More people are turning to nutrition to help get in shape or improve their health. Whole oats have long been a staple for any self-described “health nut” and for good reason, as oats are both versatile and full of nutritional benefits.
It is easy to get confused with the different kinds of oat products. Let me break it down for you. Oats are a type of grain that grows with an outer husk AND hull, which are removed during the harvesting process. Think of historical photos of people thrashing wheat. This process removes the oats from the plant.
Are hulled oats better for you?
Nope! Hulled oats have the same nutrition benefits as oat groats and rolled oats. In fact, whole oat groats = hulled oats. Removed from its hull, the kernel is considered a whole grain with the bran layer, germ, and endosperm intact (1).
Do oats need to be certified organic?
There is an ongoing debate about organic versus conventional. This debate mainly focuses on pesticides and health. We can also consider nutrient content. This study found higher amounts of iron and zinc in hulled oats when fertilizer was applied. Organic oats had higher levels of magnesium. Organic oats also had high levels of polyunsaturated fats (the good fats).
Does this news stress you out? Just know that eating whole grains, whether USDA certified organic or not can improve your nutrition. They both have higher amounts of nutrients compared to white or processed grains and flours (2)
How Rolled Oats are Processed
Oat groats are the original kernel intact and are as raw as you can get. Because of this the cooking time is 1 hour.
Steel cut oats are sliced or chopped oat groats. Because they are smaller pieces they take less time to cook, usually about 30 minutes.
Rolled oats are the most well-known version because they are used in oatmeal and in cookies. Rolled oats are the raw oat kernel that has been steamed and flattened. They are still considered a whole grain, but now they take less time to cook about 5-10 minutes.
Instant oats are rolled oats that have been fully cooked, dried, and chopped. Because of these additional steps, your body has to do less work to digest them. They can often cause a rise in blood sugar that is higher than in rolled oats(1)
Why Rolled Oats are Good For You
The health benefits of oats come from the fiber in the outer protective layer of the kernel. You can think about it this way. The layer that is protecting the seed, is also protecting you! The fiber in oats and in barley can help lower LDL cholesterol. You can read more about barley here. In particular, the soluble fiber in oats binds to LDL cholesterol and removes it from the system. Oats and barley can produce a 3-8% drop in LDL cholesterol. Combined with other tips and tricks, this can help lower total LDL by over 20%. Diets high in whole grains are associated with 16-30% lower risk of heart disease. Include at least 3 servings per day of whole grains to get the maximum benefit (3)
What are Healthy Oat Recipes?
Healthy oat recipes are ones without added saturated fat and sugar. You can search for oatmeal recipes, but if you’re adding chocolate, brown sugar, and coconut to the recipe- you’ve just made it not heart healthy!
Good ways to search for recipes are using words such as “No added sugar”. You can also include ingredients in your search such as “whole grain oat flour”. The top hit on this search is Bob’s Red Mill- which is a trusted healthy brand that prides itself on being certified gluten free.
There are lots of recipes with oats in them. Stick to recipes free of added sugar and butter!