Oats So Good
Like most plant foods that we eat today oats were domesticated from wild varieties thousands of years ago. Being filling, nutritious and versatile it’s easy to see why they have endured for so long in the human diet.
Porridge is probably the first thing that springs to mind when oats are mentioned and even this humble dish has many recipes, depending on where you are in the world. Purists say that oats should be cooked with nothing but water and a pinch of salt, while others swear by additions such as cream, milk, buttermilk, cinnamon or a touch of whiskey (purely for medicinal purposes!). In Scotland people used to store porridge in a draw where it would cool and thicken, to be sliced and eaten as a “porridge cake” later in the day. If that doesn’t appeal keep reading for both savoury and sweet oat based recipes.
First, here are a few reasons for including oats in your diet.
Oats, Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease
Oats are a rich source of β-glucan, a soluble fibre that is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). A review of the research into the effects of oat β-glucans found they lowered LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol (1,2,3,4). So, if you want to lower cholesterol naturally and protect your heart and cardiovascular system oats could be a good addition to your diet.
Oats, Satiety and Blood Sugar Control
A literature search into the effects of oats on diabetic patients found that oatmeal significantly reduces glucose and insulin responses after meals compared with the control meal (3) and has antidiabetic effects (4). There is good evidence to suggest that the β-glucan in oats has a positive effect on perceptions of satiety (5) meaning they keep you feeling full up for a good long time.
The satiating effect of oats may be linked to the fact that foods made with oats or barley induce less of a glycaemic response than similar wheat based foods (6). However, it should be noted that while steel-cut oats, large-flake oats, muesli and granola are found to elicit a low to medium glycaemic response, quick-cooking oats and instant oatmeal are likely to break down more quickly into sugar in the gut and therefore are more likely to disrupt blood glucose stability (7).
Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Oats
The nutritional benefits of oats go beyond fibre to bioactive phytochemicals (4). Oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols, known as avenanthramides. These have been shown to have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, and anti-itching activity, which may provide protection against colon cancer, viral infections and skin conditions such as pruritus, dermatitis and acne (8,9,10). To make a healing oat compress soak some oat flakes in water for a few minutes then apply as a paste to the affected areas. Alternatively, put some oats into a muslin bag and hang it under the hot tap when running a bath. While in the bath give the bag a squeeze every now and then to release more of the soothing oat balm.
Oats and Digestive Health
Oatmeal porridge is a popular dish across Northern Europe and the US. Research into the effects of consuming 60g of oatmeal porridge every day for 1 week concluded that it possess prebiotic properties (11) meaning it encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Studies carried out on volunteers with no history of bowel disease suggest that oats or oat bran can significantly increase stool weight and decrease constipation (12). Other research suggests that whole-grain foods, such as oats, may protect against colorectal cancer and have benefits for those with inflammatory bowel disease.
Oats and Coeliac Disease
Whilst some people with coeliac disease are clinically intolerant to oats, a review of the literature concludes that oats uncontaminated by gluten (from wheat, rye, and barley) can be safely ingested by most patients with coeliac disease. That said, gluten free oats should only be introduced after all symptoms of coeliac disease have resolved and a gluten free diet has been followed for at least 6 months (13,14). Other research highlights the fact that there are many varieties of oats which may each have different effects on the immune system so tolerance of oats may depend on the cultivar consumed (15).
Many people who are not coeliacs may also struggle with gluten. This is known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and is characterized by intestinal and other symptoms arising after gluten ingestion and rapidly improving after its withdrawal from the diet (16). Unlike coeliac disease, this condition may pass after a period of exclusion of gluten from the diet.
Finding oats that are well tolerated is worthwhile for coeliacs and those with gluten sensitivity as oats are an important source of protein, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and fibre and their inclusion in the diet could improve the nutritional status of those on a gluten free diet.
Oats are extremely versatile; they work well in both savoury and sweet dishes, and can be enjoyed at any time of day. Clearly they are great in porridge or muesli but they don’t need to be limited to breakfast. Here are some ideas to inspire you.
These are delicious, healthy vegan burgers that can be gluten free if made with gluten free oats. Instead of the tofu a can of chickpeas can be blended into the mix instead.
2 cups of oat flakes
350g firm tofu, mashed
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 carrots, grated
1 beetroot, grated
1 tsp thyme
3 tbsp tahini or almond butter
2 tbsp tamari soy sauce
2 tbsp hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
- Combine the oat flakes and mashed tofu together in a bowl and leave to soak for 20-30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan and add the onion. Cook for 10 minutes before adding the garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne. Cook for a minute.
- Stir in the carrots, beetroot and thyme and cook for a minute or two.
- Blend together the tofu and oat flakes in a food processor briefly. Add the tahini or almond butter and tamari and blend briefly again.
- Add the onion, carrot and beetroot mixture along with the hazelnuts and stir well or blend briefly. Season with salt and pepper.
- At this stage it works well to transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and leave it in the fridge to thicken up. However this is not essential.
- Divide the mixture into evenly sized burgers.
- Place the burgers on a lined baking tray. Bake in the oven on gas mark 4/180C for 15 minutes, turn over each burger then cook for a further 15 minutes. Alternatively, fry in a heavy bottomed frying pan.
- Serve in a bun or pitta bread with green salad.
These antioxidant packed flapjacks make a nice treat in a packed lunch or picnic. They store well in an air tight container for up to 3 days and can also be frozen. For a vegan version use maple syrup instead of the honey and use gluten free oats if they need to be gluten free.
1 tbsp pear and apple spread
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp molasses
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 cups of rolled oats
½ tsp Himalayan salt
2 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp cacao nibs
3 tbsp goji berries
- Melt the pear and apple spread, honey, molasses and coconut oil together in a pan.
- Add the oats and salt and stir well to coat the oats in the melted ingredients.
- Turn off the heat and add the seeds, cacao nibs and goji berries. Stir well.
- Spread the mixture out in a lined oven proof dish. Use a piece of baking parchment to press it down and smooth the top.
- Bake in the oven on gas mark 4/180C for 25-30 minutes.
- Leave to cool on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes cut into slices but leave in the tin until completely cool. Store in an air tight container.
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