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Why Oats?

            If oats haven’t become a popular food in your life, then it’s time to reconsider the benefits it offers.  Oats have the best amino acid balance of all the cereal grains and contain more soluble fiber than any other grain.  While getting the right balance of amino acids is rarely a dietary concern, soluble fiber is a big deal.

            Soluble fiber is the kind that dissolves in water, so the body turns it into a kind of thick, viscous gel. An important benefit is that your stomach stays full longer, thus providing satiety. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose, which means you’re going to avoid more of those sugar highs and lows.  In addition, soluble fiber helps inhibit the re-absorption of bile into the body.  This forces your liver to get cholesterol from your blood supply rather than from your gut.  As a result, blood-serum cholesterol levels are lowered.  Often, a diet that’s high in fiber and low in animal products is the key to eliminating a need for cholesterol-lowering medications.  Oats also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help heal dry, itchy skin.  Many skin care products contain oats because of their highly absorptive and hypoallergenic properties.

            Oats were the last major grain to be domesticated.  In part, this was because oats go rancid very quickly due to a combination of natural fats and a fat dissolving enzyme. As a result, they must be processed soon after harvesting. The fats in oats consist of 21% saturated fat, 37% monounsaturated fat, and 43% polyunsaturated fat.  Despite this amazing nutritional advantage, less than 5% of the oats grown are for human consumption. The chief use of oats is food for animals, especially horses.  While oats have been looked upon as food for the poor, they have a history of being on the winner’s table more often than chance would predict.  Oat-eating barbarians, eventually toppled the West Roman Empire while the oat eating Scots managed to hold out nicely against the Roman legions.  Granted these are sketchy statistics.  Today, however, there is no question that the longevity and quality of life winners will be the ones with oats on the table.

Quaker Oats.
The child loves it.
The Epicure dotes on it.
The Dyspeptic demands it.
All Grocers sell it.
Do you eat it?

            The humble oat gets processed into several forms which make it quite versatile and convenient for a wide range of uses.  Among the ways oats are packaged and sold you can find the following.

            Oat groats – These are whole oats that have had the outer hull removed.  They are very nutritious but need to cook longer than other types of oats. Unless soaked the night before, oat groats can take almost an hour to cook.

            Steel-cut oats – These are oat groats that have been chopped into small pieces. They cook faster than oat groats and have a texture when cooked that some prefer.

            Rolled oats – Often these are called old-fashioned oats: They are made from oat groats that have been steamed and flattened with rollers so that they can cook quicker.  Depending on preference they can be cooked in a microwave in 1-3 minutes, On the stovetop in boiling water, or even eaten uncooked. 

            Quick oats – These are oat groats that have been cut into pieces before being steamed and then rolled into thinner flakes.  This has the effect of further reducing the cooking time. While they cook quicker, they also lack the hearty texture of the less processed varieties.  A downside to quick oats is their glycemic index of 66.

            Instant oats – These are made by chopping oat groats into tiny pieces, pre-cooking them, drying them, and then flattening them with a roller.  For preparation, they only need to be mixed with a hot liquid. Often they come packaged with sugar and flavorings.  While very convenient, the extra processing removes all traces of the original texture and natural flavor of the groats. 

            Oat flour – Oat flour is made from groats that have been ground into a powder.  Because it contains only traces of gluten it does not rise like wheat flour.   It can also be made at home in a blender from rolled oats.  Depending on the blender, this should take 60 seconds or less. Between pulses, stir to ensure that all the oats have been evenly ground.

            Oat bran – This is the outer casing that is removed from the oat groats. The bran is high in soluble fiber. Oat bran is a nice complement for baking recipes, blended shakes, or as an addition to breakfast cereals.

            Oat milk – This is a non-dairy milk substitute made from oats that have been blended with water.  The blended mixture is often strained to create a smoother creamy liquid.

            For convenience and lower glycemic index, rolled oats are often the favored choice. 

Oat type Glycemic index
Oat groats 33
Steel-cut-oats 42-55
Rolled-oats 53-57
Oat bran 50
Quick-oats 66
Instant-oats 75-79

            For an even lower glycemic index try oat groats or barley (20-37). Other grains tend to have about the same glycemic index as rolled oats.

            If oats haven’t been on your radar until now, then the four minute video “Everything You Need To Know About Oats” may fill in the visual experience you’ve missed and perhaps even get you in the mood for a hot bowl of oats.

            If looking for breakfast recipes, be sure to watch the five-minute video called “We Like It Raw: Oats That Is!” by Jane and Ann Esselstyn.  Given these recipes are deemed good enough for a world-famous cardiologist that’s still working in his mid 80s, it’s a good bet they are good enough for most of us. If feeling a creative urge to go where your oat recipes have never gone before, watch their six-minute video called, “The Oatmeal Cook Off.”  For more ideas, get a copy of the “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook” by the same team.

            Whether you prefer oats or other foods with fiber, be sure to watch the video “Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?” by Dr. Michael Greger.  Given that heart disease will likely be the cause of death for most people, anyone with a heart that’s still beating needs to watch this video.

            For anyone imagining that I recommend oats for breakfast you would be partially right.  Actually, they make a great breakfast, lunch, and dinner food. I suggest all three as possibilities.  Oat based soups are great!

            Should you be longing for a scenic nature adventure before or after your bowl of oats, then join me Saturday morning for a walk around the lakes at Jones Farm.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

Our Beautiful World

            Imagine the sun rising over the desert or a walk through a national park. These are just a few of the spectacular sights captured by winners of the international Wiki Loves Earth photography competition. Now lose yourself for a few minutes in our planet’s beauty with more photos from the winners.

By Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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