We’ve all heard how important it is to start the day off on the right track, yet it’s been increasingly easy to find options that may not be ideal – think sugary coffee drinks, doughnuts, etc.
Oatmeal has been a longtime contender for a solid breakfast option with good reason: It’s a customizable, one-ingredient, whole-grain food that provides a good amount of fiber. Here’s a look at why oatmeal is good for you and should be included in your diet.
What are oats/oatmeal?
Oats are a cereal grain from the Avena sativa plant. As consumers, we purchase the seeds of oat grass, which come in different forms, according to how they are processed. Types of oats include:
- Whole Oat Groats – Groat is another name for the whole-grain kernel. Groats are the result of cleaning and stripping harvested oats of their inedible hulls.
- Steel-Cut or Irish Oats – One step down from whole oats, steel-cut oats are whole kernels that have been roughly cut with steel blades, making them into even-sized pieces. This allows the oats to cook faster than whole oats.
- Scottish Oats – These oats are cut differently than steel-cut oats. Instead of being cut evenly, Scottish oats are stone-ground, making the resulting pieces less uniform.
- Rolled or Old-Fashioned Oats – These oats are the kind most commonly sold in grocery stores. These oats are steamed and then rolled or pressed flat, allowing them to become more shelf-stable.
- Quick or Instant Oats – By rolling the oat flatter than rolled oats, instant oats have a much faster cooking time. The nutritional benefits are exactly the same, but the resulting texture is very different.
When feasible, purchasing organic oats helps ensure the whole grains do not include any pesticides or unwanted chemicals.
Oats are considered healthy because of their soluble fiber, known as beta-glucan. This can be helpful in slowing digestion, therefore suppressing appetite and keeping you feeling fuller longer. In addition, they contain phytoestrogens, which act as antioxidants that can be helpful in battling inflammation.
Eight reasons why people should eat oatmeal
1. Packed with nutrients
Oats are jam-packed with nutrients and provide a powerful punch with their well-balanced nutrient composition. Eating oatmeal can provide essential nutrients, such as manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc! Oats are also a solid source of complex carbohydrates and fiber and are most notable for containing beta-glucan, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.
2. Lowers cholesterol levels
Oatmeal has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. The soluble fiber signals the liver to pull low-density lipoprotein – also known as LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol – from the bloodstream, which then sticks to the digested oats. This is eventually flushed out of the body as waste. For those watching their cholesterol or concerned about heart health, oats are an ideal food to include in a healthy diet.
3. Boosts the immune system
Beta-glucan is a powerhouse! It can boost our infection-fighting blood cells, in turn improving the health of our immune systems. Oats also contain selenium and zinc, important nutrients for warding off infection and keeping your body strong. Fiber within oats also feeds good bacteria in your gut. Because the majority of your immunity resides in the gut, eating oats to maintain gut health can also help you stay healthy all year long.
4. Improves blood sugar control
Because fiber is digested slowly, high-fiber foods, like oatmeal, can prevent blood sugar from rising too quickly. In fact, a key study illustrated there is “a beneficial effect of oats intake on glucose control and lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic patients.”
5. Easy and balanced breakfast
There are many variations of healthy breakfasts made with oats. Overnight oats are a great option if you often find yourself scrambling in the morning. If you prefer a warm breakfast, use quick oats in the morning and top them with fresh fruit and/or nut butter.
Homemade granola or muesli made with oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit can be prepared easily. Serving oats with milk and fruit is another great breakfast variation. If you are in a household with people who love different toppings on their oatmeal, set up a make-your-own-oatmeal bar! Prepare a big pot of oatmeal, and set it out with a variety of toppings.
6. Improved sleep
Not only is oatmeal a delicious breakfast meal, but oats have been shown to support healthy sleep as well! In addition to containing melatonin, oatmeal has vitamin B6, which aids in the production of serotonin. Melatonin and serotonin are important hormones that support restful sleep.
7. Endless varieties
Gone are the days of simple snack packs of oatmeal being the only option for variety. Take one look on Instagram, and you’ll see beautiful bowls of oatmeal topped with nut butter, dried fruit, sliced banana, and more. And oatmeal needn’t only be sweet nor only a breakfast food – combine oats with vegetables and a cooked egg to create an easy dinner. Spice it up however you enjoy it, or add a dash of hot sauce and/or some healthy fermented vegetables. The options are endless!
8. Naturally gluten-free
While oats are naturally gluten-free, those who battle celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should make sure to find an oatmeal that has a certified gluten-free label. This ensures your oatmeal has had no cross contamination with other glutenous grains.
Ways to include oats in your diet
Oatmeal isn’t just for your bowl. There are a number of ways to incorporate it into different recipes. Here are some suggestions:
- Add oats to your smoothie to thicken it, add some fiber, and make it more satiating.
- Make a batch of energy balls with oats – the perfect healthy snack to have on hand for the week.
- Grind oats to make oat flour, and use it as a gluten-free flour when baking.
- Substitute oats for breadcrumbs in meatballs, meat loaf, or even in coating meats.
- Add oats to veggie burgers to ramp up the nutritional profile of your recipe.
The bottom line
Whether eaten sweet or savory, oats can be a very nutritious addition to your diet. As a gluten-free whole grain, oats can be made in many forms and aren’t just a breakfast food. Get creative in your recipe creation and reap a number of nutritional benefits, including supporting healthy sleep, lowering cholesterol, improving blood sugar control, boosting your immune system, and contributing to your daily requirement of fiber.
Want to explore more about eating well and living your healthiest life? Check out IIN’s Curriculum Guide to learn more.