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Food of the month - Oats

February 2016

Make sure you get your oats!

I bet the modern generation has no recall of the expression “sewing your wild oats”; that lovely Edwardian expression which lingered on into the mid 20th century for men who enjoyed quite a bit of fun before settling down to married life.

Wild oats were in fact the only oats generally available a couple of thousand years ago; wheat and barley were far more important grains to man to begin with. And in subsequent years when oat began to be cultivated, it was used very much as animal feed.

Today of course things have changed dramatically; oats especially cooked as porridge are hugely popular and while certainly porridge used to be more popular in Scotland, today it is a popular food everywhere. According to market research firm Mintel, 49% of people in the UK eat porridge regularly, with an amazing 23% eating it daily, even in summer.

A lot of this must be due to the information now available about the excellent nutritional and health giving properties contained in oats.

For a start, oats are really good at filling us up without too much calorie overload and preventing us snacking on less healthy foods. One cup of plain whole grain cooked oats will have around 147 calories and lots of useful fibre. For instance, oats contain beta-glucans, a type of soluble fibre that slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. This slower digestion prevents the big spikes in blood sugars and insulin levels which can encourage our bodies to produce and store fat. Soluble fibre can also help to trap substances in the body that are associated with high blood cholesterol.

Oats are a really rich source of magnesium. We did a feature recently here at Laterlife on why we all need magnesium and it really is key in energy production plus helps to prevent heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels and can help to regulate blood pressure. There has been evidence that eating magnesium rich foods reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Oats also contain manganese, (yes this is different from magnesium despite the similar sounding words!). Manganese is really useful in helping bone formation. Then oats contain vitamin B1 and also the highest content of lipid in any cereal apart from maize. Things are getting complicated now but basically lipids are molecules that contain hydrocarbons and help to make up the building blocks of the structure and function of living cells. There is more information on this on the web but it is a complex area but something that is very useful to us!

The benefits from oats continue though. When you buy commercial oat products, you will find they usually contain thiamine, which plays a key function in our nervous system, vitamin B6, folate (contributing to our blood formation and immune system); iron, which helps in normal red blood cell formation and our cognitive functions; plus zinc which is involved in many aspects of our health including cell protection and our immune protection.

All round, oats certainly pack a punch of good nutrients.
There can be some confusion between oats and rolled oats.

Oat is the general name for the cereal and it grows with a tough outer shell which is removed before eating. The word groats is not so well recognised but it refers to the grain when it has had this hull removed but still contained the three key part; the germ, the fibrous bran and the endosperm.

Rolled oats are the same groats, but have been rolled into flakes and steamed, and often toasted too. Oatmeal is simply ground up groats, still containing the three key elements. Oatbran is simply the nutrient-rich bran part of the oat and is usually produced through milling.

One of the great things about oats is that they can be used in so many recipes apart from traditional porridge including oat rolled mackerel, fruit crumbles and of course those tasty flap jacks.

Even better, oats really aren’t expensive compared with other foods. No wonder they have become a major staple in modern diets.

 


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