For years, oats have been deemed a nutritious food containing many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. More recently, however, consuming oats for breakfast has been controversial for people desiring to lose weight. What was once the most important meal of the day, skipping breakfast overall, has been gaining popularity and flooding social media feeds. Are oats actually as beneficial as we once thought, or are they simply high-calorie food preventing us from reaching our goals?
Many different types of oats are unique in flavor and texture. There is no right or wrong when choosing oats, as long as it aligns with one's taste preferences and overall health goals.
- Oat groats. These oats have the whole kernel with the inedible outer husk removed. These remain chewy and take longer to cook. These oats have one of the highest nutritional values due to being less processed with the kernel remaining intact.
- Steel-cut oats. The name of these oats says it all; they are oat groats that have been cut into several pieces with a steel blade. These take less time to cook but are still very high in nutritional value.
- Old fashioned rolled oats. Using a roller, these oats are oat groats that are flattened after first being steamed. These are extremely popular as they are quick and easy to cook with a chewy texture.
- Quick/instant oats. As the name implies, they are steamed even longer than rolled oats and rolled thinner. Many of these are packaged at the grocery store that you simply add water to and heat up. However, be mindful of the ingredients, as many contain added sugar.
Benefits of oats
One can’t argue the incredible nutritional benefits that oatmeal has to offer. It is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals and easily fits into a diet plan.
Many studies have shown increased heart health benefits by consuming whole-grain food such as oats. Oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that reduces total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Researchers have found that benefits include lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and the risk of heart attacks.
Blood sugar regulation
Oats are beneficial in regulating blood sugar due to the low glycemic load of less-processed oats such as steel-cut. Instant oats packaged with additional ingredients, such as sugar, most likely will not have the same effect. Oats could be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes and may help lower their A1C and overall blood sugar.
When mixed with water, oats form a thick mixture that helps add bulk to the digestive tract, keeping us fuller longer. Feeling sated means consuming fewer calories throughout the day, typically leading to weight loss.
The high nutrient content of oats makes them a great food source no matter a person's health goals. The nutrients in oats play a role in gut health, brain health, immune support, and overall health.
We’ve already established that oats are a nutritious option, but anything in excess can cause more harm than good. It’s important to consider portion sizes and added ingredients. A typical serving of oats contains around 150 calories, which means a larger portion and/or other additives will increase the calorie count. It’s important to be mindful of the portion one consumes, especially if weight loss is the goal.
Although calories must be considered when it comes to overall health, the nutrient composition of the food, such as vitamin, mineral, and fiber content, should also be taken into account. However, there is an opportunity for flexibility throughout the day as well. If consuming a higher-calorie breakfast, lower-calorie options can be eaten later to offset caloric intake.
Considerations when consuming oats
It can be very easy to make a food less nutritious. For example, consider what is added to a bowl of oatmeal and portion size.
- Adjust the portion according to overall goals and preferences. It may be helpful to measure oats to ensure one knows how much is being consumed.
- Be mindful of what is added to oats and the quantity of additives. Syrup, honey, and nuts, for example, can make for a delicious concoction, but those additives tack on calories.
- Berries or cinnamon are an option to add extra flavor as well as nutritional value to oats without adding on a ton of extra calories.
The consensus is that oats can make for a nutritious breakfast as long as portions and added ingredients are reasonable based on one’s goals. Many foods fit a healthy diet, and oats just happen to be a very nutritious one.
Oats are whole grains, containing about 4 grams of fiber per serving. Oats are a complex carbohydrate that helps sustain our energy levels and contains fiber that helps keep us full.
Oats are abundant with vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Vitamins and minerals must be consumed for a nutritious diet, and oats are jam-packed with them.
The calorie content in foods is all relative to the rest of the foods in one's diet, lifestyle, activity level, personal health, and wellness goals.
Overall, oats can fit into any diet plan, even if the goal is weight loss.
- British Journal of Nutrition. The effect of oat β-glucan on LDL-cholesterol, non-HDL-cholesterol and apoB for CVD risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials.
- American Heart Association. Take a fresh look at oatmeal - it's not as simple as you think.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Oats.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Whole grain cereals for the primary or secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
- European Journal of Nutrition. Effect of oat supplementation interventions on cardiovascular disease risk markers: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.