Nutritionist Lisa McLean explains the benefits of oats and helps you to choose the right ones for you!

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Oats are a great addition to every diet

ANATOMY OF AN OAT:You know that they’re good for you, but what gives them their superstar status?

Dietary fibre: Dietary fibre is generally made up of plant components such as cellulose, dextrins, inulin, pectins and beta-glucans. The immediate health benefits of a diet high in fibre can ease constipation, and shorten gastro-intestinal tract transit time. Diets high in dietary fibre (35g/day) have been linked to a reduced risk in diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, particularly colorectal cancer.

Manganese: Aids in the formation of connective tissue, bones, blood-clotting factors, as well as playing a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism and calcium absorption.

Selenium: Important for thyroid hormone metabolism and promoting healthy immune function.

Magnesium: Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in well over 300 metabolic processes in the human body, including ATP (energy) production, nucleic acid and protein synthesis.

 

Oats are big right now. And that’s not just because the weather is cold and porridge is a great winter morning food. There have been scientific studies linking oats with cholesterol reduction since the 1960s, but only recently have our food laws allowed companies to advertise this on their packaging. Our food regulatory body, FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand), will only allow such a health claim after they have decided that there is enough scientific evidence supporting this, so it’s safe to say that we’re going the right way by tucking into oats as part of our regular diet.

The benefits

Oats contain high levels of dietary fibre, manganese, selenium, and magnesium. Oats are also minimally processed and low in salt. Most cereals that we find on supermarket shelves are relatively high in salt, so oats offer a good alternative for those of us who have high blood pressure or are simply conscious of salt levels in our diets. Oats contain beta-glucan which has been linked to lowering blood LDL cholesterol, or ‘bad cholesterol’.

 

The GI factor

Oats have also been shown to assist in stabilising blood glucose levels, which may benefit people with high blood sugar levels and diabetics. It must be noted that like many grain foods, oats are quite high on the Glycemic Index (GI) scale, so oats eaten on their own may not be the ideal breakfast choice for diabetics, or for people who are looking for sustained energy throughout the day. Porridge is considered a mid to high GI food, with a GI of approximately 87, oat bran has a slightly lower GI or approximately 78. Decrease the GI of these oat-based breakfasts by adding some low GI fruit, such as apples, blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, peaches, pears, raspberries or strawberries. Alternatively, if you’re trying to eat low-GI foods, you can try your porridge cold (be warned – not to everyone’s tastes!). The heating and cooling of the starches contained in oats effects the GI. Cooled porridge will have a lower GI, due to ‘retrogradation’, a reaction that takes place in cooked starches where the amylose and amylopectin chains realign themselves.

Wholegrain power

Due to minimal processing rolled and quick oats fall under the wholegrain category. The term wholegrains is often thrown about, and most of us know that they are good for us but we don’t really know why. So here’s the lowdown – wholegrains are cereal grains that contain bran and germ as well as endosperm. Basically, this leaves wholegrains with more of the fibrous proportion in contrast to refined grains (think white bread), which retain only the endosperm of the grain after processing. So, wholegrains equal higher fibre content and are better for us compared to refined grains. Whenever choosing ‘grainy’ products, opt for wholegrains as they will fill you up for longer. Read packaging carefully, as images may be misleading.

Know your oat types

There are three different types of oats, and it’s important to know the nutritional benefits of each of them. Here’s how you can include them into your diet...

Quick oats

The run down: Quick oats are so named as they are partially processed – after de-hulling and before being rolled, they are cut into two or four pieces. This makes them faster to cook – hence the name quick oats!

How to get a dose: Quick oats are the oats most often used in porridge. These can be used in cooking as well, try using them as a substitute to breadcrumbs to give homemade
foods like hamburgers
and sausage rolls extra hidden fibre.

Oat bran

The run down: Oat bran is the fibre-rich layer of cells underneath the oat husk. Oat bran receives no further processing once removed from the oat (except to sift out as excess oat flour caused by processing). How to get a dose: Oat bran is often used in cooking to add a healthy touch to cakes, muffins and brownies, as well as in hamburgers, sausage rolls etc. just as quick oats can. Try adding one to two tablespoons to a smoothie to make it extra healthy, you won’t even notice it’s in there! Another trick is to mix it through yoghurt with fruit.

Traditional/Rolled

The run down: Rolled oats are oats that are de-hulled, and rolled into flat ‘flakes’ by heavy rollers during processing. These are the oats that you will find in muesli and are often used during cooking. They’re also used in more ‘traditional’ porridge, but take a bit longer than quick oats – you may need to soak them for a while to get them to the right consistency.

How to get a dose: Add extra oats to muesli or other cereals to boost the fibre and reduce the salt content. They’re also often used in cooking, both in muffins/slices/cakes and on top, for a bit of a crunchy garnish. Add rolled oats to the top of your muesli to add a bit of a healthy crunch for a change. They’re often used in healthier versions of cookies – what would ANZAC day be without oats? A whole lot less delicious, that’s for sure!