When it comes to a balanced and healthy diet, cereals are one of the main allies of those who want to take care of their health. One of the best-known grains on the Brazilian table is oats. It’s comforting and delicious, but it’s also incredibly good for your health; and it is more versatile than you might think, being used not only in the famous porridge, but in shakes and fruit salads, mixed with yogurts, snacks, cakes, savory preparations and also in sweet recipes.
With unique qualities, oats are considered a superfood because they contain nutrients and bioactive compounds that are associated with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunogenic responses. It is a source of carbohydrates, fatty acids, B vitamins (B1, B5, B6, B9), copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium and zinc.
Plant-based foods, such as oats, offer functional benefits due to nutritional properties such as vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, terpenoids, alkaloids, sterols and unsaturated fatty acids. These foods can help strengthen immunity, as they respond against infections and inflammatory damage, contributing to the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Below are five reasons to make oatmeal a staple of your diet, as well as healthy ways to incorporate it, not just for breakfast.
1- Rich in nutrients
Half a cup of quick-cooking dry oatmeal contains about 150 calories, 5 grams of plant protein, 27 grams of carbs and a few grams of fat. Oats also have a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, B vitamins, and smaller amounts of calcium and potassium. That’s an impressive package of vitamins and minerals for a relatively low-calorie food, which makes oatmeal a nutrient-dense ingredient.
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Food Research International, the polyphenol antioxidants found in oats have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. At the cellular level, polyphenols have been shown to help fight aging and disease by reducing oxidative stress – an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body’s ability to fight their unwanted effects. This property of oats can be helpful in preventing diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity.
3-Helps in weight control
If you’ve avoided oatmeal due to its carb content, you might be happy to know that this healthy starch actually helps with weight management. Research shows that regular consumers of oatmeal have lower body weights and waist circumferences and lower body mass indexes. Oatmeal’s status as a whole grain is one of the reasons it makes healthy weight management and better overall nutrition possible. That’s because, unlike refined grains, which are stripped of bran and germ, whole grains remain intact, meaning they retain fiber and essential nutrients.
Satiety, the feeling of fullness that persists after eating, is another weight management benefit — and oatmeal may have a positive effect, according to a small study published in the journal appetite. The researchers compared people’s hunger and satiety levels after eating oatmeal or another breakfast item. The result: Not only were those who ate oatmeal more satiety, they were also less likely to snack in the hours after breakfast.
3-Oat beta-glucan fiber is protective of health
The type of fiber found in oats is uniquely protective. It contains beta-glucan, which has been shown to support healthy immune function. “Beta-glucan may also help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In general, the daily recommendation for adults is approximately 20 to 30 grams, which is equivalent to three tablespoons”, explains nutritionist and consultant at Jasmine Alimentos, Adriana Zanardo. For these reasons, regular consumption of oatmeal can help lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Beta-glucan also acts as an antioxidant. In that role, it is linked to combating hardening of the arteries, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also helps maintain proper digestive function, prevents inflammation in the gut, and acts as a prebiotic, meaning it essentially feeds protective bacteria in the gut and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
Regarding blood sugar regulation, a 2020 report published in Canadian Journal of Diabetesanalyzed the use of oats as a short-term intervention in patients with type 2 diabetes. Consumption of oats resulted in a significant reduction in blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity. The researchers say the effect is due in part to beta-glucan and concluded that oats can be used to prevent and control diabetes.
4-Can help you live longer
A 2019 meta-analysis published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that oat consumption can reduce the risk of all causes of death, including heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country. The researchers reviewed 33 previously published studies to determine the relationship specific foods had with overall mortality or cardiovascular disease. They found that consumption of whole grains, including oatmeal for breakfast, was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, including heart disease.
5-All sugar-free oats are good choices
People often ask if rolled (steel-cut) oats are better than other types because they are technically less processed. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional data for 40 grams (a quarter cup) of steel-cut oats is about the same as 40 grams (half a cup) of rolled oats. In other words, you get similar benefits from whichever type you choose, as long as it’s sugar-free. Buying unsweetened oatmeal also lets you choose the type and amount of sweetener you like to add.
Healthy ways to eat oatmeal
If you start your day with a bowl of hot oatmeal, garnish it with healthy supplements. Season your oatmeal with a touch of cinnamon or ginger (anti-inflammatory) and fresh fruit. Add nuts or seeds for healthy fat and bonus vegetable protein. You can even mix in chopped or shredded vegetables. If you need to further increase the protein content of the meal, combine the vegetable protein powder with the rolled oats before adding hot water. You can also refrigerate your favorite combination while you sleep and enjoy it chilled in the morning.
Oatmeal also works well with savory ingredients. Cook it, then top it with sautéed or oven-roasted vegetables and herbs, along with an egg, beans, lentil or tofu for protein and sliced avocado or a drizzle of pesto for healthy fat.
Rolled oats can also be used as an ingredient in various dishes, such as with cinnamon as a topping for heated fruit. Oat flakes or oatmeal are also great for pancakes and baked goods, including cookies, bars, banana bread and muffins. Tastier ways to use rolled oats include veggie burgers and as a bread crumb replacement in anything from meatballs to casseroles. With all the tasty ways to enjoy oatmeal, it’s easy to enjoy the benefits of this good-for-you carb.
Adriana Zanardo, nutritionist and consultant at Jasmine Alimentos / Cynthia Sassa performance nutritionist who consults for five professional sports teams / Health
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