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The Goods: Doting On Nutritious Oats

By Jackie Shank

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Nutritional oatsRussia and Canada might be top producers of this hearty grain, but Americans love their morning oats too. Jackie Shank, undergraduate nutrition program director in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida, and Brittaney Bialas, UNF graduate student/dietetic intern, discuss myths and facts about this nutritious and versatile grain. To help you include more oats in your diet, a recipe is provided at right.

MYTH: OATS ARE BORING
Fact: The cereal grain oats, or Avena sativa, are wonderfully versatile and delicious. Oats can be rolled, crushed or chopped into oatmeal, ground into flour for breads and cookies and included as an ingredient in muesli and granola. Australia, Denmark and Scotland all brew beers made of oats. And people in many Latin American countries enjoy refreshing drinks made from oats, fruit and sometimes sugar and cinnamon.

MYTH: STEEL-CUT OATS ARE MORE HEALTHFUL THAN INSTANT OATS
Fact: Both types of oats are healthful whole grains; they differ in the cooking time and the glycemic index (an indication of the speed at which the starches turn to sugar and raise the blood-sugar level). Steel-cut oats are named after the sharp steel discs that cut each kernel into two or three pieces. Instant oats are rolled very thin and cut into much smaller pieces. Compared to steel-cut oats, instant oats cook quickly and are easily digested with a speedy release of sugars into the blood. To lower the glycemic index of instant oats, add some protein (low-fat milk) or fat (nuts). It’s best to buy plain oatmeal and add your own accompaniments such as fruit, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseeds, cinnamon or brown sugar.

MYTH: OATS ARE GLUTEN-FREE
Fact: Oats don’t naturally contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley; however, oats are often grown in fields with gluten-containing grains nearby. Furthermore, shared equipment for harvesting and processing different grains can ultimately lead to contamination of oats with gluten. People requiring a strict gluten-free diet, such as those with celiac disease, should seek out companies that offer guaranteed gluten-free oats.

MYTH: OATS CONTAIN SOLUBLE FIBER, WHICH RELIEVES CONSTIPATION
Fact: Oats contain the highest amount of soluble fiber of any grain. However, soluble fiber is best known for its cholesterol-lowering effects, not for promoting regularity. Insoluble fiber is the type that most benefits the digestive system. This fiber attracts water and adds bulk to stool, helping to relieve constipation. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, nuts, apples and vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, leafy greens and bell peppers. To maintain a stellar digestive system and good heart health, aim to consume at least 25 grams of total dietary fiber from both soluble and insoluble sources.

MYTH: IRISH OATS ARE SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHER OATS BUT ARE HARD TO FIND IN THE U.S.
Fact: Irish oats are simply another name for steel-cut oats. They’re also called “coarse” and “pinhead” oats, and are available in most grocery stores. They’re a good option for people with diabetes because during digestion the sugars are released at a moderate rate, therefore, a large spike in blood sugar levels and insulin can be avoided.

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