The humble oat - a true superfood. Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They're a gluten-free whole grain with a great source of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
Oats are a widely cultivated cereal grain grown for it's seed. Even though oats are a staple food in many countries, the most common use of oats is for livestock feed.
The wild ancestor of the oat crop shows the ancestral form grew in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East some 2500 years ago.
Oats are considered a secondary crop which means they derived from a weed of the primary cereal domesticates, then spread westward into cooler, wetter areas more favourable for oats, eventually leading to their domestication in regions of the Middle East and Europe.
Seasonality and availability
Oats are best grown in temperate regions. They have a lower summer heat requirement and greater tolerance of rain than other cereals, such as wheat, rye or barley, so they are particularly important in areas with cool, wet summers, such as Northwest Europe and even Iceland.
Oats are an annual plant and can be planted either in autumn (for late summer harvest) or in the spring (for early autumn harvest).
Global production of oats in 2018 was 28 million tonnes. Russia, Canada, China, USA, Australia, Poland and Ireland are some of the main producers of oats. Due to widespread cultivation oats are readily available all year round. I highly recommend choosing non-GMO, organic oats that have not been contaminated.
Oat groats are the most intact and whole form of oats, which takes a long time to cook. For this reason, most people prefer rolled, crushed or steel-cut oats.
Instant (quick) oats are the most highly processed variety. While they take the shortest time to cook, the texture may be mushy. My oat of choice is jumbo oat flakes, this is the oat groat that has been rolled (flattened) to allow for easier cooking.
The nutritional composition of oats are very well balanced.
They are a great source of protein, complex-carbohydrates and fiber, including the powerful fiber beta-glucan (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source). They also contain more protein and fat than most grains (4Trusted Source).
Oats are packed with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidant plant compounds. Half a cup (78 grams) of dry oats contains:
- Manganese: 191% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 41% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 34% of the RDI
- Copper: 24% of the RDI
- Iron: 20% of the RDI
- Zinc: 20% of the RDI
- Folate: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% of the RDI
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% of the RDI
- Smaller amounts of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B3 (niacin)
This is coming with 51 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 8 grams of fiber, with only 303 calories. This means that oats are among the most nutrient dense foods you can eat.
Top 3 potential health benefits of consuming oats regularly
Oat may help you lose weight by making you feel more full. It does this by slowing down the emptying of the stomach and increasing production of the satiety hormone that makes you feel fuller for longer.
Balance blood sugar levels
Due to the soluble fiber beta-glucan, oats may improve insulin sensitivity and help lower blood sugar levels.
Lower cholesterol and help prevent heart disease
Oats may lower the risk of heart disease by reducing both total and LDL cholesterol and protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation.
How to prepare and cook oats
Oats are a fun and versatile ingredient to work with. Generally oats are associated with breakfast time, suiting themselves well to porridge, muesli, granola, pancakes and many other healthy breakfast recipe possibilities.
Oats can be incorporated into baked goods such as cakes, muffins, breads and cookies. Simply blend some oats to make an oat flour or add rolled oats into the recipe. It's a great way of incorporating oats into your diet and making healthier baked goodies.
Oats make a fantastic plant-milk, check out this recipe for making your own oat milk at home, far healthier and more cost effective than buying from the supermarket.
Do you soak oats overnight
Oats, along with most grains and plant foods contain phytic acid, which impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, calcium and blocks the production of digestive enzymes, making your oats much harder on your stomach.
Reduction of phytic acid is just one reason that traditional cultures usually soak, sprout, or ferment their nuts, seeds, and grains before consuming.
To get the maximum nutritional benefits from oats it is best to soak them overnight before cooking. I soak my oats in water with a pinch of pink salt overnight, then I cook them out slowly on the stove, adding some plant-milk while cooking to get a nice creamy delicious oat porridge.
Are oats gluten-free
This is a question I'm asked so many times and is the cause of a lot of confusion for many people!
Oats are 100% gluten-free BUT, if oats are processed in a factory with other gluten grains, they can become contaminated with gluten.
So, if you suffer with coeliac condition, I recommend sourcing 'gluten-free' oats from a reputable brand such as Bob's Red Mill
My favourite oat recipes
My homeland country of Ireland is a nation reared on oats. The Irish are known all around the world for their positive work ethic, wit, humour, strength, stamina and endurance.
I put this down to the majority of Irish people having oat porridge for breakfast everyday and growing up playing GAA football and hurling! Two of the fastest and toughest sports in the world.
I eat oats almost everyday in some shape or form. Here is one of my favourite breakfast porridge recipes or if you live in a hot country or a summer breakfast try my oat bircher muesli, supercharged with chia seeds.
Fun facts about oats
- World porridge days is 10th October
- Scotland hosts the porridge world championship every year
- World oat day is October 28th
- 75% of USA households have oats in their store cupboard
- Bertram, Texas hosts an oatmeal festival every year
Where to buy oats
Oats are readily available in all good food store and many online sources. They are relatively inexpensive to buy, offering a fantastic ROI.
I highly recommend investing in a good organic brand of oats. It will be worth the extra investment.