Oats have wonderful health benefits and nutritional value. Oats, once considered an animal feed has become one of the most important cereal crop due to its high nutritional value, ease of preparation, high dietary fibre and also due to the presence of various phytochemicals. Here in India, oats was not common few years back but now it is consumed widely all over the country and we can find oats in almost all the departmental stores in India.
What is Oat?
Oat is an important cereal crop and the most popularly cultivated species is Avena Sativa. Oat crop requires less essential nutrients and more water than other cereal crops and it grows well in cool and moist climates. Oat is mainly grown in America and European countries like Russia, USA, Canada, Poland and Finland.
Oat was mainly used for animal feeding and only a small part of it was consumed by humans. But now as more and more people are getting aware of its health benefits, oat consumption is increasing year by year and use of oat as animal feed is declining.
Oats Botanical & Common Names
The botanical name of oats is Avena Sativa and it belongs to the family Poaceae. Since oat is a foreign crop, it goes by the same name in all the Indian languages like Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam & Marathi.
Different Types Of Oats
Oat is first hulled but this process does not strip away it’s bran and germ which allows it to retain its fibre and nutrients intact. The hulled oat is then processed to produce various oat products.
1. Oat Groats
Oat groats are the unflattened raw kernels. It can be cooked along with water and used like any other cereal. It is great in in salads, we can also mix it up with fruits and consume for breakfast too. Oat groats is not commonly available in India.
2. Steel Cut Oats:
Steel cut oat is got by running oats through steel blades which slices them thinly. Steel cut oats has denser and chewier texture. We get steel cut oats in some health food stores in India.
3. Old Fashioned Oats
These oats are steamed and then rolled so they have a flatter shape compared to other varieties of oats. We get old fashioned oats commonly in India now.
4. Quick Cooking Oats
Quick cooking oats is almost similar to old-fashioned oats but the one difference is after steaming they are cut finely and rolled. Quick cooking oats is the most common variety available in India.
5. Oat Bran
Oat bran is is the outer layer of the grain which is found under the hull. Oat bran is found in all whole grain oat products but we also get oat bran separately now too. I use them in bran cookie recipes.
6. Oat Flour
Oat flour is made by grinding hulled oats and it is often used in baking either alone or in combination with other flours. I make oat flour at home by grinding quick cooking oats and it works well.
Nutritional Components Of Oats
Oat is a good source of carbohydrates and protein. The lipids found in oats is of unsaturated fatty acid kind and it is also rich in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals.
100 grams of oatmeal contains 12 grams of carbohydrates.
100 grams of oatmeal contains 2.4 grams of protein. Oat is rich in lysine compared to other cereals.
100 grams of oatmeal contains about 1.4 grams of fat out of which .2 gram is saturated fat, .4 gram is polyunsaturated fat and .4gm is monounsaturated fat.
Oat is a good source of soluble dietary fibre. 100 grams of oatmeal contains around 1.7 grams of fiber
Phytochemicals In Oats:
Some of the important phytochemicals found in oats are
alpha tocopherol, alpha tocotrienols
Protocatechuic, p-hydroxy benzoic acid, vanillic, syringic, ferulic, caffeic and sinapic.
AVA1, AVA3 & AVA4
Apigenin, tricin, vitexin
Oat is rich in calcium and iron
Oat is rich in vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Oats Health Benefits:
1. Lowers Cholesterol
The soluble fibre present in oats, particularly β glucan reduces total and LDL cholesterol level by binding bile acids and inhibiting hepatic fatty acid synthesis. People suffering from high cholesterol levels will greatly benefit including oats in their diet regularly.
2. Anti Oxidant & Anti Inflammatory Properties
Phenolic compounds present in oats particularly avenanthramides have many medicinal uses including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiatherosclerotic properties. Most phenolic compounds are found in the brand layer of grains so oats when consumed as a whole grain cereal will have all these medicinal properties.
3. Good For Diabetic Patients
It is estimated that 6.6 % of world population have diabetes and unfortunately type 2 diabetes is very high in India and the numbers are fast rising which is mostly due to the increase in consumption of processed foods rich in sugar and trans fats. Regular exercise, avoiding processed foods and consuming foods rich in fibre like oats will greatly help prevent diabetes. People who already have diabetes will greatly benefit including whole grains like oats as it will help keep the blood sugar levels stable, you can read the study that supports this claim here.
4. Aids Weight loss:
Viscous fibers like beta glucan found in oats increases satiety and makes us feel fuller longer thus preventing additional intake of calories which can lead to weight loss. If you are planning to lose weight try to include whole grains like steel cut oats in your diet regularly, this will keep you fuller longer and will greatly help prevent hunger pangs.
5. Good For People With Gluten Allergy
People who are suffering from celiac disease and who have gluten allergy can’t consume wheat based products like wheat flour, for them oat is a good alternative. Clinical studies have proven that majority of people suffering from celiac disease can tolerate moderate to large amount of oat consumption and even children also who are suffering from celiac disease can consume oats too.
6. Rich In Vitamin E
Oat has high amounts of vitamin e, antioxidants like vitamin e helps protect the body from free radical damage and also helps protect the body against many diseases including cancer, cataract and arthritis. Oat germ has the highest amount of vitamin e, it remains stable in unprocessed oat groats for more than 6 to 7 months of storage at room temperature whereas in processed oats, it starts degrading very fast.
7. Good For Skin
Oat is not only good for internal consumption, it is good for external application too. I love to use oats in face packs, bath powders and face scrubs. It is a very gentle exfoliator and helps soften dry skin. Oatmeal added to bath water helps reduce itching in skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Cooked oat meal can be applied as a poultice for treating rashes and sunburn.
8. Anti Cancer Properties
Oat has high amounts of short chain fatty acids and dietary fiber which has powerful anticancer properties. Short chain fatty acid such as butyric acid retard the growth of carcinoma cell lines and also causes death in carcinoma cells. Beta glucan found in oats also has anti cancer properties.
How To Buy & Store Oats:
In India only quick cooking oats was available readily before but now we get steel cut oats and old fashioned oats too. We also get oats based cereal and flavored oats.
Since oats have higher fat content than other grains, it tends to go rancid very soon so always buy it in small quantities and use it very quickly. When buying oats make sure to buy ones without any additional ingredients like salt, sugar or flavorings.
If you buy oats in bulk make sure to store it in the fridge to extend the shelf life. Oats keeps well in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 months and cooked oats can be stored in the fridge for about 2-3 days.
How To Cook Oats:
Oat groats, steel cut oats and old fashioned oats take longer time to cook compared to quick cooking oats. You can also soak them before cooking to fasten the cooking process.
Oats Side Effects:
Earlier oats was not considered safe for celiac patients but now latest research has proven this notion wrong and some researchers reason that it was not considered safe before for celiac patients because oats might have been contaminated with other gluten containing cereals during transportation or storage or during milling. Like with any other food, it can cause bloating and gas if consumed in excess.
My Favorite Oat Recipes
1. Apple & Cinnamon Oatmeal:
Heat half cup of milk, half cup of water and half cup of oats along with a pinch of salt, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Once completely cooked, transfer to a bowl and top it off with finely cut apples and walnuts.
2. Oatmeal Bars:
For the oatmeal bars, beat 1/4 cup of brown sugar with 1/2 cup of peanut butter. Once beaten well, add in 1/2 cup of wheat flour, 1/2 cup of oats, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Once mixed well, add in 1/4 cup of coconut milk. Pour into a lined 8 inch square tin and bake till golden at top at 180 degrees.
3. Oats Milk Shake
In a mixer, take 1/4 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt and blend well.