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What you need to know about oats

Ask the Dietitan, General health, Gut microbiome health, Nutrition

What you need to know about oats

Discover which oats are considered the best to regulate hyperglycemia.

This guest post is written by Moe Brandi who holds an MSc in Food Innovation and Health and specializes in bioactive components in foods that improve human health. Her work centers around natural ingredients and a strong belief that food can be healthy, delicious, and gratifying at the same time.

Oats come in many forms and variations, all with slightly different effects and regulation of blood sugar levels. Generally, oats have a low to medium glycemic index and contain a specific type of super-fiber known as beta-glucan, which is also found in barley. The health properties of oats are also commonly associated with beta-glucan, and of all fibers, beta-glucan is the most extensively documented. The use of health claims on foods containing beta-glucan has therefore been allowed in Europe, Canada and the US. 

 

Oats and health claims 

Beta-glucan, from both oats and barley, is one of very few functional foods with authorized health-claims behind it in Europe: 1) Beta-glucans contribute to maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels (beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 3g of beta-glucans from oats, oat bran, barley, barley bran, og from mixtures of these beta-glucans). Additionally, 2) consumption of beta-glucans from oats or barley as part of a meal contributes to reduction of blood glucose rise after that meal (beneficial effect is obtained by consuming beta-glucans from oats or barley as part of the meal and if the food contains at least 4g of beta-glucans from oats or barley for each 30g of available carbohydrates as part of the meal). 

Considering these health claims, the daily dose and amount of beta-glucan in the specific food source matters. Oat beta-glucan is found in great concentrations in bran, and commercial oat bran contains ~ 7-10% beta-glucan.  

In addition, it has also been shown that beta-glucan enhances the human immune system’s response to bacterial infections and promotes wound healing. But health claims supporting ‘immune function’ are not yet substantiated.

 

Oats and digestion

Overall, starting the day with a blood sugar stabilizing food or meal may make it easier to control and balance blood sugar levels throughout the day. Beta-glucan in oats gives the feeling of fullness because it is a soluble fiber. Oats will take up water and increase its volume during preparation and digestion, forming a viscous solution that will result in delayed gastric emptying. This will make you feel full for longer periods.

Oats also contain magnesium, the mineral that plays a role in the metabolism of glucose. Around 68% of American’s are not getting enough magnesium, so choosing magnesium-rich foods and maybe supplementing a few months a year, can make a huge difference with minimal risk.

 

Commercial oat products 

Always look on the ingredient list when buying your favorite type of oat product. The ingredient list should only be mentioning one ingredient: “Rolled oats” or “oat bran” or “steel cut oats”, “whole grain oats” etc. Instant oatmeal packages often contain sugar, sodium, and artificial flavorings as well as being considered high GI. It is much better and healthier to make your oatmeal yourself. Fortunately, this is also very easy.  

Oat is a gluten-free grain, but it is often processed in the same facility together with grains containing gluten. It is possible to buy gluten-free oats with no traces of gluten, if you have celiac disease. 

 

Oats and blood glucose levels

One of my good friends who practices intermittent fastings daily on top of a plant based ketogenic diet only eats steel cut oats. He claims that he can feel an immediate difference between rolled oats and steel cut oats on his blood sugar levels following a fasting period. He feels too ‘high’ and energized when eating foods with moderate GI after fasting, and steel cut oats do not raise his blood sugar in the same way that rolled oats do. This could be because steel-cut oats have a lower glycemic index so it's digested more slowly than instant or rolled oats.

Steel cut oats are also considered best for type 2 diabetes as they are the least processed version of oat groats. They have a lower GI than rolled oats and are generally a healthier choice of available oat types. 

 

How to eat your oats

Check in with your healthcare team about the amount of carbohydrates you should eat for each meal, and make your oat portions based on these guidelines. For example, one cup of oatmeal will typically contain 26g carbohydrates, including 4g of fiber.  

Oatmeal or porridge made with steel cut oats are often more satiating than, for example, rolled oats with cold milk. 

Below are some tips to create a healthy bowl of oat porridge. If you prepare your oats overnight (soak them in water and milk), it is very easy to heat the portion in the morning for a wholesome and quick breakfast. Feel free to go for the simple version of oatmeal with water and/or almond or oat milk, or choose to add extra protein or spices for a more flavorful experience. 

 

Overnight oats recipe
1. Choose wholesome steel cut oats (also known as Irish oats or Irish oatmeal) as they have a lower glycemic index and will less likely impact your blood sugar levels. I often mix 1 cup of steel cut oats with 3 cups of liquid in a small pot, and let it soak overnight (this portion is usually enough for 3 people). I add extra water or milk to obtain the desired consistency in the morning the following day, together with a pinch of salt. You can also follow the guidelines and recipe on the product’s label. Keep in mind that you will reduce the cooking time of steel cut oats if you soak them overnight. 
     
    2. Make your porridge with water only, or water and unsweetened almond or oat milk. The combination of water and milk will make your porridge more creamy. 
       
      3. Pair with protein like low-fat greek yogurt, skyr, or hemp seeds 
         
        4. Option to pair with healthy fats, but check in with your healthcare team. Healthy fats include olive oil, walnuts or almonds, seeds like chia and pumpkin, and nut or seed butters without sugar (always read the label as many nut butters contain stabilizers and flavorings). Nut butters will often make your porridge more pal atable, if you are less used to homemade oatmeal. 
           
          5. A small amount of seasonal fruit or berries (¼ cup). Option to choose apples, pears, pomegranate, or blackberries during autumn. Freeze dried berries are also delicious and available all year round. 
             
            6. If you like it sweet, add a pinch of cinnamon spice, cardamom, and/or vanilla extract. If this is not sweet enough to suit your taste, monk-fruit sweetener with erythritol is a better option of low glycemic sweeteners.