Oats are the grains of the common oat plant, Avena sativa. From being mocked as the ‘poor man’s breakfast’ oats have become an asset for many to combat bad lifestyle and poor nutrition. Full of carbohydrates, proteins and fiber, a bowl of oats in the morning is definitely a start to a healthier you...
Why are oats so healthy?
Oats are healthy because of what they contain. Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients of oats:
- Carbohydrates: Oats are high in carbohydrates – and carbohydrates get converted into energy. A bowl of oats for breakfast is a perfect start to a day for anyone with high levels of physical activity.
- Proteins: As compared to other cereals and grains, oats have a perfect balance of proteinaceous compounds, which are linked to overall bodily functions, good health and youthfulness. They brim with essential fatty acids and amino acids.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Oats are a good source of naturally-occurring thiamine, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, copper, iron, manganese and magnesium.
- Insoluble Dietary Fiber: Insoluble dietary fiber keeps the GI tract healthy and functioning well. It absorbs water greatly and adds weight to the stools, making them heavier and thereby preventing constipation. It is also believed to reduce carcinogens in the GI tract.
- Soluble Dietary Fiber: One part of soluble fiber is Beta-Glucan – it gets digested and forms a gel-like substance in the intestine. This ‘gel’ catches cholesterol-absorbing substances which in turn lowers the bad cholesterol (LDL) levels without affecting the good cholesterol (HDL). A side benefit is the lowering of blood pressure, too. Beta-Glucan also contributes to the high glycemic index of oats – a bowl for breakfast will keep you fuller, longer -- thus ending unhealthy midmorning snacking and helping you achieve weight-loss goals. And according to some new studies, Beta-Glucan also speeds up healing.
- Tocotrienol: Tocotrienol is an antioxidant and along with other antioxidant compounds such as tocopherols, it forms vitamin E which keeps cellular ageing at bay for longer.
- Phytochemicals: Phytochemicals are plant chemicals and are believed to cut down the risk of cancer. Lignan, a phytoestrogen compound, is believed to reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast, ovary, prostrate and endometrium.
Oats at the aisles:
From instant oat packets to the Irish steel-cut variety, the aisles brim with a variety of packets. Let’s begin with listing the types. To begin with, all packaged oats are born as ‘groats’: hulled and roasted oat grains. Then according to their size and cooking time, they can be classified further.
- Steel-cut or Irish oats: The least processed oats available, these have the look of porridge grains. The groats are simply chopped into tiny pieces, the size of small seeds. Cooking time: 40-60 minutes.
- Stone-ground or Scottish oats: The same process but the pieces are tinier, smaller than couscous. Cooking time: 20-30 minutes.
- Rolled oats: The groats are steamed and then pressed into flakes. Rolled oats can be eaten by soaking them in milk overnight or by cooking into oatmeal. Cooking time: 10 minutes.
- Quick-cooking oats: They are rolled oats, pressed into thinner flakes in order to speed up the cooking. Cooking Time: 3-5 minutes.
- Instant oats: They are the most processed, and have added sugar and salt. The groats are chopped, flattened, cooked and dehydrated before they reach the aisles. Cooking time: 1-2 minutes
So which are the healthiest? Quick-cooking oats have a higher glycemic index in that they won’t keep you as full as would the first three, but other than that, they are still almost as healthy as the others – the difference in the fiber content, carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients is minute. Health-wise, one can steer clear of instant oats – the added sugar and salt as well as the processing in fact makes them unhealthy – most of the nutrients are stripped off by the time they reach your table. In the time it takes you to boil water for the instant variety, you can always cook the quick-cooking oats.
What’s the best way to enjoy oats?
The verdict is out and oats have been proven healthy. Now, how best to have them so as to preserve the nutrition? Steel-cut or stone-ground oats have to be cooked for a while as porridge or oatmeal in the traditional way. Rolled or quick-cooking oats can be soaked in milk overnight (this is basically what muesli is) and eaten as is or cooked normally. Other than that you can add oats to pancake batter, cake, muffins and cookie batter, granola bars, pizza bases or just sprinkle some on to yogurt for a nutrient-packed snack.
Butter, and corn syrup are things you should avoid putting in your oats if you are adding them to your diet for the health factor. Use fruit slices or purees and honey to sweeten them instead. This will save you some calories and further lower the glycemic index of your breakfast – keeping you fuller for a longer time.
Oats for beauty:
Did you know that oats are also a good ingredient when it comes to kitchen-inspired beauty recipes? They have skin-soothing properties and are great for sensitive skins. Here go just a few for you to try out!
- Oat cleanser: Blend some rolled oats and enough milk to form a paste. Smear this over your face and then massage in gently for 5-6 minutes. Wash off with cold water.
- Oat Scrub: Add some coffee granules to the paste above and massage your face and neck for 5-6 minutes. Rinse off with cold water.
- Oat Mask: Add honey to the cleanser paste you made along with a dash of lemon juice. Smear on and keep for 15 minutes. Rinse off.
- Oat Bath ‘Salt’: Put some rolled oats, powdered milk, a bit of salt and a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil into a muslin cloth – hang it on the mouth of the spout. The bath water will get all the nutrients without the ‘gunk’.
- Oatmeal Loofah: If you prefer showers to baths, put rolled oats, powdered milk and a couple of dry chamomile flowers into a muslin cloth and tie tightly into a pouch. Wet it and use on your skin for a gentle loofah.
So there you have it. The very best of oats, for the best in you… If you have any tips or recipes to share with us, or even any queries – do write in your thoughts in the comments section below.