If you want to live to 100 and be in good shape, start eating more oats. It's the grain with everything - it's high in beta-glucan, a soluble fibre that will keep your cholesterol down, it's got a lowish GI so will help you keep diabetes at bay, it's a good alternative if you can't eat wheat.
And it's so good for you - you can top up your B vitamins, especially thiamin and niacin, as well as minerals like phosphorus, potassium and magnesium (which helps steady the rhythm of the heart).
Oats - the champion grain
Oats are a winner amongst all grains. They're low GI, so their carbohydrate is slowly absorbed into your system, giving you energy for hours after eating. Their fibre is the soluble type of fibre that prevents breakdown products of cholesterol from re-entering the system via the intestine. The result is less cholesterol being made in the body.
Oats are one of the few grains to be free of gluten (although most oat crops are often contaminated by stray wheat grains and so unsuitable for gluten-free diets). They carry small amounts of good fats, more than wheat or rice. And they're packed with nourishment, giving you B vitamins, vitamin E as well as protein and minerals. Finally they're easy to incorporate into family meals.
Half a cup cooked porridge oats (weighing 130g) supplies: 2g protein, 1g fat, no sugar, 11g starch, 1g dietary fibre and 260 kilojoules (62 Calories).
Per 100g cooked:
1 per cent protein, 1 per cent fat, 0 sugars, 8 per cent starch, 1 per cent dietary fibre and 200 kilojoules (48 Calories).
You'll find this nutritious grains in many different forms but all have a similar nutrition profile. Here I've outlined these differences in descending order from least processed to more processed to help you make sense of them all.
Oat groats (whole oat grains)
Oat groats are the result of simply harvesting oats, cleaning them and removing their inedible outer hulls. They take the longest to cook. These are the least processed of all oat foods. Note: a groat is just another term for a grain kernel.
Steel cut oats (Scotch, Scottish, Irish or pinhead oats)
Steel cut oats start out as whole oat groats and then are chopped into two or three chunks by a steel blade. They look like a lighter form of bulgur wheat - broken grains that have been cut up to allow water to penetrate which speeds up the cooking. They take a long 30 to 40 minutes to cook depending on how chewy you like your porridge. But if you soak them overnight, they cook up in only 5 minutes. GI of 52.
Instead of cutting oats with a steel chopper, the Scots traditionally stone-grind them, creating broken bits of varying sizes, which some say results in a creamier porridge than steel-cutting. Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is a large sausage made of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep or lamb, mixed with oats and suet and seasoned with onion, herbs and spices.
Due to their natural fat which can go rancid, oats are generally heat-treated and rolled for longer storage. This also helps them cook more quickly. Rolled oats come in three forms:
1. Traditional rolled oats (old fashioned or jumbo)
These are whole oat grains that have been steamed for a few minutes, thus partially cooking them, then passed between rollers to flatten them out. These thicker oats take 20 to 30 minutes to cook depending on how chewy you like your porridge. Rolled oats also are used to make biscuits (such as the famous Anzac biscuit), crumble toppings and puddings. GI of 57-60.
2. Quick-cook rolled oats
Quick cooking rolled oats look and taste the same as traditional oats. But they're cut into small pieces before being steamed and flattened thinly, so they cook quicker in 5 to 7 minutes. Quick cook oats have a higher Glycemic Index as their starch has been processed so are not as long-lasting for you as the traditional type. GI of 65.
3. Instant oats
Instant oats are rolled oats that have been pre-cooked then dehydrated. They take processing to the final step and require no cooking, just heating for a couple of minutes in the microwave oven or by mixing with hot water. These kind of oats are not suitable for baking because they will turn into mush. GI of 66.
Whatever you use, finish off your cooked oats with a light sprinkle of brown sugar or honey with some milk. As a healthier alternative, you can throw in a handful of sultanas or raisins toward the end of cooking or peel and dice a small red or green apple at the start and add to the oats when you add the water or milk. The fruit softens and cooks whilst you're cooking the oats.
Oatmeal or oat flour
These are oat groats that have been milled coarsely or finally in to oatmeal (a whole grain) or oat flour (bran and germ removed). It adds a pleasant creamy moist texture to slices and biscuits when mixed in with wheaten flour(about 25 per cent oats to 75 per cent wheat) but alone makes a poor loaf because of it lacks gluten. Oatmeal is nice to thicken up soups and slow-cooked dishes.
Muesli or granola
Muesli is made up of around 50 per cent rolled oats, which is usually uncooked but sometimes is toasted in an oven before the nuts, seeds and dried fruit are added. Muesli bars have only 25 per cent oats. GI of 40-52.
Oat bran is the outer bran layers milled from the oat grain. It hit the headlines back in the 1990s as a treatment for lowering high cholesterol and was popular at the time as an addition to sprinkle over your cereal or cook up in a type of porridge. It is very high in soluble fibre as it's concentrated but it is much more pleasant to eat than wheat bran which tastes dry and flakey. GI of 50.
Figures from low GI Shoppers Guide book and the GI database on www.glycemicindex.com
Easy ways to enjoy oats
- Make porridge oats your wintertime breakfast. Add finely-sliced pear or a handful of sultanas halfway through cooking. I like to grate a small apple (with the skin) and add that halfway through for a nice change. Top with a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of sugar.
- Make your own natural muesli by mixing together 2 cups rolled oats with 1/2 cup each of pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds and sultanas. Toss in 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots or dried apples or sultanas or another fruit you like.
- Sprinkle oats over home-made muffins and banana bread.
- Substitute 1/3 of the flour in any cake recipe for oats.
- Bake an oaty crumble topping over stewed apple or apricots. Mix equal quantities of oats and self-raising flour and rub in butter or margarine with the fingertips. See if my Apple and Rhubarb crumble hits the spot.
- Try my Bircher Muesli where you soak oats overnight then mix in with fruit in the morning for a filling substantial breakfast.