Oats seem to have gained a lot in popularity in recent years. It’s no wonder why. People have finally realized just how nutritious they are for us to eat! And they have gotten very creative in the ways to include oats in their diets.
If you have questions about oats, hopefully the following article will provide the answers you need. It’s comprehensive, including information from what they are to how to use them, and everything in between! Let me know if your questions are not answered below, and I’ll be glad to help, if I can.
Oats 101 – The Basics
Oats are the edible seed of a grass in the Poaceae family. They are known as a cereal grass or cereal grain because they are specifically grown for their seeds to be eaten as a grain product. Other cereal grasses include wheat, rye, barley, kamut, spelt, triticale, sorghum, rice, corn, and millet.
After oats are harvested, they are cleaned and the outer hulls are removed. At that point, they are known as “whole oat groats.” In the United States, the oat groats are processed from there into (1) “old fashioned” rolled oats, (2) quick and instant rolled oats, and (3) steel cut oats. Old fashioned rolled oats are whole groats that were first steamed, then rolled to flatten. They are then dried. Quick and instant oats have been either rolled or steamed for a longer period of time, or both, to produce oats that cook faster than traditional rolled oats. Steel cut oats are simply whole groats that have been cut into smaller pieces with a steel blade. Steel cut oats may be referred to as “Irish” or “Scottish” oats, but those types of oats have actually been stone-ground rather than steel cut. Steel cut oats can come in assorted size pieces with different cooking times ranging from 5 to 7 minutes, to 20 to 30 minutes. However they are marketed, oats are considered to be a “whole grain.”
Oats have been enjoyed as a food for thousands of years. Today, Russia produces most of the world’s oats, with Canada being the second largest producer. Oats are also grown around the world, with the United States growing about 4% of the world’s supply, with most being grown in Wisconsin.
Nutrition Tidbits and Health Benefits of Oats
Oats are a nutritious grain to say the least. They are an excellent source of manganese and molybdenum, and a good source of phosphorus, copper, biotin, Vitamin B1, magnesium, chromium, zinc, dietary fiber and protein. They also contain important phytonutrients as well. Here are some of the wonderful health benefits of oats:
Antioxidants: In addition to their abundance of vitamins and minerals, oats are rich in antioxidants, some of which are almost unique to oats. These special compounds may help to lower blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels, reducing inflammation and reducing itching from skin disorders.
Protects against heart disease: Oats contain the soluble fiber, beta-glucan, which forms a thick gel-like solution in the digestive tract. Beta-glucan is known to reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan is also known to help protect LDL-cholesterol from oxidative damage, which causes inflammation in the arteries and raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Improves blood sugar control: The soluble fiber in oats, beta-glucan, is also known to help to improve blood sugar control. The fiber delays stomach emptying which slows the absorption of glucose into the blood. Beta-glucan also appears to improve insulin sensitivity, further aiding in the management of blood sugar.
Weight management: Oats are very filling and help us to feel full longer, aiding in weight management. The beta-glucan in oats appears to promote the release of a satiety hormone, leading to a reduced food intake, decreasing the risk of obesity.
Skin care: Finely ground oats, known as “colloidal oatmeal,” have long been used in skin care regimens. Oats applied topically have been shown to relieve itching and inflammation from various skin conditions, including eczema.
Childhood asthma: Researchers believe that introducing solid foods too early in infants can spark the development of asthma and other allergic conditions. Studies have shown that early introduction of oats to infants can help to ward off such developments.
Constipation relief: Studies have found that oat bran can help relieve constipation in elderly people when fed oat bran daily for 12 weeks. Most of the patients were able to stop their use of laxatives after the 3-month study.
Improved gut microbiome: In a study reported in Science News in 2015 (from the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology), researchers found that people who ate beta-glucan-enriched pasta for two months had increased populations of beneficial bacteria and reduced numbers of harmful bacteria in their intestinal tracts. The subjects also had reduced LDL-cholesterol after the trial. This study was in an effort to find prebiotic foods that encourage the growth of healthful bacteria in the gut.
