A traditional healthy breakfast staple, oats continue to gain in popularity thanks to drool-worthy oatmeal photos on social media. Keep reading to get to know this whole grain favorite better.
Once considered to only be good for animal feed by the ancient Romans and Greeks, oats have come a long way to now being considered an essential part of a healthy diet.
Thanks to their high fiber and antioxidant content, oats have numerous health benefits including lowering cholesterol levels, lowering glucose levels in diabetics, and helping with weight loss and maintenance by promoting satiety. Topically, oats can also be used to help treat itchy skin.
However, due to their high (healthy) fat content, oats have to be processed immediately after harvesting to avoid going rancid.
½ cup of uncooked rolled oats contains approximately 150 calories, 3 grams of fat (0.5 grams saturated fat), 27 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.
While oats are a good source of manganese (important for metabolism), phosphorus (needed for bone health), copper (key for a healthy heart), thiamine, iron, magnesium and zinc.
And that’s not even the best part! Oats are the only known source of a group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are being studied for their potential to protect against heart disease and colon cancer.
In addition to avenanthramides, oats are high in other polyphenols and are an excellent source of beta-glucan (a type of fiber).
Beta-glucans have been shown to significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels, thereby reducing risk of heart disease, as well as helping to lower blood sugar levels in health and type 2 diabetic individuals.
How to Select
While oats are naturally gluten free, some brands are processed on machines that also handle gluten-containing grains. As a result, anyone with a gluten allergy or intolerance should look for brands that are certified gluten-free.
Since we go through a lot of oats in the Healthy Toast household, I buy 10 lb bulk bags of rolled oats to save money and packaging. However, you can find a large range of sizes at most grocery stores.
While you can’t go wrong with the different cuts of oats, I recommend skipping over the flavored packets of instant oatmeal, as they are high in added sugars. Instead, top plain oatmeal with your own flavor-boosters, such as fresh fruit, homemade jams, nut butters, and spices (cinnamon and cardamom are my two faves!).
What’s the difference between rolled, quick, and steel cut oats?
While all oats are rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they can vary in texture and cooking time.
Whole Oat Groats: probably the least common of the oat types, whole oat groats are the least processed of the bunch, and as a result, are the chewiest and take the longest to cook. These are simply the whole oat kernel that have been cleaned after the hull is removed.
Steel Cut: these oats are simply oat groats that have been cut into two or three smaller pieces using a metal blade, making them faster to cook. You’ll also see these oats sold as “Irish oats.” Steel cut oats are much chewier than rolled or instant oats, making them a good option for people who don’t like the traditional “mushy” texture of oatmeal.
Scottish: not to be confused with steel cut or Irish, scottish oats are made by grinding, rather than cutting, the oat groats into smaller pieces. As a result, you end up with different-sized oat pieces that can make for a creamier bowl of oats than steel cut.
Rolled: also known as old fashioned oats, rolled oats are made by steaming and then flattening oat groats. With a greater surface area than steel cut or Scottish, rolled oats take much less cooking time (often just 5 minutes on the stove). These oats still have a bit of a chew to them and work well in oatmeal cookies and granola.
Quick: quick and instant oats are just rolled oats that have been steamed for longer and/or rolled flatter, so that they cook even faster. If you want a smoother, less chewy porridge, quick cooking oats are your best best.
How to Store
As with other whole grains, oats can go rancid if not stored properly. Keep oats in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.
How to use in cooking/baking
The most traditional way to enjoy oats is cooked on the stove (or in the microwave) with water or milk and then topped with fruit, nuts/nut butters, and spices for a breakfast porridge.
However, I encourage you to think outside the box as oats can be used in a wide variety of dishes. From meatloafs and casseroles to granola and muffins, oats can add a boost of fiber to savory and sweet baked goods. You can also pulse oats into a flour to help thicken soups and stews or replace some of the flour in cookies and pancakes.
Man, where to start? Here are just a few of my all-time favorite oat-containing recipes on the blog, but be sure to check out all my oat posts here.
What are you favorite ways to incorporate more oats into your cooking and baking? I’d love to hear in the comments below!