When you think of comfort foods, oatmeal is often at the top of the list. But oatmeal is also a superfood that is high in fiber and loaded with nutrients. It’s one of the few things you can eat that makes you think you’re treating yourself to a warm hug of a meal while at the same time providing important health benefits.
What Is Oatmeal?
Oatmeal is a food that has been eaten for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese ate it as far back as 7000 B.C., and it is eaten in different ways all around the world. It is made from seeds of the oat plant that have had their hulls removed. These seeds are known as groats, and they can be processed in several different ways, including being ground, cut into small pieces or steamed and flattened into the form known as rolled oats.
We tend to think of oatmeal as a breakfast food, and that use dates back to the ancient Greeks, who were the first culture known to have made oatmeal into porridge. Around the world people prepare oatmeal in different ways, with many Europeans soaking the oats in milk and cinnamon overnight, then adding nuts and fruits in the morning. Oatmeal can be prepared as a warm dish in the morning, eaten uncooked with milk, added to baked goods to add fiber, or cooked like other grains into healthy savory dishes.
Oatmeal is available in several different formats, including:
- Groats – These are the whole kernel of the oat that has not been processed into smaller format. Preparing groats requires additional time – they need to be cooked for an hour before serving.
- Instant Oats – These are the most highly processed oat groats. They have been both steamed and flaked, and can be prepared very quickly.
- Rolled Oats – These are the most familiar type of oats. They are also known as old-fashioned or quick oats. Like instant oats they have been steamed and flaked, but the flakes are thicker and take longer to cook.
- Steel-Cut Oats – These are the whole oat kernel (or groat) that have been cut up into smaller pieces. They are also known as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oatmeal, and take approximately 20 minutes to cook.
- Scottish Oats – These are similar to steel-cut oats, but instead of being cut up they are ground. They are also known as white oats
To get the greatest benefit from oatmeal, make sure that you are not eating a version that has been prepared with large amounts of sugar, sodium, or fats.
1. Oatmeal is a High Fiber, Nutrient Dense Food
Oatmeal is a favorite food around the world, and there’s good reason for that. They are high in fiber and important minerals and nutrients, while being delicious, versatile and inexpensive. One half cup of dry oatmeal cooks up into about a cup of porridge, and contains:
Calories – 154 calories
Fiber – 4.5 grams
Protein – 5.5 grams
Manganese – 5 mg (73% of RDV)
Phosphorus – 166 mg (16% of RDV)
Selenium – 7 mg (16% of RDV)
Magnesium – 56 mg (14% of RDV)
Thiamine – 0.19 mg (12% of RDV)
Iron – 7 mg (10% of RDV)
Zinc – 5 mg (10% of RDV)
Copper – 0.16 mg (8% of RDV)
Vitamin B5 – 0.45 mg (5% of RDV)
Adding oatmeal to your diet is a great way to fuel your day while at the same time doing good things for your overall health. It is chock full of minerals and vitamins that help lower your risk of several serious medical conditions.
2. Oatmeal is a Powerhouse Food That Gives You Lots of Energy
You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but did you know that oatmeal is one of the best breakfast foods you can eat? It is loaded with healthy carbs and protein, making it a great source of fuel and energy to carry you through the morning and into the day. Eating oatmeal before exercise is a great way to make sure that you have all the stamina that you need. Its high levels of thiamine, folate and niacin helps ensure that when you’re working out, you’re boosting your metabolism and burning fat, while its low glycemic load means you won’t go through a sugar crash. And by nourishing yourself with a combination of carbohydrates and protein and a healthy dose of magnesium, you make sure that your muscles are provided with the nutrients that they need for a more effective recovery.
Bottom Line: Whether you’re an athlete or just trying to make sure that you’re able to power through your busy day, oatmeal will make sure that you have plenty of energy.
