The oat (Avena sativa), sometimes called the common oat, is a species of cereal grain grown for its seed, which is known by the same name (usually in the plural, unlike other cereals and pseudocereals). While oats are suitable for human consumption as oatmeal and rolled oats, one of the most common uses is as livestock feed. Oats are a nutrient-rich food associated with lower blood cholesterol when consumed regularly. Oats are high in soluble fiber (proven to lower cholesterol levels) as well as insoluble fiber (good for digestive health), and help to regulate blood-sugar levels. They also contain useful levels of B vitamins and calcium.
Nutrition Table (as per USDA National Nutrient Database)
Whole Oats Are Rich in Antioxidants, Including Avenanthramides
Whole oats are high in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Most notable is a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are almost solely found in oats (6).
Avenanthramides may help lower blood pressure levels by increasing the production of nitric oxide. This gas molecule helps dilate blood vessels and leads to better blood flow (7, 8, 9).
In addition, avenanthramides have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects (9).
Ferulic acid is also found in large amounts in oats. This is another antioxidant (10).
Bottom Line: Oats contain many powerful antioxidants, including avenanthramides. These compounds may help reduce blood pressure and provide other benefits.
3. Oats Contain a Powerful Soluble Fiber Called Beta-Glucan
Oats contain large amounts of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber.
Beta-glucan partially dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like solution in the gut.
The health benefits of beta-glucan fiber include:
- Reduced LDL and total cholesterol levels (1).
- Reduced blood sugar and insulin response (11).
- Increased feeling of fullness (12).
- Increased growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract (13).
Bottom Line: Oats are high in the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which has numerous benefits. It helps reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels, promotes healthy gut bacteria and increases feelings of fullness.
4. They Can Lower Cholesterol Levels and Protect LDL Cholesterol From Damage
Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. One major risk factor is high blood cholesterol.
Many studies have shown that the beta-glucan fiber in oats is effective at reducing both total and LDL cholesterol levels (1, 14).
Beta-glucan may increase the excretion of cholesterol-rich bile, thereby reducing circulating levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Oxidation of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol, which occurs when LDL reacts with free radicals, is another crucial step in the progression of heart disease.
It produces inflammation in arteries, damages tissues and can raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
One study reports that antioxidants in oats work together with vitamin C to prevent LDL oxidation (15).
Bottom Line: Oats may lower the risk of heart disease by reducing both total and LDL cholesterol levels and protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidation.
5. Oats Can Improve Blood Sugar Control
Type 2 diabetes is a common disease, characterized by significantly elevated blood sugars. It usually results from decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Oats may help lower blood sugar levels, especially in people who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes (16, 17, 18).
They may also improve insulin sensitivity (19).
These effects are mainly attributed to beta-glucan’s ability to form a thick gel that delays emptying of the stomach and absorption of glucose into the blood (20).
Bottom Line: Due to the soluble fiber beta-glucan, oats may improve insulin sensitivity and help lower blood sugar levels.
6. Oatmeal is Very Filling and May Help You Lose Weight
Not only is oatmeal (porridge) a delicious breakfast food — it’s also very filling (21).
Eating filling foods may help you eat fewer calories and lose weight.
By delaying the time it takes your stomach to empty of food, the beta-glucan in oatmeal may increase your feeling of fullness (12, 22).
Beta-glucan may also promote the release of peptide YY (PYY), a hormone produced in the gut in response to eating. This satiety hormone has been shown to lead to reduced calorie intake and may decrease your risk of obesity (23, 24).
Bottom Line: Oatmeal 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 PYY.
7. Finely Ground Oats May Help with Skin Care
It’s no coincidence that oats can be found in numerous skin care products. Makers of these products often list finely ground oats as “colloidal oatmeal.”
The FDA approved colloidal oatmeal as a skin-protective substance back in 2003. But in fact, oats have a long history of use in treatment of itch and irritation in various skin conditions (25, 26, 27).
For example, oat-based skin products may improve uncomfortable symptoms of eczema (28).
Note that skin care benefits pertain only to oats applied to the skin, not those that are eaten.
Bottom Line: Colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oats) has long been used to help treat dry and itchy skin. It may help relieve symptoms of various skin conditions, including eczema.
8. They May Decrease The Risk of Childhood Asthma
Asthma is the most common chronic disease in kids (29).
It’s an inflammatory disorder of the airways — the tubes that carry air to and from a person’s lungs.
Although not all children have the same symptoms, many experience recurrent coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
Many researchers believe early introduction of solid foods may increase a child’s risk of developing asthma and other allergic diseases (30).
However, studies suggest that this doesn’t apply to all foods. Early introduction of oats, for example, may actually be protective (31, 32).
One study reports that feeding oats to infants before the age of 6 months is linked to a decreased risk of childhood asthma (33)
Bottom Line: Some research suggests that oats may help prevent asthma in children when fed to young infants.
9. Oats May Help Relieve Constipation
Elderly people often experience constipation, with infrequent, irregular bowel movements that are difficult to pass.
Laxatives are often used to relieve constipation in the elderly. However, while they’re effective, they’re also associated with weight loss and reduced quality of life (34).
Studies indicate that oat bran, the fiber-rich outer layer of the grain, may help relieve constipation in older people (35, 36).
One trial found that well-being improved for 30 elderly patients who consumed a soup or dessert containing oat bran daily for 12 weeks (37).
What’s more, 59% of those patients were able to stop using laxatives after the 3-month study, while overall laxative use increased by 8% in the control group.
Bottom Line: Studies indicate that oat bran can help reduce constipation in elderly individuals, significantly reducing the need to use laxatives.
Instant, Rolled, Scottish, or Steel-Cut?
When you shop for oats, you’ll see several types on the store shelves. They’re all based on “oat groats,” which are the whole oat kernel.
- Instant oats: Oat groats that have been steamed and flaked.
- Rolled oats (also called regular or old-fashioned oats): Oat groats that have been steamed and rolled into flakes that are thicker (and thus take longer to cook) than instant oats.
- Steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats): You get the whole oat kernel, cut up. These take about 20 minutes to cook.
- Scottish oats: These are like steel-cut oats, but instead of being cut, they are ground.
- Oat groats : This is the whole oat kernel — no cuts, flakes, or grinding. They take longer to cook than other oats. Give them 50-60 minutes to cook, after you bring the water to a boil.
You can cook oatmeal on your stove top, in your microwave, or in a slow cooker.
Oats can be used to prepare a variety of Indian dishes ranging across dosas, idlis, upma, khichdi etc.