By Dawn M. Swidorski
Oatmeal has long been touted as an ideal breakfast. It’s versatile, warm, healthy, sticks to your ribs and tasty. But how much do you really know about the humble oat?
Oats are a hardy cereal grain that probably originated in the Mediterranean region over 2,000 years ago; though the first archeological evidence of cultivation was from a cave in Switzerland. Oats are able to withstand poor soil conditions in which other crops are unable to thrive and so were a good choice for livestock fodder. They later gained popularity in Scotland and England for human consumption.
Oatmeal has been promoted as being good for being low calorie, high in protein and good for lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels as well as being significant sources of dietary fiber. Studies bear this out.
Oatmeal contains a mixture of about half soluble and half insoluble fibers. One component of the soluble fiber found in oats is beta-glucans. The beta-glucans are the magic trick: here’s how it works. Soluble fiber breaks down as it passes through the digestive tract and forms a gel that traps cholesterol-rich bile acids which reduces the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.
The bad cholesterol, LDL, is trapped without lowering good cholesterol (HDL). Oats and grains are also one of the best sources of antioxidants called tocotrienols which inhibit cholesterol synthesis and have been found to lower blood cholesterol.
Eating oats causes blood glucose levels to rise at a slower rate. Once again, the beta-glucan plays a role. As the beta-glucan in the soluble fiber of oats is digested, it forms the previously mentioned gel, which causes the viscosity of the contents of the stomach and small intestine to be increased. This, in turn, slows down digestion and extends the length of time carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream. This means dramatic changes in blood sugar levels are avoided.
Although oats are gluten free and studies have shown that many people with celiac disease can consume wheat free oats with no problems; they do contain Avenin which may be toxic to the intestinal mucosa of avenin-sensitive individuals. Oats can also contain gluten from nearby wheat field contamination and processing facilities.
But all oats are not created equal so it’s important to Know Your Oats!