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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

We Always Knew Oatmeal Was Good For You – Now We Know Why

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Jan 15, 2017 - 8:55:21 AM

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( - Oatmeal is a great addition to anyone’s diet. A 1-cup serving costs 20 cents or less, has only 150 calories, and is a whole grain rich in a soluble fiber which helps lower your risk for heart disease. But, until recently we weren’t exactly sure why the soluble fiber in oats was so beneficial.

Oats are rich in beta glucan, a soluble fiber. In fact, oats contain more soluble fiber than most other grains. Though fiber is technically not absorbed for nutrients in our bodies, it provides many important health benefits as it travels through our digestive tract, not the least of which is to prevent constipation. Plant fibers, the part of the plant that cannot be broken down by our digestive enzymes, differ. Soluble fibers dissolve in water, forming a gel, but insoluble fiber, like cellulose, do not.

We have recognized for a long time that eating more soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol levels. It had been thought that soluble fibers, like beta glucan, prevented the reabsorption of bile acids in the body. Bile is used to breakdown fats and it is rich in cholesterol. Reducing bile would in turn reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood. 

Researchers at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences have challenged this idea with their recent findings. Using animal experiments they showed that when we eat foods rich in beta glucan, like oatmeal, the actual amount of circulating bile in the body is reduced. In the presence of beta glucan there is much less circulating bile which means that fats, which bile helps break down, are not digested as rapidly or as completely. A lower or slower absorption of fat is an important factor in reducing blood cholesterol.  

In practical terms having oatmeal for breakfast every morning is a heart healthy habit. Oatmeal is not only a good source of soluble fiber, containing 4 grams in one cup cooked, but it is also a good source of manganese, which is part of the enzymes that aid in bone development and break down glucose. And, if that isn’t enough oats are a good source of protein (almost 6 grams a cup), iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. By eating one cup of oatmeal in the morning, you’ve made a pretty impressive start to your nutrition for the day.

There are many types of oats. Let’s sort them out to give you a better understanding of each when you at standing on the cereal aisle trying to decide which to buy.

Groats are the least processed oats. Only the husk is removed from the whole oat kernel and groats need at least 40 minutes to cook. You can use groats as a substitute for brown rice or wheat berries.

Steel-cut oats are toasted oat groats cut into smaller pieces with a firm, chewy texture and a nutty flavor. They need 10 to 20 minutes to cook but quick-cooking steel cut oats are now becoming more available. They are also called Irish oats or Scotch oats.

Rolled oats are the most common and what we usually think of as oatmeal. They are sold as old-fashioned or 5-minute oats. For rolled oats, groats have been steamed, flattened and dried. Quick oats are rolled oats cut into smaller pieces to reduce the cooking time to as little as one minute.

Instant oats resemble quick oats in taste and texture but they have been partially cooked before they are dried so that they can be cooked (reconstituted) by simply adding boiling water. They are usually sold in single-serving packets and often have sugar and other flavorings added.

Ready-to-eat oat cereals, though technically a whole grain, they come in many varieties with some being better choices than others. Check the nutrition label to see how much sugar is in a serving and the ingredient listing to be sure oats are the predominate grain in the cereal.

To cook oats you need a 1:2 ratio, meaning for every one part dry oats you need two parts liquid ingredients. The dry measure will double during cooking which means that a half cup of dry oatmeal will yield one cup cooked. Most people cook oatmeal with water, but other liquids can be used. Using milk will add a calcium boost. Some even use apple juice.

Though all oats are naturally gluten-free, oat crops may be rotated with barley which contains gluten. Leftover barley kernels can contaminate the oat crop. Oats may also be contaminated with wheat, rye, spelt or barley during manufacturing in a cereal facility To be sure that oats are gluten-free, you need to check to see if the brand is using oats from a certified gluten-free source and processing the oats in a gluten-free facility. Brands that offer gluten-free oats prominently display that on the label.

Bottom line: Eating a bowl of oatmeal is warm, relaxing and comforting. And, if that isn’t enough oatmeal can fill you up, help stabilize your blood sugar, help to reduce your blood pressure, and is good for your heart.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.                                                             
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:



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