When it comes to superfoods, there is one food that ticks the boxes. It’s not an ancient grain or a fancy new age green leaf. It’s the humble oat.
Numerous studies have shown that eating oats can lower cholesterol. And a new study confirms this again. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the affects of whole grains and cholesterol levels in healthy adults. Twenty-four randomised controlled trials were analysed to determine the differences between whole grain foods and non whole grain foods in adults. The results showed that yes, consumption of a whole grain diet does lower a person’s LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol when compared with a non-whole grain diet. But, the most effective grain at lowering cholesterol? You guessed it – the oat.
What makes up an oat?
Let’s talk about the nitty gritty – what exactly is an oat? Oats are a grain – that is the seed of a grass and they are rich in carbohydrates. But as you know, not all carbohydrate-rich foods are created equal and this is definitely one that runs at the front of the pack – it’s a winner! One of the foods I refer to as 'smart carbs'.
- Oats are packed with fibre and contain a particular type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been show to reduce cholesterol reabsorption in the gut and helps to improve cholesterol profiles, which in turn reduces your risk of heart attack.
- About 20 per cent of the total energy (kilojoules) from oats comes from fat. But this is almost entirely healthy, unsaturated fat. The fat found in oats carries the fat-soluble vitamin E, which is a key player in the team of disease-fighting anti-oxidants.
- Oats have a low to moderate GI, depending on their form, so they will fill you up and keep your glucose levels stable, avoiding too many highs and lows.
- About 12 per cent of the energy from oats is protein, making oats a truly valuable grain for vegetarians.
- Oats provide a host of micronutrients such as potassium, calcium, maganese, phosphorus, vitamin B1 and zinc.
The type of oat
A whole oat contains three segments of seed – the endosperm, germ and bran. There are so many different ways to buy oats, here’s what you need to know to ensure you’re buying the most nutritious oat you can.
Rolled oats – the nutritious outer husk is still intact, and the grain is lightly steamed and pressed into a flat flake. Rolled oats are easy to use and are one of the most popular ways to eat oats. They can be used in muesli or baking as well as for making a creamy porridge.
Steel cut oats – steel cut oats are coarsely chopped groats (the whole grain). They undergo very little processing and are an excellent source of fibre and nutrients. Steel cut oats are extremely nutritious. They do take longer to cook, but you can soak them overnight to shorten the cooking time of your breakfast porridge. It is worth it as the result is far creamier and richer than porridge made with rolled oats.
Oat bran – oat bran is made by a separation process during milling so just the bran is all that’s left. It is not considered a whole-grain but is of course very rich in fibre. It is used to add fibre during the manufacture of breads, biscuits, and breakfast cereals.
Quick oats – these are the same as rolled oats, but rolled even thinner or chopped coarsely. A smaller oat flake means its quicker to cook. The texture differs between instant and rolled oats and unfortunately the thinner flakes also raises the GI. They are still nutritious, but I recommend using traditional or steel cut oats instead.
To reap the benefits of oats, be sure to eat them regularly if not daily. When it comes to oats, there’s pretty much nothing negative to say. However, when it comes to cooking with oats, do be careful that you’re not loading up on added sugar. Cooking with oats often involves baking, and baking can mean loads of butter and sugar! Be sure not to fall into this trap and use oats in your healthy recipes. I add rolled oats to the muffins I make for my kids, or blitz them in my Vitamix to make an oat flour that I substitute part of my regular wheat flour with to nutrient boost the recipe.
You can also use oats to thicken soups and casseroles - I promise you it works really well!
But the easiest way to get more oats into your diet is to eat them for breakfast. You can make porridge of course - I love to top my porridge with fruit, nuts, seeds and yoghurt. Or enjoy a rolled oats based muesli. If buying it pre-made, it’s best to buy a non-toasted muesli, as toasted mueslis are often high in added sugar and oil. But if you can’t go past the crunch, try my recipe for Fruit and Nut Toasted Muesli – it’s delicious, crunchy and uses only some apple juice concentrate to sweeten. If ok with eating untoasted muesli, I have a favourite recipe that I eat almost every day. Try it here.
All up oats are well worthy of a place in your pantry and your health will benefit from a regular dose.
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Chatting on the Today Show with Sylvia Jeffreys and Ben Fordham on foods and drinks that may help you to live a longer, healthier life.Watch