Benefits of Oats
By Felicity Kerr – The Real Naturopath
Oats are delicious part of Scottish history, they were a dietary staple throughout the 18th century and the main grain used by the Scottish people during this time. Oats were also traditionally used as poultice for skin conditions for its soothing effects on inflamed skin.
In modern times, the study of food components in human disease has seen therapeutic ways to use oats; we now see them as a fantastic dietary support for gut and metabolic health especially for the cardiovascular system.
Oats have a great nutritional profile including B vitamins, minerals/ trace minerals and the star of the show, the awesome soluble fibre, beta glucan. There are a few concerns about oat consumption and its effects in those with coeliac disease and other autoimmune conditions, which I will cover below
Firstly, lets talk a bit more about the betaglucan superpowers and how they can benefit our health. Betaglucans are the soluble fibre contained in the whole grain of your oats (not found in your quick oats) this soluble fibre creates a gel when combined with water exerting many positive health effects on the gastrointestinal tract and cardiovascular system as listed below
- Lipid lowering
Beta glucans increase the synthesis of bile acids, which absorb dietary and biliary cholesterol preventing it from recirculating through the body. Daily consumption of betaglucans has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, especially LDL (“bad cholesterol”) and may reduce triglycerides; this is imperative for healthy blood vessels and reducing your risk of heart disease. The FDA stated in 1997 that at least 3 grams of betaglucans from oats per day decreased absorption of dietary cholesterol and reduced the risk of coronary heart diseaseBowel health
2. Bowel Health
When oats combine with liquid, the fibre content forms a thick gel that acts like a broom sweeping our bowels as it passes through the intestine. It collects unwanted substances such as end product metabolites and any build up on the bowel wall. It also provides a soft stool bulk for healthy elimination. Additional to this the consumption of oats and oat bran has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer and support regular bowel motions
3. Blood glucose control
Beta glucans can slow the emptying of the stomach contents resulting in delayed glucose absorption, this means we get less of a peak and crash in our blood sugar meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer. It also increases transport of glucose into muscles via the GLUT 4 transporter. This is great news for our blood vessels as sugar and subsequent insulin in constant circulation in our blood vessels is proinflammatory and leads to conditions like insulin resistance and type two-diabetes
4. Cravings and Fat loss
Feelings of fullness and reduced cravings make it easier to lose weight. 37 adults that consumed oat betaglucan cereal for breakfast over 12 weeks all had decreases in bodyweight, body fat percentage, BMI and waist to hip ratio when tested at the 12 week mark, the participants also had improved liver and cholesterol markers
5. Itchy skin
Topical oatmeal preparations have been used traditionally to relieve itchy skin, putting oats into an old stocking and bathing the skin or throwing a handful in with your bath is a wonderful trick for eczema or inflamed skin. Some popular eczema skin creams have colloidal oatmeal in them, the betaglucans are thought to possess water holding effects, helping to keep up the moisture of the skin barrier
6. Gut health
Betaglucans are an amazing prebiotic. The bifiodobacteria bugs that thrive in our colon LOVE beta glucan, they turn it into short chain fatty acids called butyrate. Butyrate is the no one-food source for our colon cells, it makes our gut lining tight and strong and thickens the mucus layer that protects our gut lining. Studies suggest 3 grams of betaglucans per day for effective butyrate synthesis.
Beta glucan also causes less intestinal gas production than other prebiotics like inulin so can be a great alternative prebiotic for those that are sensitive to inulin
7. Nervous system
Aside from these wonderful gut and metabolic effects, oats have traditionally been considered a nutritive for the nervous system and are often recommended as a supportive breakfast for those with anxiety or nervous energy. The blood stabilising effects of the beta glucan alongside the B vitamin and nutrient contents provide gentle energy support and make them a great addition to any meal of the day
Buuuuut what about gluten? Do oats have gluten?
Oats contain a protein called avenin which belongs to the gluten classification, although different in structure to gliadin, the more common known gluten irritant, avenin has still be shown to cause inflammation and small bowel mucosal damage in some people with coeliac disease
Other considerations include the variety or species of the oat. Italian, Astra and Australian, Mortlock have been known to be more reactive and lastly, some oats are processed using the same machinery as wheat and rye leading to cross contamination. This is not a huge issue for the everyday gut but can be problematic for those with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity. Contrary to this, there are many companies that ensure no cross contamination within their facility so this is certainly an avoidable issue.
I you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity it is recommended that you work with your practitioner for best care and although this may be the case for some individuals, most people can actually tolerate oats and find them very beneficial for their long term health
The Canadian Coeliac association recommends the consumption of uncontaminated oats up to 70g (1/2-3/4cup) / day for adults and up to 25g (1/4cup) day for children. Don’t forget to top them with your favorite nuts or seeds, dollop of yoghurt/kefir or scoop of protein and some fruit for extra gut loving, hunger preventing benefits
The Real Naturopath