Oatmeal, a favorite food of many nutritionists, comes from an ancient cereal grain. It's an important world crop as it grows in cool and moist climates and doesn't require as many nutrients as wheat. Still, most of the world's supply is used for livestock feed.
Oatmeal is available for human consumption in five different forms. From least processed to most, they are oat groats, steel-cut oats, Scottish oats, rolled or old-fashioned oats, and quick or instant oatmeal. The shelves of your supermarket probably hold many varieties of oatmeal. Like most foods, the least processed is the healthiest, but many people opt for the types that they can prepare quickly and easily.
Oatmeal is nutritionally rich. It has more protein than most grains and also contains numerous vitamins and minerals. It contains antioxidants and a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which aids several systems of the body.
Oatmeal provides many health benefits, including these:
The beta-glucan soluble fiber promotes regular emptying of the bowel and prevents constipation. It also supports healthy gut bacteria, which may reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal problems.
Soluble fiber like the beta-glucan in oatmeal lowers cholesterol. In one study, those who ate oat bran experienced a 23% drop in total cholesterol. Researchers believe that several mechanisms in the body are responsible for the lower cholesterol.
Oats are high in antioxidants called avenanthramides, not found in other cereal grains. These antioxidants reduce inflammation and relax arteries, improving heart health.
Blood Sugar Control
The soluble fiber in certain oats can keep blood sugar from rising after a meal. The glycemic load of less-processed oats is low to medium, making them a suitable carbohydrate for those with diabetes. Those who have diabetes should avoid instant oatmeal, which has a high glycemic index.
Eating fiber-rich foods like oatmeal produces a feeling of satisfaction, which can make it less likely that you will overeat. The particular fiber in oatmeal, beta-glucan, makes the contents of the intestines very viscous and may make you feel full longer.
Oatmeal is high in several vitamins and minerals, including these:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Nutrients per Serving
Oatmeal has a well-balanced nutritional profile, providing these nutrients:
- Calories: 95
- Protein: 5 grams
- Fat: 3 grams
- Carbohydrates: 27 grams
- Fiber: 4 grams
- Sugar: 1 gram
Things to Watch Out For
Oatmeal is a gluten-free food, but many oat processing plants also handle wheat and other grains with gluten. Oats that are labeled gluten-free must contain no more than 20 parts per million of gluten. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, look for the gluten-free label.
Instant oatmeal is often loaded with sugar and sodium. If you are looking for a healthy version of oats, check the label before you buy. If you start with less-processed oats but add too much butter and sugar, you can still end up with a not-so-healthy dish. Try adding flavor with spices and sweetness with fruit. Raisins, diced apple, sliced bananas, and chopped nuts are excellent add-ins.
How to Use Oatmeal
Oatmeal is most often eaten for breakfast, but it makes a great addition to meals and snacks throughout the day. Try these simple but healthy ways to eat more oatmeal:
- Add oatmeal instead of bread crumbs to meatloaf or burgers.
- Enjoy a meatless meal by making a lentil loaf with oats.
- Make oatmeal cookies instead of less-healthy sweets.
- Try simple savory oats by topping oatmeal with soy sauce and green onions.
- Make overnight oats and snack on them anytime you get hungry.
- Create your own granola with oats, nuts, and dried fruit.
- Add oatmeal to plain yogurt along with unsweetened fruit for a healthy breakfast or snack.
- Make a crisp by topping fruit with a mixture of flour, oats, and sugar.
- Add oats to pancake batter. For a smoother texture, whir them in a food processor first.