion and absorption of nutrients. This results in a prolonged feeling of fullness and reduction of hunger cravings.
Furthermore, oatmeal beta-glucans promote the release of cholecystokinin, a hormone that controls appetite. (9)
All these factors make oatmeal a superior choice when on a diet. Nevertheless, it is important to note that if oatmeal is dressed in sugary toppings, it will surpass daily calorie goals. It is thus important to moderate portions and make recipe choices that require minimal sugar.
4.Helps in controlling blood sugar
Controlling intake of carbs is one of the dietary goals for any person with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (10) recommends carbs from nutrient-dense food sources.
Oatmeal is one such well-balanced nutrient source with a low glycemic index that can make a big difference in controlling blood sugar.
Although carbs are the single largest component of oatmeal, they are made up of long chains of glucose molecules that are broken down and absorbed slowly.
They prevent a sharp rise of blood sugars after a meal, what is referred to as a postprandial spike in diabetes management. (11) These spikes may not seem like a problem, but several of them in a day increase the risk of long-term diabetes complications.
5.A reliable source of manganese
Oatmeal is among the richest sources of manganese. A single serving of supplies more than double the daily requirement of manganese.
It is an extremely important mineral that helps in the formation of connective tissue, absorption of calcium, blood sugar regulation and fat metabolism.
Manganese is also necessary for optimum brain and nerve function and more importantly supports the production of digestive enzymes, immune system defense, and bone development.
6.Protection against free radical damage
Avenanthramides, phenolic compounds, phytic acid, vitamin E, flavonoids, and sterols are the most abundant antioxidants in oats. (12)
These powerful compounds help in neutralizing free radicals in the body. Free radical damage can occur from exposure to certain environmental toxins, smoking, radiation and even as a by-product of normal metabolic processes.
A balance of antioxidants and free radicals is critical for proper cell functioning. If free radicals overwhelm the system, they adversely affect the cell structure and DNA, triggering a number of chronic illnesses including cancer. (13)
A diet rich in antioxidants provides a mechanism of scavenging free radicals. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to free radicals, stabilizing them and preventing their entry into the cell membranes and the nucleus. This action prevents genetic damage and consequently protects the body from chronic illnesses.
Avenanthramides are of importance as they are only found in oats. (14) They provide additional defense against arterial damage and aid in blood pressure regulation by increasing nitric oxide production. They are also beneficial in preventing skin irritation when applied directly to the skin, due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties.
7.Boosts immune response to diseases
Beta-glucans, selenium, and zinc in oatmeal aid in warding off infections by increasing the levels of infection-fighting cells. They also help the cells to travel to the sites of infection faster and enhance their fighting capability.
A bowl of oatmeal is particularly helpful for people whose defenses have weakened, in disease conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome or those on chemotherapy and radiotherapy. (15)
Studies have also shown that early introduction of oats is associated with decreased risk of childhood asthma and allergic rhinitis by almost two-thirds. (16) This benefit is largely attributed to the anti-inflammatory properties of oats.
8.Protects the skin
Oatmeal can be used both internally and externally. When consumed, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties soothe an itching and irritated skin.
The proteins and fatty acids in oatmeal maintain the skin’s natural barrier that protects the body from dehydration, harsh pollutants, and ultraviolet light rays. (17)
Oatmeal can be used externally as a facemask, soap, moisturizer, body scrub or cleanser. A facial mask can be made by boiling half a cup of oatmeal with one-third of water then allowed to cool.
Also, one can blend oats into a powder then mix with hot water to form a thick paste. The mask is applied on the face for about 15 to minutes then rinsed off with warm water.
For oatmeal soap, one can either buy premade soap or melt unscented soap then mix it with oatmeal and allow it to cool. To make a moisturizer, mix two cups of oatmeal with one cup of milk and a tablespoon of honey.
Apply the mixture on the face when damp, leave it on for 15 minutes then rinse with lukewarm water.
