Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They’re a gluten-free whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Studies show that oats and oatmeal have many health benefits. These include weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of heart disease. Oats are loaded with dietary fiber (containing more than many other grains) and have a range of healthy cholesterol-lowering properties.
Oats are a whole-grain food, known scientifically as Avena sativa.
Oat groats, the most intact and whole form of oats, take a long time to cook. For this reason, most people prefer rolled, crushed or steel-cut oats. Instant (quick) oats are the most highly processed variety. While they take the shortest time to cook, the texture may be mushy. Oats are commonly eaten for breakfast as oatmeal, which is made by boiling oats in water or milk. Oatmeal is often referred to as porridge. They’re also often included in muffins, granola bars, cookies and other baked goods.
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This cereal that is commonly eaten as a breakfast option comes packed with nutrients. The dietary fiber (beta-glucan being the most important of that) and minerals present in oats help avert numerous dangerous conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even cancer. They also enhance the health of your skin and hair.
Whole oats are high in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Most notable is a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are almost solely found in oats. Avenanthramides may help lower blood pressure levels by increasing the production of nitric oxide. This gas molecule helps dilate blood vessels and leads to better blood flow. In addition, avenanthramides have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects. Ferulic acid is also found in large amounts in oats. This is another antioxidant.
Benefits of Oats
Prevents cardiovascular disease. The antioxidants present in oats are beneficial for heart disease and the dietary fibers help lower the bad cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. Oats also contain plant lignans, especially enterolactone, which protect against heart disease. Thus, oats help reduce your cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy.
Prevents constipation. Oats are a rich source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which helps in regulating bowel movements and hence prevents constipation.
Oats have a low glycemic index, and their high fiber content helps regulate blood sugar levels. Also, oats, being rich in fiber, are digested slowly. Foods that are digested quick can cause quick blood sugar spikes – making it difficult to manage blood sugar spikes. Oatmeal makes the contents of the stomach much thicker, thereby making them get digested slowly. As per one study, oatmeal can also reduce insulin dosages.
Oats reduces cancer risk. Lignan, the same compound which helps prevent cardiovascular disease also helps reduce chances of hormone-related cancers like breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.
Rich source of magnesium. Oats are also a rich source of magnesium, which is key to enzyme function and energy production, and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels, aiding the heart muscle, and regulating blood pressure. The high levels of magnesium nourish the body’s proper use of glucose and insulin secretion.
Supports weight loss. Oats is a low calorie food which slows digestion and makes you feel full longer. Thus, reducing your cravings and helping you shed a few pounds. Cholecystokinin, a hunger-fighting hormone, is increased with the oatmeal compound beta-glucan.
Improve immunity. The beta-glucan in oatmeal can enhance your immunity levels. A majority of immune cells in your body have special receptors that are designed to absorb beta-glucan. This kicks up the activity of the white blood cells and protects against disease. Oats are also rich in selenium and zinc that play a part in fighting infections.
Lowers cholesterol. Fiber’s not only crucial for a healthy digestive system, it’s also directly linked to heart health. Beta-glucans are indigestible so they have to go through the entire digestive tract. These molecules are associated with a lowering of bad cholesterol numbers.
Shields your skin. If you look closely on the labels of some of your lotions or face creams, you probably will see oatmeal in there. At some point in history, someone discovered how great oatmeal is for dry, itchy, irritated skin. The starchiness of oats creates a barrier that allows the skin to hold its moisture, while the rougher fibrous husk of the oat acts as a gentle exfoliant.
Enhances immune response to disease. Oatmeal has been heavily studied in relation to the immune system’s response to disease and infection. Essentially, because of oatmeal’s unique fiber called beta-glucan, it helps neutrophils travel to the site of an infection more quickly and enhances their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find there.
Helps you sleep. Our society has ingrained in us that oatmeal is a breakfast food, although it is also a wise choice before bedtime.Oatmeal actually contain melatonin and complex carbohydrates that can help more tryptophan get into the brain and help you sleep. Furthermore, oatmeal contains many vitamins, including B6, which is a co-factor that also aids in the production of more serotonin in the brain.
Promote bone health. Oats offer a host of minerals essential for bone health. Steel-cut oats are preferred to the rolled variety as the former has less air exposure and is less likely to turn rancid. However, try to avoid instant oatmeal as it can turn rancid very quickly. Another important mineral oats are rich in is silicon. This mineral has a role to play in bone formation and maintenance. Silicon can also aid in the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Relieve symptoms of menopause. Increased intake of fiber can relieve irritability caused during menopause, and oats can work wonders in this aspect. But there’s a catch – oats contain lignans, a type of phytoestrogens. And studies are unsure about the beneficial effects of phytoestrogens during menopause. Also, having cooked oatmeal for a week can increase phlegm and slow down the metabolism in certain people. If you are experiencing such effects, switch to basmati rice and steamed vegetables and consult your doctor.
Since carbs are the body’s primary source of energy, and since oats are rich in carbs, they offer an energy boost when consumed right in the morning. But worry not – oats are absorbed much slower in the body, and this gives you a longer-lasting boost (in addition to not spiking your blood sugar levels). And the B vitamins in oats (like thiamin, niacin, and folate) work together to help your body metabolize energy.
Treat dry and itchy skin. Oatmeal, according to a study, exhibits direct antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties – and this can help treat itching associated with dry and irritated skin. Even an oatmeal bath can help. Sprinkle your bath water with baking soda and uncooked oatmeal. You can also use colloidal oatmeal – which is finely ground oatmeal specifically made for the bathtub. Soak in the bath water for about 15 minutes and then pat yourself dry. Apply moisturizer while your skin is damp. Oatmeal powder or oat flour can work wonders on your skin too. You can simply blend oats into a powder and then mix it with hot water to form a paste. Apply it on your skin and leave it on for 15 minutes. Rinse with normal water.
Important to know that there are many different types of oatmeal. Instant oatmeal, Oat Bran, Rolled Oats, Steel Cut Oats, Oat Groats, and so on. Often, steel cut oats are the most recommend for health benefits because they are loaded with more protein, iron and fiber, thus taking longer to digest—hence making you feel full for longer.