3. Oatmeal Can Help You Lose Weight
When you want to lose weight, oatmeal can quickly become your best friend. It contains beta glucans, which are soluble fibers that help to keep you feeling full while also keeping your digestive system regular. That’s a powerful combination! Fiber helps to sweep cholesterol out of your system, while the nutrients in oatmeal will give you the extra energy you need to fuel calorie-burning workouts. Studies have shown that when you eat foods rich in beta glucans, it triggers the production of a hunger-fighting hormone. The less hungry you are, the less prone you are to eat high fat or high sugar foods that will sabotage your weight loss efforts.
Bottom Line: Oatmeal gives you lots of energizing nutrients in a low-calorie, low-fat, delicious meal. It keeps you feeling full and regular and is an important addition to any weight loss plan.
4. Oatmeal Is a Powerful Diabetes-Fighting Tool
People who have diabetes or who are at risk for diabetes should eat whole grain, high fiber foods. These help them to stay full and avoid the wrong foods. Oatmeal has a low glycemic index, which means it will help to improve insulin sensitivity. Oatmeal’s high fiber helps to keep your heart healthy and your cholesterol low, while slowing the absorption of glucose from food in your stomach. It prevents blood sugar spikes. To make morning oatmeal an even better choice for diabetics, add a few berries. Their sweetness will help to satisfy sugar cravings while delivering important nutrients.
Bottom Line: Oatmeal is a diabetes-friendly food that can help you keep your blood sugar in check while satisfying hunger pangs.
5. Oatmeal is a Heart-Healthy Food
One of the most important ways that you can boost your heart health is to add more whole grains and soluble fiber to your diet. This is because fiber can sweep away damaging cholesterol and help to lower blood pressure. In fact, eating foods that are high in soluble fiber have been shown to reverse damage to the arteries. In addition to being a great source of soluble fiber, oatmeal also contains potassium and calcium, two minerals that improve blood pressure. Oatmeal contains compounds called tocotrienols, which are antioxidants that work with other compounds to form Vitamin E. They are one of the main reasons why oatmeal is so good for your heart, as they have been found to inhibit the production of cholesterol.
Bottom Line: Oatmeal has been cited as one of the healthiest foods for heart health. It’s high levels of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and minerals help keep your blood pressure low and your arteries clear of plaque.
6. Oatmeal Can Help You Have a Better Complexion
In addition to being good for your insides, oatmeal can be used as a soothing remedy for itchy skin. The same beta glucan that can help to keep you feeling full has been shown to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects when applied to the skin. If you’re suffering from dry or irritated skin, or even an itchy condition like chicken pox, an oatmeal bath can provide quick relief. Oatmeal is also good for your skin from a nutritional point of view, as the copper, selenium, zinc and B-vitamins it contains help cell turnover and give you a healthy glow.
Bottom Line: The same nutrients that make oatmeal good for your body’s organs can provide a soothing solution for irritating skin conditions.
7. Oatmeal’s Fiber Makes It a Potent Weapon Against Colon Cancer and Other Types of Cancers
There are many causes for colorectal cancer, but one of the most common is poor diet. People who eat diets high in fat and low in fiber are at increased risk for this dangerous disease, but eating oatmeal can help to prevent and reverse damage. Oatmeal is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber that help to move food through the digestive system. One study showed a 10 percent reduction in the risk of colon cancer for every 10 grams of fiber eaten per day. Plus oatmeal is loaded with phytochemicals that are known to lower the risk of hormone-related cancers like breast and ovarian cancer.
Tips for Buying and Preparing Oatmeal
Oatmeal is available in many formats as detailed above, but the type that achieves the most health benefits are the groats, which are completely unprocessed. No matter what type of oatmeal you buy, as long as they do not have added sugar or fat they will provide most of the benefits listed here, but the less processed they are, the better. Of the processed oat cereals, steel cut oats contain the most nutrients. They also have a slightly nuttier taste. The most processed form of oatmeal is instant oats, which are not only flattened and chopped fine, but also pre-cooked and dehydrated. If you’re in a rush they will do in a pinch, but if you have hectic mornings and don’t have time to prepare oatmeal, consider making overnight oats that you can prepare the night before and grab from the refrigerator to eat quickly.