When these preparations are applied directly to the skin, the active components of oatmeal penetrate deep into the inner layers to soak up excess oil, remove dead cells, reduce inflammation, heal acne lesions and offer the much-needed moisture. (18)
9.Helps in hemoglobin formation
A meal of oats contains a considerable amount of iron, which is essential for hemoglobin formation. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women specially need foods rich in iron, to meet their increased demands of fetal and maternal hemoglobin.
10.Assists with muscle recovery and bulking up
Oatmeal is a favorite for high-impact performers that count their daily macros since it is an excellent source of healthy carbohydrates and high-quality proteins.
To gain mass, an adequate amount of protein is required to rebuild muscle tissue that is damaged when training. Carbs are needed for filling that muscle tissue with glycogen.
Although oatmeal is not a complete source of proteins, it has higher-quality proteins than most cereals. Proteins in oatmeal range between 11 and 17% by dry weight, which is higher than most other whole grains. (19)
Moreover, the major protein in oatmeal is avenalin, a kind of protein that is not found in any other grain but is present in legumes.
How to prepare oatmeal
The most popular way of enjoying oatmeal is simply to eat it as a creamy bowl of porridge for breakfast or as a late-night snack. Here is a simple way of making perfect oatmeal porridge.
- 50g or ½ cup of oats
- 350 ml of milk, water or a mixture of the two
- A pinch of salt
- I tablespoon honey (optional)
- Combine the oats, milk, water, and salt in a pot. Bring to boil then simmer on low heat for 4 to 5 minutes while stirring.
- When ready, serve in a bowl and drizzle honey at the top.
To make it tastier, play around with different fruits, nuts, and spices such as berries, a sliced banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon or vanilla.
To get a boost of proteins and heart-healthy fats, add almond butter, soy milk, flaxseeds or walnuts.
Sprouting oat groats
Oats are not commonly sprouted, but it is a process that can successfully be done. In their dormant state, oat groats release phytic acid and inhibitors that protect them from degradation. In the process of germination (sprouting), the grains are signaled to activate nutrients and release enzymes that neutralize those inhibitors. This process dramatically increases nutritional components and makes it extremely easy for the gastrointestinal tract to digest and absorb the nutrients. (20)
Below are the instructions for sprouting oats:
- Begin by getting whole oat groats. For best results, choose oat groats with hulls or hulless Oats with hulls sprout very well, but the shell is a bit difficult to remove when sprouted. Hulless oats are tender and quick to sprout, but the sprouting success rate may not be as good. Rolled, steel-cut or cracked oats will not sprout at all.
- Rinse one cup of oats and remove any foreign particles then transfer them to a sprouting jar or container. Add water in the ration of 1:3. For every one cup of oats, add 3 cups of water. Cover with a sprouting mesh for free air circulation.
- Let them soak for about six hours or overnight, then drain all the water. Set the drained oats on a cool surface, away from direct sunlight.
- After 8 hours, rinse and drain again. Repeat two to three times per day, for one to two days.
- Once you see ½ to 1-inch sprouts, the process is complete.
- To oat flour, dry the sprouted groats in an oven, dehydrator or sun then grind into flour.
Are there any adverse effects related to oatmeal?
Oatmeal is likely safe for most people whether young, old, pregnant or breastfeeding.
It is exceptionally well-tolerated, with few or no side effects in healthy individuals. As much as there are no side effects of oatmeal, it is worth mentioning that it should be consumed with adequate water. The high fiber content can cause gassiness and bloating if consumed in excess.
For people that are intolerant to gluten, oatmeal is a safe alternative. However, it is very important to buy oatmeal that is certified as pure from contamination with other grains such as wheat and barley.
This is because oats are often processed in the same facilities as gluten-containing grains.
Avenin-sensitivity or oat sensitivity, though rare, may affect some people. It has symptoms similar to those of gluten intolerance. If you have a history of food sensitivity, it would be prudent to introduce oatmeal in small quantities as you watch for a reaction.
Oatmeal is among the world’s healthiest meals, no wonder it is one of the most famous breakfast choices.
It has a well-balanced nutritional composition of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It offers potential health benefits for the heart, gut, skin, the immune system, blood sugar management, and even weight loss.