How to Select Oats
Oats have a slightly higher fat content than other grains, so they can go rancid faster than other grains. With that in mind, it may be helpful to purchase smaller amounts at one time if you don’t go through them quickly. Oats are usually sold prepackaged. However, some stores sell oats in bulk bins. When buying oats from bulk bins, be sure there is no sign of moisture, and also smell them to be sure they are fresh. If they have an “off” odor, they may be going rancid and would not be good to buy.
How to Store Oats
For best shelf life, store oats in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Oats will usually come with a “best by” date, so for the best quality be sure to use them before that date.
Do oats contain gluten?
The answer: no and yes. Oats themselves do NOT contain gluten, and are usually safe to consume by people who are gluten-sensitive. However, oats are often processed in a facility that also processes gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye and barley. If oats are processed in the same facility, remnants of the other grains often remain on the equipment and thus “contaminate” the oats with their gluten. Hence, if oats are not labeled as being “gluten-free” they were most likely processed in such a facility and therefore DO contain contaminant gluten.
Oats that are labeled as being “gluten-free” were processed in a facility dedicated to processing only gluten-free grains. Therefore, they can be safely consumed by those who are sensitive to gluten.
There is a small subset of gluten-sensitive people who do react to oats labeled as being gluten free. Scientists are not certain as to why, but they have found that some gluten-sensitive people react to some (non-gluten) proteins that are found in some, but not all varieties of oats. Furthermore, oats grown in fields next to fields growing gluten-containing grains may also become contaminated with gluten. It might be possible that these people are reacting to gluten contamination from neighboring fields, or to the non-gluten proteins that are found in some varieties of oats. Therefore, if you are gluten-sensitive and find that you have reacted to oats labeled as being gluten-free, it might be best to avoid eating oats altogether.
Can you eat uncooked oats?
Some raw food enthusiasts have wondered if oats can be eaten raw. The oats we buy have already been processed to some degree, so technically speaking they are not “raw.” Then the question remains, “Can we eat oats uncooked?” Yes, they can be eaten uncooked, but it’s not advised to eat them dry. Eating uncooked dry oats can cause them to build up in your stomach or intestines, causing indigestion or constipation. Furthermore, raw oats contain phytic acid, which binds to the minerals in oats, making them hard for the body to absorb. Soaking oats before consuming them reduces the phytic acid content, making them easier to digest and preventing constipation.
Healthful ways to eat uncooked oats include adding them to smoothies or stirring them into yogurt. Oats may also be soaked overnight (in the refrigerator) in water or milk. They will absorb a lot of the liquid, making them more digestible in the morning. So, uncooked oats can be included in a healthy diet as long as they are soaked or moistened in some way beforehand so they are not consumed dry.
How to Prepare Oats
Oats are usually prepared by being placed in cold water, then brought to a simmer and cooked until tender. The time will depend upon the type of oat being cooked. Usually 1 part of oats is cooked in 2 parts of water; however, steel cut oats will require more water, often up to 3 parts water to 1 part of oats. Follow the package directions to be sure.
Tips and Quick Ideas
* For a delicious breakfast, add some of your favorite nuts and cut fruit to a bowl of hot oatmeal.
* Substitute up to 25% of oat flour for wheat flour in baked goods for a nutrition and flavor boost.
* Do you need oat flour for a recipe? Simply place some oats in a coffee grinder, food processor, or high-speed blender, process, and you’ll have oat flour in no time!
* Oats can be used as a thickener for soups or stews simply by adding a tablespoon or two of oats or oat flour to your food after it has cooked or while it’s cooking. Allow 5 to 10 minutes for it to thicken the liquid.
* When you’re short on time to prepare breakfast, try overnight oats that are soaked in milk or water overnight in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to eat in the morning, your breakfast will be waiting for you.
* Adding oats to a smoothie is a great way to thicken it while adding lots of nutrients and healthful fiber.
* Use oats to bind the ingredients of veggie patties and burgers.
* Use oats as a basis for homemade granola cereal or granola bars.
* Oats can be used in place of crushed graham crackers in pie crusts, such as in a cheesecake or tart.
* Make your own oat milk simply by blending 1 cup of oats with 2-1/2 to 4 cups of water. Strain it or not…it’s up to you. Add a little sweetener and/or vanilla, if you want. Stir it before you use it. Store extra in the refrigerator and use it within 2 or 3 days. If you elect to strain your oat milk, use the pulp in veggie patties, meatloaves, baked goods, smoothies, pancakes, or any other way you can sneak it into your foods.
