Ask almost anyone to name one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have, and many will say, "oatmeal." Ask why it's so healthy, and they would probably answer, "fiber." While getting more fiber is a good reason to reach for that packet of oats in the morning, there's a lot more to oats, nutritionally speaking.
Half a cup of oats will give your body a nutritional boost beyond the 4.1 grams (g) of fiber. You get some plant protein along with some smart fats (from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat), vitamins and minerals, and countless phytochemicals, too!
Let's do the numbers:
Rolled Oats, 1/2 cup serving (approximate values)
Protein: 6.5 g
Carbohydrate: 27 g
Fat: 2.6 g
Saturated fat: 0.4 g
Monounsaturated fat: 0.8 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 1 g
Fiber: 4.1 g
Sodium: 2 mg
Thiamin: 26% Daily Value
Folacin (folic acid): 7% Daily Value
Vitamin E: 6% Daily Value
Iron: 11% Daily Value
Magnesium: 21% Daily Value
Selenium: 25% Daily Value
Zinc: 10% Daily Value
The health benefits of oats are thought to include limiting oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, decreasing total and LDL cholesterol, and reducing blood pressure -- all of which help lower your risk of heart disease. The fiber in oats is also thought to help you feel full longer, and reduce the amount of insulin released after meals.
10 Ways to Harness the Power of Oats
There are all sorts of way to eat oats. There's the predictable hot oatmeal breakfast (which can also be a quick snack at work if the lunchroom has a microwave). Then there are oat recipes for baked goods, like muffins, breads, and certain desserts. Crisps, for example, traditionally call for oats. Granola is a type of cold breakfast cereal that usually includes plenty of oats, too.
One of the easiest ways to enjoy oats is as instant oatmeal. Usually, instant oatmeal is quite high in sugar. But there are now some choices in the supermarket that keep the convenience but lose some of the sugar.
Here are 10 ways to eat more oats:
1. Opt for Healthier Instant Oatmeal
Most people prefer some sweetness in their oatmeal. But there's more sugar than we need in all those fun, flavored oatmeal packets, that's for sure. How do I know? I've tasted the new less-sugar types, and they taste great!
There are Apples & Cinnamon and Maple & Brown Sugar varieties, and my personal favorite, Take Heart Blueberry. A packet (34 grams) of Quaker's 50% Less Sugar Maple & Brown Sugar flavor has 4 grams of sugar (13% calories from sugar), along with 3 grams of fiber (1 gram of which is superhealthy soluble fiber). The Take Heart Blueberry variety (a larger, 45-gram packet), with added oat bran and flaxseed, has 6 grams of fiber (4 grams of which is soluble), and 9 grams of sugar (22.5% calories from sugar), plus 130 milligrams of plant omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Make Some Muffins With Oats
Look for muffin recipes that call for both oats and whole-wheat flour. This will give you a nice balance of soluble fiber (from oats) and insoluble fiber (from the whole wheat).
Oats add texture and a mild nutty taste to muffins. Use either Quick or Old Fashioned Oats, though. Instant oats (in the packets) usually add some sugar and other ingredients along with the oats. (See the Strawberry Oat Muffin recipe below.)
3. Substitute Oats for Other Fillers
Instead of adding bread or cracker crumbs to your meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffed mushrooms, add oats instead. Rolled or quick oats cook up fast and hold onto moisture well.
4. Add Toasted Oats to Other Dishes
You can add toasted oats to trail mix, or sprinkle it on top of yogurt, frozen yogurt, or fresh fruit. Or, try adding it to cookie dough in place of some of the nuts the recipe calls for. (Check out the recipe below for Cinnamon Vanilla Toasted Oats.)
5. Thicken Soups and Stews with Oats
The heartier steel-cut oats can add thickness and texture to soups and stews. Steel-cut oats are cut into bits with steel blades instead of rolled. (Rolled oats have a flakier texture and take a shorter time to cook.)
Gravitate toward broth or tomato-based soups and stews. These are typically the lowest in fat and calories.
6. Cook up a Crisp
One of the healthiest ways to enjoy a fruit dessert is as a lower-fat crisp or crumble. A crisp -- basically a slightly sweetened fruit mixture with a crumb topping -- is a perfect opportunity to use oats.
Most crisp recipes call for about 1/2 cup of oats and 1 cup of flour for a recipe serving 6-8. But you can flip those and use 1 cup of oats and 1/2 cup of flour. You can use a lot less fat in the oat topping than the recipe calls for, too. (See the Rhubarb Crisp recipe below.)
7. Replace Some of the Flour With Oats
Usually, up to one-third of the flour in breads, cakes, pancakes, or muffin recipes can be replaced with oats or oat flour. Oat flour is basically ground oats. You can make it at home by pulsing rolled oats in your food processor or in small amounts in your spice grinder.
8. Move Over, Chocolate Chip Cookies
One of the most popular cookies in the United States uses oats -- oatmeal raisin cookies. I probably don't need to remind you of this, do I?
What you might not realize is that you can make a higher fiber, lower-fat oatmeal raisin cookie. First, use whole-wheat flour for half the white flour the recipe calls for. Then, cut the fat (like butter) in half, and instead use a margarine with added plant sterols and fewer (and healthier) fats. Replace the missing butter with lite pancake syrup, fat-free half-and-half, fat-free sour cream, or even applesauce.
