I was first introduced to Oatmeal as a kid. My mother would always rave about its health benefits, while we ate our sugar-filled cereal. Years later while doing a lot of competitive swimming, I found that I needed something that was more “substantial” and less “sugary,” and when I started eating oatmeal before morning practices, it was literally a night and day difference in my performance in the pool and energy levels. I just felt great overall! Also, oatmeal is a warm meal, so it’s much more inviting than cold cereal in the morning.
Years later, after getting a degree in food chemistry did I realize WHY oatmeal was so great for you. Some benefits I probably never would have known. The best part about all this, is you most likely have oats in your cupboard right now. Indeed, it is estimated that eighty percent of people have oats in their cupboard on a regular basis!
1. Helps control weight.
Let’s face it, we could all use some help at times, but did you ever think oatmeal could help control your weight? It’s true! According to a research study published in the October 2009 issue of “Molecular Nutrition & Food Research” a compound in oatmeal known as β-glucan reduces appetite by increasing the hunger-fighting hormone cholecystokinin.
2. Reduces blood pressure.
We all know that heart disease is a major problem in North America and throughout the world. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet which includes plenty of whole-grains (such as oats or wholemeal bread) is just as effective as taking anti-hypertensive medication to lower blood pressure!
3. Reduces cholesterol.
Have you ever heard of soluble fiber? Well, compared to other grains, oats actually have the highest portion of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps your intestinal tract trap substances associated with blood cholesterol. Studies show that people with high blood cholesterol who eat just 3 g of soluble fiber per day can reduce their total cholesterol by 8% to 23% (remember that one cup of oats yields 4 g)!
4. Shields your skin.
If you look closely on the labels of some of your lotions or face creams, you probably will see oatmeal in there. At some point in history, someone discovered how great oatmeal is for dry, itchy, irritated skin. The starchiness of oats creates a barrier that allows the skin to hold its moisture, while the rougher fibrous husk of the oat acts as a gentle exfoliant.
5. Lowers risk of colon cancer.
Cancer of the colon is horrible and can be very painful. One study, pooled by researchers in Britain and the Netherlands, published evidence that there was a link between people who ate a high fiber diet (mainly from whole grains and cereals like oats) to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. This study also covered nearly 2 million people and specifically found that for every additional 10 grams of fiber in someone’s diet, there is a 10% reduction in their risk of developing colorectal cancer!
6. Stabilizes blood sugar.
What does this mean? We have all experienced a “sugar crash”/ “mid morning slump” after a big meal or sugary breakfast; well, with oatmeal, this doesn’t happen as much. As a result of oatmeal’s high soluble fiber content, its sugar is released more slowly into the blood stream (aka, it has a low glycemic index). It’s important to note that steel cut oats will have more of an effect on stabilizing your blood sugar than instant oats, because they are less processed and thus have more soluble fiber. Another added bonus, is because it takes longer to digest, you will feel full longer—wahoo!
In my opinion, oatmeal’s low glycemic index is one of the best benefits. In fact, one study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition mentioned that diet producing a low glycemic response is associated with significantly less insulin resistance and significantly lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, risk of type 2 diabetes, and risk of coronary artery disease, than with a diet producing a high glycemic response.
7. Athletic performance.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned how beneficial oatmeal was in giving me energy before my swimming practices while on the National Team for my town. Oatmeal, is a great carbohydrate and protein source, providing calories and energy for energy needs. Oats have been shown in scientific studies to favorably alter metabolism and enhance performance when ingested 45 minutes to 1 hour before exercise of moderate intensity.
8. Enhances immune response to disease.
Oatmeal has been heavily studied in relation to the immune system’s response to disease and infection. Essentially, because of oatmeal’s unique fiber called beta-glucan, it helps neutrophils travel to the site of an infection more quickly and enhances their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find there.
9. Helps you sleep.
Our society has ingrained in us that oatmeal is a breakfast food, although it is also a wise choice before bedtime. In fact, the Scottish recommend a bowl of oatmeal in the evening to get you feeling nice and sleepy.
Why is oatmeal good before bed? Well, oats actually contain melatonin and complex carbohydrates that can help more tryptophan get into the brain and help you sleep, according to Dr.Oz. Furthermore, oatmeal contains many vitamins, including B6, which is a co-factor that also aids in the production of more serotonin in the brain.
10. Promotes antioxidant activity.
Oatmeal is loaded with antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are unique to oats. Antioxidants are important because they protect your cells from free radicals, which are molecules you produce through metabolism and exposure to environmental toxins. Free radicals increase your risk for cancer and heart disease because they are unstable.
Avenanthramides antioxidants inhibit inflammation and boost your production of nitric oxide, which prevents hardening of your arteries. In fact, a study published in 2010 in “Nutrition and Cancer” showed the avenanthramides in oats decreased the spread of colon cancer cells.
Lastly, it is important to know that there are many different types of oatmeal. Instant oatmeal, Oat Bran, Rolled Oats, Steel Cut Oats, Oat Groats, and so on. I find they all taste quite different and also have different nutritional value and cooking times. Often, steel cut oats are the most recommend for health benefits because they are loaded with more protein, iron and fiber, thus taking longer to digest—hence making you feel full for longer. However, if you are short on time in the morning, perhaps go with quick oats.