Why Your Family Should Eat More Oats

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Mealtime

When you think about oats, does the phrase "better health" spring to mind? Probably not -- but it should! Oats are incredibly versatile and an excellent source of fibre, which is a critical component of our daily diet.

Out of habit, we tend to add wheat flour to much of our baking, and hardly think twice that regular large-flake oats can be ground into flour form as well. In fact, when oats are ground up, they also make a great replacement for porridge or cream of wheat. In countries such as Britain, oats are used for brewing beer. And in Latin America, they are ground up for a sweet beverage.

How Can Oats Improve Your Health?

There has been much talk about the health benefits of whole grains. They're a great source of fibre, they can help lower your cholesterol -- the benefits go on and on. But the question that many people struggle with is, "Which whole grains are the best?" Well, it really all comes down to fibre.
Fibre 101
There are two different types of fibre that play significantly different roles in the body, and only one has the power to lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Insoluble fibre has the mechanism of bulking waste material up throughout the digestive tract to make elimination easier. Soluble fibre becomes a gelatinous mass, which creates a softer bowel movement and is fermented by bacteria living in your digestive tract. It is soluble fibre that lowers LDL by binding to bile acids -- which help fat absorption -- making them them less likely to be absorbed into the body.

Need an example? Take Quaker's large flake oatmeal. It has three grams of total fibre per 1/3 of a cup dry, which consists of two grams soluble, and pne gram insoluble fibre. This means 66 percent of the fiber present comes from the cholesterol-lowering kind. And the great thing is that it doesn't take much soluble fibre to really make a difference. One study showed that at just three grams of soluble fibre per day lowered total cholesterol by eight to 23 percent.

Recent studies report additional oat-eating benefits include:
  • Reduced risk elevated blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of Type-2 Diabetes
  • Reduced risk of weight gain
  • Changes in appearance of existing LDL particles so they are less susceptible to oxidation (which leads to hardening of the arteries)
  • Reduced inflammation
A word of caution: It is whole grain oatmeal that provides the main benefits, not the processed kind. When grocery shopping, read labels as there are many 'instant' oatmeal versions that are packed with powdered sugar or calorie-free sweeteners. A smarter bet is to buy the old-fashioned oats that take a mere 10 minutes to cook and control the sugar yourself. Some people like using unsweetened applesauce as the sweetening agent instead of brown sugar, which is a great healthy alternative. Top with cinnamon, mix in some walnuts and you have a filling meal. For a great morning oatmeal recipe, click here.

Baking Tip: Replace 25 percent of the flour in your dishes with oat bran. This is the outer layer of the oat grain under the hull and holds much fibre.

Karla Heintz, B.Sc., is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition. Visit her website for more information on family health.

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