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Feeding and Diet

Health Benefits of Oatmeal

wooden sppon in a bowl of oatsYou may have heard the saying that a hearty bowl of oatmeal at breakfast “sticks to your ribs”. This is not too far off from the truth.

Oatmeal contains insoluble fiber which stays in the stomach longer and helps you feel fuller, longer. This can prevent overeating later on in the day, which may help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid the health problems associated with overweight.

The fiber in oats also has many health benefits. Eating just a half cup of oatmeal a day is enough to reap the many health benefits.

Fiber describes the portion of plant materials in the diet which humans cannot digest. It is an important component in maintaining gastro-intestinal (GI) health by regulating transit time through the GI tract and adding bulk, increasing a feeling of fullness and preventing constipation.

There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber absorbs water and becomes a viscous gel as it moves through the GI tract and is fermented by bacteria. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water, acts as a bulking agent, and is not fermented by bacteria. Oatmeal contains both types and has the largest proportion of soluble fiber of any grain in the form of beta-glucan.

The soluble fiber in oatmeal has been shown to decrease low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or “bad cholesterol” by 10-15%, particularly when consumed as part of a low-fat diet.  Studies show fiber can also decrease risk of high blood pressure and reduces risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

The water soluble properties of beta-glucan help control blood sugar by slowing down digestion time, which can help diabetics achieve better glycemic control and prevent insulin resistance.

A high fiber diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25-30 grams of fiber per day -- most Americans only eat about half that amount!

One cup of oatmeal contains about 150 calories, 4 grams of fiber (about half soluble and half insoluble), and 6 grams of protein. In addition to fiber, oatmeal is rich in thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iron.

Types of Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a ground porridge made from oats. Steel-cut oats still contain the whole oat grain, including the oat bran. They are passed through steel cutters, which chop them into pieces.

Rolled oats are de-hulled then steamed, which partially cooks the oat, and then flattened between two rollers. They are sometimes referred to as old fashioned oats.

Instant oats are produced the same way as rolled oats, but they are steamed for a longer period of time to completely cook them before the drying process. Instant oats often have sweeteners or flavors added to them.

As a general rule, the less processed the oats are, the more fiber they contain and the more health benefits can be gained from eating them.

History of Oatmeal

Oats were first cultivated in 1,000 BC in central Europe. Ancient Greeks and Romans scoffed at oats as “barbarian” food and only fed it to their animals. It was oat eating Germanic Tribes that later defeated the Romans, resulting in the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Oats were first brought to America in the early 1600’s by European explorers, such as Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, who planted them off the coast of Massachusetts. Scottish and Dutch immigrants first used them in traditional porridges, puddings, and baked goods. Currently, Vermont has the highest per capita oatmeal consumption in the United States, where it is often consumed with another local favorite, maple syrup.

Oatmeal Tips

    Make oatmeal with milk instead of water to increase the protein and calcium.

    Add fresh fruit such as blueberries, strawberries, bananas, or apples to increase the fiber, vitamins and minerals, as well as add anti-oxidant rich phytochemicals. No fresh fruit?Add dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries.

    Add nuts such as walnuts, pecans, olive oil, and sunflower seeds to add heart healthy mono or poly-unsaturated fatty acids and protein. The added fat will also help you stay full even longer.

    For added sweetness without the calories, consider adding stevia or another low calorie sugar substitute.