Find health in a bowl of oats

written by The WellBeing Team

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Oats in your body

Oats are high in vitamin B1 and B3 as well as iron. Compared with other grains, they also have very good levels of oils and protein. One of oats’ virtues is they are less processed than other grains often are. Oats have the hard, indigestible outer layer removed but generally all other layers are retained. For this reason, they also contain good levels of fibre and comparatively higher levels of nutrients.

The fibre found in oats is water soluble, one of the reasons many people find it less bloating than grains such as wheat. A component of the oat fibre is beta-glucan and research is linking this polysaccharide to many of the therapeutic effects oats have on your body.

Cholesterol to colon

A 2007 study published in the journal Nutrition showed fantastic results for oats in the treatment of high cholesterol levels. LDL or “bad” cholesterol was significantly reduced in those taking six grams daily of oat-based beta-glucan, with other studies showing success with as little as three grams. In oats terms, this can be achieved through the diet by eating anywhere from half to one cup of rolled oats.

The same study also compared the formation of butyrate from beta-glucan fermentation with interesting results. Butyrate is a substance produced by the fermentation of undigested fibre and good levels are clearly linked to lower levels of colon cancer. The research shows that oat beta-glucan forms higher levels of this cancer protector than any other grain.

Blood sugar control

Another important impact of oats is in blood sugar regulation and thus diabetes. A 2007 study reported in PLoS Medicine showed a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes for those consuming higher levels of oats and other wholegrain cereals. This can be attributed to the fibre content, which is known to reduce a meal’s glycaemic index by slowing the rise in sugar uptake into your cells. As well, oats’ higher levels of B vitamins could be playing a part due to their role in carbohydrate metabolism.

Oats on the outside

Oats have also been used for hundreds of years as a topical anti-inflammatory. A great example of this is the oat bath, which is soothing and moisturising for itchy skin conditions such as eczema. Just put a handful of rolled oats in a stocking and place it in a warm bath. The “oatmilk” produced can be squeezed out and can greatly relieve symptoms as well as make the skin smoother and softer — it’s also a lot cheaper and easier to find than asses’ milk, as used by Cleopatra.

Oats in the kitchen

Porridge?

The least processed form of oats is “groats”, the oat grain with just the indigestible outer coat removed. It has a longer cooking time and a chewier texture but retains the highest level of nutrients. Steelcut oats are next in line and are basically groats cut into two or three pieces. There is some heat involved in this process, so this form has a slightly lower vitamin content but takes less time to cook and can be used in soups as you would barley.

Rolled oats is the form most commonly used with, again, a slightly lower nutrient content, but is probably the most versatile and user-friendly. Traditionally, they are an important ingredient in haggis, but those less game may prefer them in the form of muesli or porridge.

Oat bran is also commonly found in supermarkets and is basically the outer layer of the groats that is then milled to a fine powdery grain. It’s a great addition to your diet as it has the highest content of the very important beta-glucan.

Due to such positive results with the beta-glucan component, supplements of this isolated polysaccharide are now available. However, like all active constituent concentrates, it doesn’t give the same effects as consuming the whole food. So take advantage of the benefits of this humble grain with some delicious porridge or oat bran sprinkled on other dishes, and your body will reap the rewards.

Rowena York ND,DBM, is a naturopath, herbalist and nutritionist with a practice in Glebe, Sydney. She conducts nutritional counselling and specialises in stress- and anxiety-related conditions as well as digestive disorders. Rowena also runs a herbal dispensary in Rozelle. M: 0431 238 001 E: rowena@aboutlife.com.au


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