* Rolled (old-fashioned) and quick cooking oats are interchangeable in most recipes. Instant oats are not interchangeable, since they have already been fully cooked then dried.
* When making yeast breads, oat flour can be combined with wheat flour (up to 25% substitution). A 100% oat flour yeast bread will not rise because yeast needs gluten to rise.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well With Oats
Cardamom, cinnamon, dill, fennel seeds, ginger, mace, nutmeg, parsley, sage, vanilla
Other Foods That Go Well With Oats
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, cashews, chicken, eggs, nuts (in general), pecans, pork, seeds (esp. flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), walnuts
Fruit: Apples, apple juice, apricots, bananas, berries (esp. blueberries, raspberries), coconut, dried fruits (esp. cherries, cranberries, currants, dates, figs, peaches, plums, raisins), fruit juice (in general), oranges, peaches, pears, plums, raisins
Other Grains and Grain Products: Baked goods, breading
Milk and Non-Dairy: Butter, buttermilk, cheese, cream, milk (dairy), milk (non-dairy, esp. almond, coconut, hemp, rice, soy), yogurt
Other Foods: Honey, kefir, maple syrup, molasses, oil (esp. coconut, flaxseed, safflower, sesame), salt, stock (vegetable), sugar (esp. brown)
Oats have been used in the following dishes and cuisines:
Baked goods (esp. biscuits, breads, cakes, cookies, muffins, quick breads), breading, cereals (esp. hot breakfast), desserts (esp. fruit crisps and crumbles), Irish cuisine, vegetarian meatballs, burgers or meatloaf, muesli, pancakes and waffles, Scottish cuisine, soups (esp. Irish, Scottish, and as a thickener to make it creamier), trail mix
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Oats
Combine oats with the following…
Almonds + Cinnamon + Fruit + Maple Syrup
Almonds + Cashews + Cinnamon + Maple Syrup + Vanilla
Almonds + Cinnamon + Yogurt
Apples + Brown Sugar + Cinnamon + Raisins
Apples + Cheddar Cheese
Apples + Cinnamon + Honey + Raisins
Bananas + Cinnamon + Maple Syrup
Brown Sugar + Nuts + Raisins
Cinnamon + Figs + Honey + Vanilla
Cinnamon + Maple Syrup
Cranberries + Nuts
Ginger + Plums
Pecans + Sweet Potatoes + Vanilla
25 Ways to Use Oats When You’ve Had Enough Oatmeal https://greatist.com/eat/oat-recipes-that-arent-just-oatmeal
51 Oats Recipes That Go Beyond Oatmeal https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/15-ways-to-eat-your-oats-gallery
13 Wonderful Ways to Eat Your Oats https://www.thekitchn.com/13-wonderful-ways-to-eat-your-oats-227179
Savory Oats With Ontario Greenhouse Grown Tomatoes https://producemadesimple.ca/savory-oats-with-ontario-greenhouse-grown-tomatoes/
Overnight Oats with Stone Fruit https://producemadesimple.ca/overnight-oats-with-stone-fruit/
Breakfast Oatmeal Cupcakes to Go https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2013/01/08/breakfast-oatmeal-cupcakes-to-go/
50 Things to Make with Oats https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/articles/50-things-to-make-with-oats
50 Best Oatmeal Recipes https://fitfoodiefinds.com/the-50-best-oatmeal-recipes-on-the-planet/
Oat Breaded Pork Medallions with Dijon Mushroom Sauce https://oatseveryday.com/blog/elegant-main-dishes-oats/
17 Next-Level Ways to Eat Oats https://nutritiouslife.com/eat-empowered/creative-oat-recipes/
Easy Recipes to Make the Most of Oat Pulp https://www.plantmilk.org/2018/06/28/easy-recipes-to-make-the-most-of-leftover-oat-pulp/
Oat Milk—Here’s Everything You Need to Know https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2019/04/25/oat-milk-recipe-how-to/
How to Use Oat Flour https://www.everydayglutenfreegourmet.ca/how-to-use-oat-flour/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.