Oats are a simple pantry staple with many dietary benefits. Whether you purchase oats to enjoy for breakfast or snack, in today’s post I’ll be covering the health benefits of oatmeal in depth -from heart health to better sleep and improved skin.
What Are Oats
While they look very different from the rainbow-colored breakfast cereals found in stores, oats come in grain form (the groat), granulated (steel-cut) and in a flake-like form often used for stove-top oatmeal, baked oatmeal, overnight oats, and all sorts of delicious recipes!
But where do oats come from? Oats are a grain that grows as a stalk with a fluffy-looking husk on top. It’s a member of the grass family and is often referred to as a cereal grain.
The part we call “oat” is actually the seed from the plant. It grows in the hull and contains four parts known as the hull, the bran, the endosperm, and the germ -very similar to the structure of wheat.
The hulls are not edible and are removed from the plant. The bran is high in fiber and nutrient-dense but removed from the oat and sold on its own as oat bran.
The endosperm and the germ, where most of the nutrients are located, are left behind to form oats.
Unlike other grains like farro or rice that are cooked by absorbing water and keeping their texture intact, oats are often cooked down to a soft, cream-like texture and referred to as oatmeal.
Different Types of Oats
The different types of oats you find at the store are simply the same oat processed differently; flattening it out into a large flake (old fashioned or rolled oats), chopping the flake small to speed up cooking (quick oats), and cutting the groat but not flattening it (steel-cut).
Besides the difference in texture between the three, cooking times is the other main difference in the oatmeal varieties.
Old-Fashioned or Rolled Oats
Old-fashioned oats and rolled oats are the same thing and used interchangeably between different brands. They are larger flakes with a thicker texture. More on how to thicken oatmeal here.
Old-fashioned oats are made by steaming (to expand the groat/grain) and pressing it down to flatten. Old-fashioned oats the preferred oat texture for baked oatmeal or many of my overnight oats recipes.
This variety of oats is less processed and resembles grains of rice. This is where the whole grain is chopped into pieces by steel blades -and what gives it their name.
Compared to rolled/old-fashioned and quick-cooking oats, they take a few minutes longer to cook. The result, however, is a nice, chewy texture. I like to use them for the slow cooker method and my recipes for steel-cut overnight oats.
Are Oats Gluten-Free?
If you have a gluten allergy, oats are the perfect breakfast alternative to gluten-heavy bread and cereals. Unlike other grains such as wheat, rye, or barley, oats do not naturally contain gluten proteins. As a result, most people with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance can easily digest oats.
However, if you or someone in your household has a severe allergy to gluten or has been diagnosed with celiac disease, you may want to look at the label in the packaging and make sure they have not been processed in a plant that also processes gluten-containing grains.
The only sure way to avoid cross-contamination is to look for the statement on the label or clearly marked as “gluten-free” by a reputable brand.
Although rare, some people cannot digest the protein known as avenin found in oats. So, yes, on their own, oats are gluten-free, but they do have the potential to cause digestive issues in a few very severe cases of gluten intolerance.
Oat Nutrition Information
Oats pack A LOT of nutritional bang per serving. They include:
- high in fiber and protein (compared to other grains)
- slow-digesting complex carbohydrate
- vitamins and minerals
- moderate to low calories per serving
- Low in fat and no saturated fats
Due to their high fiber content, oats are considered a complex carb; this means they are slow-digesting and will not spike your blood sugar. Compared to other carb sources, oats have a decent amount of protein at roughly 7 grams per serving!
Can I also add that they contain many essential vitamins and minerals, like iron, vitamin B1, magnesium, and other nutrients difficult to obtain through food? Only another reason they are a great way to fuel your day.
While serving sizes vary based on what kind of oat you are using, oats are moderate in calories ranging anywhere from 130 to 190 calories per serving and have virtually no saturated fat.
Overall, oats are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can consume, and no wonder it’s a breakfast staple in many households and a beloved ingredient for some of my family’s favorite recipes.
Oat Health benefits
The oat is healthy and has some benefits when being incorporated into a diverse diet. Some of the most common health benefits of oats include:
Blood Sugar Control
Oats contain beta-glucan, which is a type of fiber that forms a thick gel within the body. This substance slows down digestion and prevents blood sugar spikes, typically associated with carb consumption. As a result, consuming oats can help you manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Lower LDL Cholesterol Levels
Oats contain a type of fiber known as beta-glucan that reduces total and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. The fiber in oats works in conjunction with vitamin C to prevent the oxidation of LDL. In other words, eating oats can reduce the risk of a heart attack by maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
Consuming oats adds a significant source of both soluble and insoluble fiber to your diet – something most people don’t eat enough. As a result, you may experience more regular bowel movements and less bloating throughout the day.
Oats stay in your system for a fairly long time. As a result, they provide a steady stream of energy and may keep you feeling fuller longer. As a result, you may find yourself eating less throughout the day, making it easier to meet your weight loss goals without feeling hungry.
Oats aid all age groups for different reasons and can be paired with quality proteins and healthy fats for well-rounded, nutrient-packed meals like these savory oats bowls you can enjoy any time of day. In my opinion, they’re a true superfood!
Is Oatmeal Good for Weight Loss?