9. 'Oatify' Your Homemade Bread
Look for bread recipes that call for some oats. You can usually add around 1 cup of oats to 2 1/2 cups of flour (part of which is whole-wheat flour), as in the Honey and Oats Bread recipe below.
10. Try Oatmeal 'Unplugged'
Uncooked oatmeal can be added to yogurt, salads, sandwiches, soups, cold cereal, and trail mix. Each 1/8 cup of oats you stir in adds a gram of fiber.
Here are some recipes for a bread, crisp and muffins containing oats, as well as one for versatile toasted oats.
Cinnamon Vanilla Toasted Oats
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup hot cereal, unsweetened, OR 1 slice whole-grain bread
Add these toasted oats to yogurt, cottage cheese, hot or cold cereals, frozen yogurt, or fresh fruit. Toasted oats can take the place of nuts or chocolate chips in some recipes.
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 rolled or old-fashioned oats
Canola cooking spray
- Add cinnamon to a very small cup. Stir in vanilla extract and then water; set aside.
- Add about 1/2 cup of quick or old-fashioned oats to a nonstick frying pan (over medium-high heat) that has been coated lightly with canola cooking spray. Spray the top of the oats lightly with canola cooking spray, if desired. Let the oats toast for about a minute.
- Drizzle the vanilla mixture over the top and stir. Keep stirring the oats gently as they lightly brown, about 2 minutes more.
- Keep toasted oats in a covered container or sealable plastic bag until ready to use.
Yield: 2 servings
Per serving: 77 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 1.3 g fat, 0.2 g saturated fat, 0.4 g monounsaturated fat, 0.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2.1 g fiber, 1 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 15%.
Strawberry Oat Muffins
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 piece small muffin
Use whatever flavor of jam or preserves you wish to flavor these muffins.
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup less-fat margarine with plant sterols added (like Take Control)
1/4 cup lite pancake syrup
3/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (use a brand higher in omega-3s, if available)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 slightly heaping teaspoons less-sugar strawberry jam
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners; set aside. Add oats, white flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon to a medium bowl and whisk to blend; set aside.
- Place margarine, pancake syrup, fat-free sour cream, and sugar in mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed until blended and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.
- Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing only until just combined. Drop about 1/4 cup of the muffin batter into each muffin cup. Make an indentation in the center of each muffin with a small spoon or finger, and fill it with a slightly heaping teaspoon of strawberry preserves.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the top of the muffin is lightly brown. Enjoy warm or cool.
Yield: 12 muffins
Per serving: 182 calories, 5 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 3.5 g fat, 0.7 g saturated fat, 1.2 g monounsaturated fat, 1.2 g polyunsaturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 204 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.
Rhubarb Oat Crisp
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion medium dessert + (1/2 cup unsweetened canned fruit in juice OR 1 portion fresh fruit)
1/2 cup cold cereal, sweetened, or hot cereal, sweetened + (1/2 cup canned fruit in heavy syrup or frozen sweetened OR 1 cup unsweetened canned fruit in juice)
You could also use 1 pound of rhubarb and about 3 cups of sliced strawberries to make a rhubarb-strawberry crisp.
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup less-fat margarine (8 grams fat per tablespoon) with plant sterols added (like Take Control)
1 tablespoon fat-free half-and-half
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6-7 cups)
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat six 8-ounce ramekins (or an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish) with canola cooking spray and set aside.
- Make crumb mixture by adding oats, flours, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to medium bowl and whisking together until well blended. Add chilled margarine (in small pieces) and fat-free half-and-half to the bowl with the oat mixture and use a fork to form a moist crumb mixture; set aside.
- In a large bowl, add rhubarb, orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla extract and gently mix together with spoon. Combine the 1/3 cup sugar and the 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a small cup, then sprinkle over the top of the rhubarb mixture and stir. Distribute the fruit mixture evenly between the ramekins (or pour into prepared square baking dish). Top the fruit mixture evenly with the crumb mixture.
- Bake until the rhubarb is tender (about 30 minutes for the individual dishes or 40 minutes for the 8 x 8-inch dish). Let cool slightly and serve warm.
Yield: 6 servings
Per serving: 240 calories, 5 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 0.9 g saturated fat, 1.5 g monounsaturated fat, 1.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 184 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 19%.
Honey & Oat Bread (for bread machine)
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal each bread machine slice as 2 slices "bread, toast, whole-grain bread"
This is great bread for making toast or sandwiches.
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg (use a higher omega-3 type if available), beaten
2 tablespoons HOT tap water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- Add oats to food processor and pulse to create a flour-like mixture.
- Add buttermilk, beaten egg, hot water, honey, canola oil, flours, salt, and yeast to the bread machine pan, in this order or the order suggested by the manufacturer.
- Set the bread machine on the Light Crust or Whole Wheat setting and press START. The bread will be ready in about 4 hours.
Yield: 12 bread machine slices
Per serving: 168 calories, 6 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 3.8 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 1.8 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 18 mg cholesterol, 2.1 g fiber, 319 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%.
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2007 Elaine Magee
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.