Today oats are the fourth leading grain produced in the United States, right behind corn, wheat, and sorghum, a grass and its seeds used to make a flour to feed livestock. Oats are a very popular food with some great health benefits. Unlike other grains, when the oat is hulled, the bran and germ of the grain is not removed, which allows the grain to naturally keep its fiber and nutrients. The oat then goes through one of a variety of processing methods, the method depending on the desired final outcome of the oats. Oats are usually processed to make products such as cereal, baked goods, and even stuffing. There are several popular oat products on the market today, and they include oat groats (flattened oat kernels used as a cereal), steel cut oats (thinly sliced oats), old-fashioned oats, quick cooking oats (more finely cut than old-fashioned oats), instant oatmeal, oat bran, and oat flour.
Originally, oats were used as a medicine. It wasn’t until later that the Scottish, British, and Germans used them as food. Oats were carried to the New World by Scottish explorers where they grew in popularity. Surprisingly, today only about four to five percent of the oats commercially grown are used for food for human consumption. The majority of the oat cultivation is used for horse and other livestock feed.
The fiber in oats coming from the oat bran is high in beta-glucan, a compound that helps to lower cholesterol. Beta-glucan works by binding itself to bile acids and excreting them from the body. Bile is made in the liver from cholesterol and is used to emulsify and digest fat. Therefore, when the beta-glucan in oats binds to the bile and is excreted from the body, it not only prevents reabsorption of that bile but encourages the body to create more, thus reducing the amount of cholesterol available to be absorbed into the bloodstream. This makes oats a great help in regulating cholesterol levels. Many studies involving various oat products have shown oats’ significant ability to lower serum cholesterol levels, and therefore reduce the risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
Oats also have polyunsaturated fats, thereby making them a good cholesterol-lowering food as well as providing the body with a healthy and essential fat. Studies have also shown that diets high in oat bran have less incidence of type II diabetes. Oat bran helps to balance blood sugar levels, helping to prevent spikes in blood sugar. Studies have shown that those with type II diabetes who eat foods that are high in oat fiber had a much lower rise in blood sugar than those who ate grains without the oat fiber.
Oats have a variety of plant compounds that give different types of protection. One of these compounds is tocotrienols (related to vitamin E), an antioxidant nutrient. Antioxidants are important to help protect the cells from free radical damage which leads to significant health problems such as heart disease, cancer, eye diseases, loss of vision, and many other issues. Tocotrienols are contained in high amounts in oats and are particularly good at protecting against heart disease. They help to stop the oxidation process, which process causes the bad LDL cholesterol to become sticky and stick to the walls of arteries. Additionally, tocotrienols help support the liver, where a large portion of your body’s natural cholesterol is made and used, and may have a role in reducing the body’s production of cholesterol. Because of these actions, the tocotrienol content of oats make it a great food for helping to prevent the number one cause of death in the United States: heart disease.
Some of the same compounds that help protect against heart disease also help protect against cancer. Oats contain saponins which help to strengthen the immune system, making the body more capable of detecting and then fighting foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Studies have shown that those with stronger immune systems have a decreased chance of developing cancer.
Oats are a good source of the minerals manganese, selenium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, and fiber. They have about three times as much magnesium as calcium, which is a great quality because most people today are quite deficient in the mineral magnesium. This three to one ratio of magnesium to calcium helps to balance calcium levels as well as to supply the body with the essential mineral magnesium. Magnesium is a very important mineral for heart health.
Because oats have a higher percentage of fat than do other grains, they can go rancid more quickly. Therefore, it is suggested that oats be purchased in smaller quantities at a time. Oats come in many ways, but if buying oats that are packaged, be sure to check the label for added sugars, salt, and/or preservatives. If buying oats in bulk, make sure that they are kept in closed containers.
Raw Oatmeal Cookies
- 2 cups whole oat groats
- 1 cup dates, without pits
- 1 apple, cored
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
- dash of salt (optional)
Get the rest of the recipe at SparkRecipes