By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Oats are nutritional powerhouses. They contain healthy unsaturated fats, protein, dietary fibres, disease-fighting phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Oats are an excellent slow release carbohydrate (which help to keep you full for longer). They help to balance blood sugar levels which is an important aspect of general health but can also impact positively on other health areas such as fertility and menopause. Oats are also high in Beta glucan. Beta glucan is one form of soluble dietary fibre that is strongly linked to improving cholesterol levels and supporting heart health.
Why are oats good for our general health?
- High in water soluble fibre – needed for healthy digestion and to prevent constipation
- Lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy heart. The beta glucan fibres help to lower the bad ‘LDL’ cholesterol. Oats contain a special type of antioxidant, unique to oats, called Avenanthramides. These help prevent free radical damage by the LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Stabilizing blood sugar levels due to the beta glucan fibre. Oats also contain a good amount of magnesium which helps to regulate insulin secretion.
- Maintaining energy levels
- Contain Beta –glucan which aids immune function and acts as a prebiotic
Why are Oats good for gut health?
A fantastic gut healthy food, oats are a source of prebiotic fibre that live probiotics (‘friendly’ bacteria) use to promote their growth. Prebiotics are nondigestible components of the diet (like fibre) that have the ability to modify the intestinal environment by influencing the growth and activity of certain microorganisms, typically good bacteria. In other words, prebiotics are food for the bacteria living in your gut.
This has two benefits. Firstly, it encourages the ‘friendly’ bacteria to multiply, which helps crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, helping us to digest and absorb more nutrients from our food. It also encourages healthy bowel movements too. Secondly, when bacteria ferment these prebiotic fibres, they produce short-chain fatty acids including butyrate. Butyrate is used for energy by the cells lining the large intestine – so it basically helps keep the gut wall healthy. It’s also been found to improve the ‘barrier’ function of the gut wall, meaning its ability to stop harmful substances being absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Butyrate has also been linked to having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in the large intestine.
As mentioned above, oats contain a special dietary fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucans have shown in studies to possess prebiotic properties owing to their ability to pass undigested through the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT), where they act as a substrate for microbial fermentation and selectively stimulate the growth and activity of a small number of beneficial bacteria. Various studies show that diets rich in whole grains (including oats) tend to increase the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli.
Enjoy oats in:
Porridge, oat milk, overnight oats, flapjacks, cereals and breads.
Are oats gluten free?
Gluten is a protein that is present in rye, barley, wheat and triticale. People with gluten sensitivity, particularly those with coeliac disease, may still need to be careful about eating oats due to possible contamination, both from other crops grown in nearby fields and also food factories where they are processed as these may also process grains that do contain gluten. Some people may follow a gluten free diet but still be sensitive to oats. This may be due to the fact that oats contain Avenin, a protein that plays a role similar to gluten in wheat. In some people with coeliac disease, avenin activates the same immune cells that react to gluten. If in doubt always check with your medical care provider first.
Rivière A et al. Bifidobacteria and Butyrate-Producing Colon Bacteria: Importance and Strategies for Their Stimulation in the Human Gut. Front Microbiol. 2016 Jun 28;7:979.
Sang S, Chu Y. Whole grain oats, more than just a fiber: Role of unique phytochemicals. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jul;61(7).