While consuming oatmeal for every meal will probably not help you lose weight, including oatmeal into a healthy diet can be good for weight loss.
Therefore, oatmeal can be a great food to eat if you’re trying to lose weight because it’s packed with vitamins, nutrients, and fiber. All of these make oatmeal an extremely satiating food.
What’s better is that oatmeal can be made quickly or prepped ahead of time, like overnight oats or blended into smoothies. This helps prevent reaching for processed fast-food or pre-packaged items that while convenient, are often filled with sugar and other ingredients that can quickly sabotage any diet.
When added to a healthy smoothie, oatmeal turns a snack item into a complete meal.
It should be noted that if you are trying to lose weight and want to incorporate oatmeal into your breakfast routine, be sure to look at the nutrition labels when buying oatmeal packets or flavored varieties.
These single-serving packs are super convenient but also often loaded with added sugars, which can add up to extra unnecessary calories and carbohydrates.
Oat Benefits for Skin
Did you know that the health benefits of oatmeal can be applied to your skin? In addition to eating a healthy, varied diet and staying hydrated -both of which play a big role in how your skin looks- consuming oats can improve skin texture.
However, their real magic powers come out when oats are used on the body instead of in it. For this reason, oats are a common ingredient in many soothing skincare products and are used in baths.
Compounds called saponins help eliminate the dirt and oil that can clog your skin. Oats have been shown to prevent acne, reduce blackheads, alleviate itchiness, and reduce inflammation when applied to the skin.
While you can DIY oat products (trust me, I’ve tried.), they’re typically found in things like lotions or shampoos in the form of colloidal oatmeal.
Don’t be fooled by the fancy name; this ingredient is just oats that have been ground into a powder. By putting it on your body, all of the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals you would usually eat are absorbed through your skin instead. The skin is your largest organ and very porous.
If you or your kids suffer from skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis, lotions made with colloidal oatmeal can be beneficial as well as adding a cup or two of oat flour into the bath. You can learn how to make oat flour in this video.
Benefits of Eating Oats at Night
If you find yourself hungry at night (like me!) and want to prevent mindless nibbling, why not swap that late-night ice cream for a bowl of oatmeal or oat-based snack bites?
It doesn’t have to be a big bowl, even a small bowl of oatmeal has enough fiber to keep you full and satisfied throughout the night. You’ll go to bed full and less likely to wake up for a midnight snack.
Plus, while you sleep and digest the fiber in your oats, you can aid your body breakdown the food you ate throughout the day. It’s a great way to regulate your digestive system and creating regularity in bowel movements.
Another health benefit of oatmeal when eaten before bed is the improved sleep quality. Oats contain some melatonin, which is known to help the body relax and help it get to a state of sleep.
The vitamin B6 in oatmeal can help increase the amount of serotonin your body produces; both of which shown to help with sleep.
If eating a bowl of oatmeal at night means I’ll sleep better and be happier? Sign me up!
Are There Disadvantages of Eating Oats
As with all good things, consuming too many oats can have a downside. This saying is particularly true when it comes to the fiber found in oats.
Eating oats is an easy way to meet our daily fiber needs; however, most of us don’t eat the recommended 25 to 30 grams a day. Introducing oats into your diet is a good start, but be careful not to overdo it. Too much and you may end up with gas, bloating, and constipation.
But don’t worry, this is easy to avoid by making sure you drink enough water throughout the day.
For most people, oats are super safe to eat and use, so start with a serving a day, and you will be more than fine.
Best Ways to Eat Oats
The best way to eat oats is the way you will enjoy them most. There is no right or wrong way. There are so many delicious ways to implement oats into your day and make the most out of this healthy pantry staple.
Known as a hot cereal, traditional oatmeal recipes are made by combining oats and milk or water. The mixture is then cooked in the microwave or on a stove-top until the desired texture is achieved.
Personally, I like to add in cinnamon, a drizzle of maple syrup, and top my bowl off with nut butter or fresh fruit.
Overnight oats are a combination of milk, your choice of add-ins, and oats refrigerated overnight and enjoyed the next morning. The oats soak up all the moisture and flavors to create a creamy, hearty breakfast that’s super delicious. I have a TON of overnight oats ideas to get you started.
Unlike other oatmeal varieties, baked oatmeal is made in the oven to form a thick, cake-like texture. Most recipes like my Blueberry Baked Oatmeal contain similar ingredients as traditional oatmeal but served in a super comforting way, almost like eating dessert for breakfast, but good for you.
Oat flour is a great baking alternative for those with gluten intolerances and it’s super easy to whip up in a blender or food processor and resembles the same texture as flour. I’ll often use this flour for pancakes like these Banana Oatmeal Pancakes as well as muffins and quick breads like this Blueberry Oatmeal Bread.
Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water, blending, and straining with a cheesecloth. The result is a creamy milk-like liquid that tastes mildly of oats.
Instead of pairing oatmeal with traditional sweet toppings such as fruit, savory oatmeal recipes consists of cooked oats topped with hearty options such as fried eggs, cooked meat, and roasted vegetables for a satisfying meal any time of the day.
Recipes with Oatmeal
I wasn’t going to leave you without some of my best recipes with oatmeal my friend! I’ve created many over the years both online and for my cookbooks.
Here are a few oatmeal recipes you might enjoy: