Oats are a type of whole grain that naturally contains tons of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They are a delicious source of plant compounds high in fiber that also offer several health benefits.
Oats can be part of a variety of meals and snacks and mixed in smoothies, too.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about oats.
Table of Contents
- History & Facts
- Nutrition Facts
- Health Benefits
- Ways to Consume
- Potential Risks
- Frequently Asked Questions
History & Facts
Oats, also known as Avena sativa, are a type of whole-grain cereal that is believed to stem from the eastern part of the world. Oats are thought to have stemmed as a secondary crop derived from a weed that later spread into more favorable growing areas. Eventually, oats were domesticated in the Middle East and Europe and today are mainly grown in North America and Europe.
Some analyses of oats have found evidence that hilled oats and naked oats diverged over 51,000 years ago and were domesticated independently in Europe and China.
Today, global oats production is more than 20 million tons yearly, with Russia and Canada being the leading contributors (1).
Did You Know?:While oats are suitable for humans to consume such as oatmeal and rolled oats, one of the most common uses for oats is as livestock feed.
Oats are packed full of several micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals (2). This article will go over the nutrition facts of raw oats. Raw oats are rolled oat flakes that have been heated during processing but not boiled.
In one cup (80 grams) of raw oats, there are the following macronutrients (3):
- Calories: 303 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 10.6 grams (g)
- Total fat: 5.22 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 54.2 grams (g)
- Fiber, total dietary: 8.08 grams (g)
As you can see, oats are a very good source of carbohydrates and protein. They are also high in fiber, especially beta-glucan (4). Beta-glucan is a type of soluble fiber that dissolves partially in water, forming a gel-like solution during digestion, helping prevent constipation and providing the body with a plethora of health benefits.
Summary:Oats are a great source of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, specifically beta-glucan which helps with digestion.
Vitamins and Minerals
In one cup (80 grams) of oats, there are the following vitamins and minerals (5):
- Calcium: 41.6 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 3.4 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 110 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 328 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 290 milligrams (mg)
- Zinc: 2.91 milligrams (mg)
- Selenium: 23.1 micrograms (mcg)
- Folate: 25.6 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 32.3 milligrams (mg)
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 144 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin K: 1.6 micrograms (mcg)
The high amounts of vitamins and minerals in oats are vast, especially when they are fortified. Oats contain a great amount of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and folate, all great for maintaining strong bones and promoting overall health (6).
Summary:Oats are high in several vitamins and minerals, some of the highlighted including calcium, iron, phosphorus, and folate.
As you may have guessed, oats are a food that possesses several health benefits.
Oats Are Gluten-free
For many individuals who either have celiac disease or have certain food sensitivities, a gluten-free diet is the only solution. If this is you or for some who are on a health kick and prefer gluten-free foods, oats are an excellent naturally gluten-free food (7). Instead of gluten, they contain a similar type of protein called avenin which is gluten-free.
Several studies indicate that a moderate to large intake of natural oats can be tolerated by most people with celiac disease.
Oats have been shown to enhance the nutritional value of those on a gluten-free diet, and have shown that individuals on this type of diet get an overall increase of mineral and fiber in their diets.
Although oats are naturally gluten-free, it is important to check for a gluten-free certification as some oats may be contaminated with wheat due to being processed in a facility with gluten-containing foods.
Summary:Oats are a naturally gluten-free food, which is extremely important for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities and must remain on a gluten-free diet.
Lowers Cholesterol Levels
As previously mentioned, oats are rich in beta-glucan, which is known to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels while regulating your blood sugar and insulin (8). Once beta glucan reaches the gut, it binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids, which the liver produces to aid digestion. Beta-glucan then carries these acids down the digestive tract and eventually out of the body, therefore lowering cholesterol.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and high cholesterol is a major risk factor — especially oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol (9). Having lower cholesterol levels may reduce the risk of heart disease and chronic diseases in general.
Thanks to fiber, oats are a great solution to reducing cholesterol levels naturally (10). Experts have estimated that this risk may be lowered by consuming several fiber-rich food sources everyday.
Additionally, whole oats are one of the only food sources of avenanthramides, which are a unique group of antioxidants believed to protect against heart disease (11).
Summary:Oats contain beta-glucan and avenathramides, which help protect against heart disease and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Helps Maintain Blood Sugar Levels
Oats have gained lots of attention as a health food due to their potential to lower blood sugar levels abilities. This may be because type 2 diabetes has become much more common in recent years. This chronic disease is characterized by abnormal regulation of blood sugar levels and a decrease in insulin sensitivity.
The good news is that oats help improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels (12). Research has shown significant results in overweight people or people who have type 2 diabetes.
The beta-glucan in the fiber from oats also helps regulate your blood sugar levels (13). It transforms into a thick gel-like compound in your stomach, delaying the emptying of the gut to help the absorption of glucose into the blood. Modest amounts of beta-glucans from oats have been found to moderate both glucose and insulin responses after carb-rich meals.
In those with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, studies showed a 40% decrease in requiring insulin for those who consumed oatmeal for four weeks straight (14).
Summary:Oats may have a potential blood sugar-lowering effect, specifically in those with type 2 diabetes and/or overweight persons.
May Promote Digestive Health
Oats have been found to have a ton of potential digestive health-related benefits, the major one being reducing or preventing constipation (15). Many people suffer from constipation but it is something that is not often talked about.
Nevertheless, constipation is never fun and it can lead to even graver issues if left untreated. So, to relieve constipation, you need a diet rich in fiber, and that’s exactly what oatmeal offers (16). Oats help naturally regulate your bowel movements (17).
Several studies have shown that oats are excellent natural laxatives that can reduce constipation and regulate bowel movements (18). Of course, there is always the solution of over-the-counter laxatives, but in the long term, they can negatively affect the health of your gut, so try to go the natural way by eating more oats.
Summary:Because of the fiber-heavy component in oats, consuming them may promote digestive health and help issues like constipation.
Ways to Consume
Oats can be consumed in a variety of ways. They have been eaten for thousands of years in many different forms. Whole-grain oats are usually called oat groats. They are most commonly rolled or crushed into flat flakes and lightly toasted to produce oatmeal. Quick, or instant, oatmeal is made up of more thinly rolled or cut oats that absorb water much more easily and thus cook faster.
Here are some of the most common ways to consume oats:
- Eat as porridge or oatmeal, alone or mixed with nuts/fruits/yogurt
- Consume in a breakfast cereal favorite
- Make oat cookies, oat bread, or oatcakes with them
- Eat on its own as muesli or granola
- Drink in the form of oat milk
- Mix oats into your favorite smoothie recipes for added texture and flavor
- Make overnight oats
- Use them to make energy balls
- Mix into your favorite meatloaf recipe for a texture boost
Summary:Although oats are most commonly consumed for the first meal of the day, they can also be added to smoothies, made into snacks like energy balls, and mixed into your favorite dinner meals such as meatloaf.
For the majority of people, oats are well tolerated by most people and do not cause any adverse effects. However, there are some potential risks for some people.
- Celiac Disease/Wheat Allergy: For some people with celiac disease or wheat allergy, oats may not be a great option. Oats are sometimes contaminated with other grains which can cause adverse reactions. Furthermore, oats that are grown in the same fields as wheat or barley can sometimes cross-contaminate the oats and cause them to contain gluten (19).
- Avenin Intolerance: Avenin is a type of protein that has a similar structure to the gluten protein. For some, avenin reactions may occur, especially in those who have a gluten intolerance. Symptoms of an avenin intolerance are similar to gluten intolerance (20). Oats need to be excluded from the diet of those individuals.
Summary:In general oats are healthy for most people, however, they may cause adverse effects in those with celiac disease or who have a sensitivity to the avenin protein.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between steel cut, rolled oats, and instant oats?
In general, the less processed the oats, the more fiber and more health benefits they contain.
Steel-cut oats contain whole oat grain, including the oat bran. They passed through steel cutters and chopped them into pieces. Steel-cut oats are the least processed, maintain the simplest texture when baked, and take the longest amount of time to cook.
Rolled oats are de-hulled, steamed, and then flattened between two rollers and gently toasted. They are considered gently processed whole-grain oats. Rolled oats are most frequently the ingredient in dry cereal, breakfast food, and baby food.
Instant oats are processed the same way as rolled oats, but they are steamed for a longer period to completely cook before the drying process. Sometimes sweeteners or flavors are integrated and mixed with instant oats. This is most commonly the type of oats used in oatmeal.
How long can oats be stored?
Dried oats will typically last for up to 2 years, instant and flavored oatmeals have a shorter life span of around 6 months to 2 years. Time, moisture, oxygen, and light negatively affect the oats and may make them not last as long. If you’re unsure whether your oats are still good, start by inspecting the color, texture, and scent. If you notice any dark spots, strange odors, or clumping, it’s probably best to throw them out or add them to the compost bin.
Fun Fact:January is National Oatmeal Month.
Oats are one of the most popular foods around that is consumed by millions of people every day. They are full of vitamins, and minerals, as well as protein and fiber.
These mighty oats offer several health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, leveling blood sugar levels, and promoting digestive health. They also offer a great food choice for those who are gluten-free or have celiac disease.
There are tons of ways to consume oats as part of a balanced diet.
Start adding more oats to your diet today!