Oatmeal happens almost everyday in my house. With the exception of the summer month (when instead I throw oats into cookies, muffins, and smoothies), my family eats oatmeal for breakfast everyday. Oats are not only versatile, quick and easy to prepare (contrary to popular belief), and nutritious, but according to a recent, long-term study put out by Harvard University, the benefits of oats stretch far beyond getting a good dose of fibre and feeling fuller longer.
Researchers began the study in 1984, where they started monitoring over 100,000 healthy individuals from two large cohort studies--the 1984-2010 Nurses' Health Study and the 1986-2010 Health Professionals Follow-up Study--for health outcomes. Over 25 years later, in 2010, when researchers followed up with these people, over 26,000 had died. They found that those people who included more whole grains in their diets (oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice etc.) were protected from chronic diseases, specifically heart disease. In fact, they found that eating whole grains decreased mortality risk (particularly Cardiovascular Disease-associated mortality risk) by up to 15%. The study also found that bran, an important component of the whole grain, was associated with decreased mortality risk by up to 20%. They did not find the same association with cancer risk or mortality from cancer risk.
Because there has been a whole lot of "grain bashing" in the past few years, with extreme low carb diets such as the Paleo Diet taking over the diet world, this study serves as a refreshing reminder that whole grains are not evil. We've known for quite some time that consumption of whole grains is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease, but what this exciting study shows us (there has been limited evidence up until now), is that whole grain consumption can actually prevent early death.
Although we enjoy a variety of whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, bulgur and brown rice, whole grain oats are a favourite in our house.
Here's why I'm such an oat fanatic (and why you should be one too!):
It is a bit of a myth that quick-cooking oats are less nutritious than steel-cut or rolled oats. Although there is less processing in groat oats and steel-cut oats than in quick-cooking and instant oats, every variety of oats possesses the same nutrient profile, according to the Whole Grain Council. The difference lies in the processing, which has an affect on the glycemic index of oats (a measure of how quickly a food increases blood sugar levels). Groat oats, which are the least processed and take the longest to cook, also take the longest to digest, giving them a lower glycemic index ranking (keeping people fuller longer). They are harder to find though (I've only seen them in specialty health foods stores). Steel-cut oats are next in line, with very minimal processing and longer cooking times (although very much worth the wait). Large flake oats (or rolled oats) have been steamed and rolled, which decreases the cooking time and allows for some versatility. These are often used in homemade granola, muesli, cookies, muffins and nutritious treats such as apple crumble and these 5 ingredient no-bake chocolate power balls.
Quick-cooking and instant oats are the most processed varieties of oats, yet boast similar nutritional profiles (although some of the nutrition may be lost in processing). These oats are very quick to cook and digest the fastest, and are higher on the glycemic index, leaving you feeling less satisfied and hungry soon after. Adding some protein or extra fibre to quick-cooking oats can decrease the glycemic index of your meal though. Even though all varieties possess similar nutrient profiles, I recommend sticking to steel-cut or large flake most of the time (I alternate between the two depending on how much time I have and what I'm making).
Although oatmeal might take a bit longer to prepare than commercial breakfast cereal, it is definitely worth the 90 second wait (and is much healthier). Large-flake or rolled oats take 1.5 minutes to prepare in the microwave (just add 1 part oats and two parts water or milk to a high-rimmed bowl and microwave on high for two minutes). When your oatmeal is done, you can add milk, yogurt and whatever else you'd like. Here is a fantastic homemade instant oats recipe that you must try. Steel-cut oats cannot be microwaved, and take about 20 minutes on the stove-top, but not to worry - you'll actually save yourself time in the long run by making a big batch because...
Almost every week, on Monday, I make a big batch of steel-cut oats, add fruit, a bit of sugar, a bit of cinnamon, and whatever fruit we might have lying around (usually apples or frozen berries these days) and enjoy it all week long. It re-heats in 30-50 seconds, after which you can give it a protein boost with milk, yogurt, nuts or seeds. Voila! You can also make steel-cut oats in the slow-cooker overnight and enjoy all week long. Or if you're in the mood for an oatmeal bake (that stores well in the fridge or freezer), you can either make one in a casserole dish or in muffin tins, such as in my Oat, Apple and Cinnamon Un-Muffin Muffins.
Oats are high in a soluble fibre, a type of fibre than slows digestion down, can help to lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre also makes us feel fuller longer, preventing overeating later on. There is also research to show that a type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan present in oats can help help with appetite control by increasing Peptite Y-Y in the blood (a hormone associated with appetite control).
Beyond weight management, oats may help to increase immunity, lower cholesterol, lower the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, lower blood pressure, and improve digestive health. And according to the study that I mentioned above, eating whole grain oats may just keep us alive longer.
Feel free to check out my Facebook Page, where I post nutritious family-friendly recipes as well as nutrition articles and resources for parents.
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