Oats (Avena Sativa) is a cereal grain that’s slowly gained popularity in the last few decades mainly due to health benefits owing to its dietary fibre content (β-glucan), complex carbohydrates and phytochemicals. Oats also contain several antioxidants mainly concentrated in the outer layer of the kernel in the bran. Whole grain oats are an excellent source of not only complex carbohydrates and starch, but also protein, unsaturated fatty acids and both soluble and insoluble fibre. Oats are also a good source of Vitamin E, folate, iron, selenium, zinc, copper, manganese and amino acids.
The soluble fibre (β-glucan) of oats dissolves in water forming a gel that helps slow down digestion, limits the absorption of dietary cholesterol and reabsorption of bile acids. This is how the β-glucan component of oats helps lower LDL and total cholesterol levels as well as blood sugar and insulin levels. Gut bacteria ferments the soluble β-glucan to produce short-chain fatty acids which also helps reduce cholesterol. Oatmeal improves cholesterol metabolism by fecal excretion of total fats, cholesterol and bile acids. However, the fibre content of oat bran is much higher than the fibre of oat meal (over 50%).
Studies have suggested that 3g/ day of oat β-glucans (or 70 g of oatmeal) consumed as part of a healthy diet (with low saturated fat consumption) can help promote heart health.
Dietary fibres are resistant to digestion in the small intestine and are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine. Most fibre containing foods contain a combination of soluble and insoluble fibres. Whole grains are an important source of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, slow digesting energy and fibre. They also contain phytochemicals such as inulin, lignans, phenolics, carotenoids and β-glucan. These phytochemicals work synergistically with the nutrients in whole foods to protect against obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This is one of the reasons you should steer clear of diets advocating very low carbs and grains (unless you are allergic to a specific whole grain).
If it isn’t already obvious, fibre belongs in a healthy diet. So do whole grains such as oats. Feel free to include both soluble and insoluble fibre in your diet, but increase your fibre intake gradually. It goes without saying, of course, that oatmeal as cereal is healthiest without any added sugar.