Oats: Natural Weight-Loss Foods

Oats fill the bill when it comes to reducing hunger and keeping you on your diet plan. The soluble fiber in oats fills you up by creating gels. The gels delay stomach emptying, so you feel full longer, which helps with weight loss.

Whether horse feed or muffins come to mind when you think of oats, you're probably underestimating this truly healthful grain. A whole grain full of fiber, oats pack plenty of punch.


Health Benefits

Eating a bowl of oatmeal in the morning can easily help you increase your intake of whole grains and help you meet the Dietary Guidelines' recommendation to make half of the grains you eat whole grains. Whole grains are beneficial not just because of their fiber, but also because they contain a variety of minerals and phytonutrients. Some of the phytonutrients include lignans, which may help protect your heart; plant sterols and stanols, which help normalize blood cholesterol levels; and antioxidants such as phenolic and phytic acids.

Since the mid 1960s, many studies have highlighted the effect of oats' soluble fiber (the same beta-glucans found in barley) on blood-cholesterol levels. On average, eating three grams of soluble (not total) fiber a day (the amount in two bowls of oatmeal or one cup of cooked oat bran) reduced cholesterol by six points in three months. Participants with the highest cholesterol levels saw the best response; those whose blood-cholesterol levels were over 220 mg/dL saw their levels drop by 8 to 23 percent. Those who ate the most oat bran benefited the most. Another study showed that in certain individuals, oat bran can be as effective as, and certainly much less expensive as, medication in curbing elevated blood-cholesterol levels.

Similarly exciting results have been seen in people with diabetes and those with high-normal blood-sugar levels. The soluble fiber in oats means slower digestion, spreading the rise in blood sugar over a longer time period. Some people with diabetes who followed a diet high in soluble fiber from sources like oats and beans have been able to reduce their medication. Oats have more to offer everyone. They are tops in protein and manganese, providing 50 percent of the recommended intake for this mineral. In addition, they offer an unusual amount of iron, thiamin, and magnesium.


Selection and Storage

The bran of the oat grain is the outer layer of the oat kernel, where much of the fiber and many of the nutrients reside. Whole oats (rolled or steel-cut) contain the bran along with the rest of the oat kernel. Oat bran contains the same nutrients and fiber found in whole oats but they are more concentrated. So eating whole oats will give you the same benefits of oat bran, you'll just need to eat more of it to get the same effect.

Cooking time and texture are the only differences among the varieties. Steel-cut oats, sometimes called Scotch oats or Irish oats, are whole oats sliced into thick, elongated pieces. They have a chewy texture and take about 20 minutes to cook.


Rolled oats are steamed and flattened between steel rollers, so they take about five minutes to cook and are easier to chew than steel-cut oats.

Quick oats are cut into smaller pieces before being rolled, so they cook very quickly, in about a minute.

Instant oats are precooked and pressed so thin it takes only boiling water to "reconstitute" them. Generally, they have a lot of added sodium; the flavored versions also have added sugar. Try the different varieties to see which flavor and texture you like better.

Store oats in a dark, dry location in a well-sealed container. Oats will keep up to a year. Whole oats are more likely to go rancid, so be sure to refrigerate them.


Preparation and Serving Tips

To make oatmeal, all you do is simmer rolled oats in water on the stove for five minutes (one minute for quick oats). You can also cook oats in the microwave. Start with 1/3 cup oats and 2/3 cup milk for a calcium boost. Microwave for 3 minutes. Do not overcook your oatmeal or it will be thick and gummy. If you like, sprinkle with cinnamon and top with fat-free milk. You couldn't find a more satisfying, low-fat, high-fiber way to start the day. Oat bran can be served as a hot cereal, too; it takes about six minutes to cook, or bake oat bran into a low-fat muffin recipe.

Granola is traditionally made with oats. By making it yourself, you can avoid the fat trap that many commercial varieties fall into. First, toast the oats in a shallow pan in an oven preheated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally until brown. Then combine the oats with wheat germ, raisins, your favorite nuts or seeds (toasted), dried fruit if you like, and a little honey. Let the mixture cool, then store it in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.


Whole oats (called groats) can be cooked (simmer with 3 parts water for 50 to 60 minutes) and combined with rice for a pilaf or mixed with vegetables and seeds for a main dish.

Both oat bran and oats (rolled or quick) can be used in baking. Oats alone don't contain enough gluten to make bread, but you can modify your recipes to include half the grain as oats. To make oat flour, pulverize rolled oats in a coffee grinder until they have the same consistency as flour.

Whether you want to lose weight or simply do something good for your health, incorporating this food into your diet will bring big nutritious dividends.

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