Load up inside and outside the bowl
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
There's nothing like a soothing bowl of oats to start your day. But we've taken oats beyond breakfast to create healthy oat recipes for every meal.
In the hierarchy of grains, oats don’t get the respect they deserve. That’s because in all the hoopla surrounding quinoa, amaranth and other supergrains, comforting oats have seemingly fallen out of favour with many. Yet, this whole grain has some serious nutritional knockout capabilities.
Among its nutrient highlights are lofty amounts of phosphorus, thiamine, immune-boosting zinc and magnesium. On top of its role in promoting healthy bones and immune function, a growing body of research suggests that the mineral magnesium is an ally in the battle against diabetes. Higher intakes of magnesium may improve insulin sensitivity.
And the rumours are true: oats are a champion for heart health. A large review of studies conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada found that beta glucan, a soluble fibre present in oats, can help lower blood levels of total and LDL cholesterol, both of which are considered risk factors for heart disease. By slowing down rates of digestion and rises in blood sugar, a diet replete with high-fibre foods such as oats may also help slash diabetes risk.
Surprisingly, oats are also rich in disease-thwarting polyphenol antioxidants including avenanthramides. So whether it’s a soothing bowl of steamy porridge or a spirit-lifting homemade oatmeal cookie, there are plenty of reasons to once again embrace oats.
There are plenty of ways to get your oat fix. And unlike most other grains, the bran and germ of the oat remains after hulling, which makes the different types that much more nutritious.
Like wheat, oats are a grass, the grain of which is referred to as the groat. This is why whole oats are often labelled “oat groats” in stores. These are the least processed form of oats available and can make a nutritionally charged addition to salads, soups, casseroles and stews. Oat groats have a nutty flavour and slightly chewy texture.
These are produced when the oat grain is passed through steel blades, cutting the whole oats into pellet-like pieces. Steel-cut oats produce porridge that is especially hearty, creamy and chewy, making it well worth the wait.
These are made when oat groats are steamed and then passed through large rollers to flatten them, which cuts down on cooking time. They are the form of oats most often called for in baking recipes.
Quick-cook oats are groats that have been cut into a few pieces before being steamed and rolled. This means they only take about five minutes to prepare. They can be used interchangeably with old-fashioned oats in recipes, but the latter will yield more texture.
When steamed oats are rolled even more thinly, the result is instant oats. Though much maligned, instant oats are considered a wholegrain breakfast option. Where they fall apart, though, is the copious amount of sugar added to most brands. So if you want the convenience of instant oats in the morning, select plain versions and add fresh fruit for a sweet kick.
This often overlooked wholegrain flour is made by grinding up oat groats into a fine powder. It makes a stellar addition to pancakes, muffins, cakes, cookies and brownies, resulting in a somewhat chewier texture. Because it lacks gluten, it can’t be substituted one to one for wheat flour in recipes that require gluten for rising.
To make your own oat flour, simply blend oat groats in a food processor or other grinder until finely ground. You’ll need about 1 1/4 cups (310 ml) oats to make 1 cup (250 ml) flour. Store oat flour in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer to prevent it from turning rancid, but bring it to room temperature before using.
Whole grains such as oats contain three parts: the endosperm, the germ and the bran. So oat bran is the isolated bran portion. It’s especially abundant in fibre, with a 1/2 cup (125 ml) serving providing 7 g to help keep cholesterol numbers in check. You can use it to bolster the fibre levels of cereal, baked goods, smoothies and even yoghurt.