They are mainly eaten as porridge, as an ingredient in breakfast cereals, and in baked goods (oatcakes, oat cookies, and oat bread). Over the past few decades, oats have become a very popular “health food.”
Oats are loaded with dietary fiber (containing more than many other grains) and have a range of healthy cholesterol-lowering properties.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. We will cover any health benefits that oats might have and explain the research behind these claims.
The possible health benefits of oats include: reducing the risk of coronary artery disease, lowering levels of cholesterol, and reducing one’s risk of colorectal cancer.
1) Oats and coronary artery disease
A paper published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine in 2008, assessed a number of studies across more than a decade.
They found that eating foods rich in whole-oat sources of soluble fiber (oats, oat bran, and oat flour) may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
2) Colorectal cancer
Researchers in Britain and the Netherlands pooled published evidence that covered nearly 2 million people to evaluate whether a high-fiber diet (mainly from whole grains and cereals like oats) is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Their findings were published in BMJ.
The study found that for every additional 10 grams per day of fiber in someone’s diet there is a 10 percent reduction in their risk of developing colorectal cancer. The authors concluded, “A high intake of dietary fibre, in particular, cereal fiber and whole grains, was associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.”
3) Blood pressure
An article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that a diet including plenty of whole-grains (such as oats or wholemeal bread) is just as effective as taking anti-hypertensive medication in lowering blood pressure.
They found that three portions per day can”significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure-lowering mechanisms.”
4) Digestion and obesity
According to a wide-reaching collection of scientific reviews published in the October 2014 supplement issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, oats may play an important role in improving satiety (the feeling of fullness), diet quality, and digestive, cardiovascular, and general metabolic health.
Whole grains are often recommended for their beneficial effects on the gastrointestinal tract. The researchers suggest potential health effects ranging from improved immune health to reducing the risk of obesity and chronic disease.
According to the supplement, epidemiological evidence suggests that regular consumption of whole-grain foods may be correlated with lower body mass index. The researchers state that eating oats appears to help reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness.
Also, oats and their fiber content help keep the gastrointestinal tract running smoothly; they can help reduce constipation.
5) Antioxidants in oats
Oats contain a range of molecules that act as antioxidants; this includes avenanthramides, which are polyphenols. Avenanthramides may play a role in keeping blood pressure low by increasing nitric oxide production. They could also have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties when applied topically to the skin.
Dietary fiber — oats are rich in a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan. This particular type of fiber is known to help lower levels of bad cholesterol. One cup (81 grams) of dry oats contains 7.5 grams of fiber, the recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Minerals — oats are rich in a range of important minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Just 100 grams of oats contain:
- 51 percent of the daily recommended intake of thiamine
- 8 percent riboflavin
- 5 percent niacin
- 6 percent vitamin B6
- 14 percent folate
- 13 percent pantothenic acid
- 26 percent iron
- 44 percent magnesium
- 52 percent phosphorus
- 12 percent potassium
- 26 percent zinc
- 31 percent copper
- 246 percent manganese
Calories — one cup of dry oats (80g) contains approximately 297 calories.
Although oats don’t contain gluten, in rare cases, they are grown in the same fields as wheat or barley, and these crops can sometimes contaminate oats with gluten. Therefore, those who have gluten intolerance or celiac disease may have to exercise caution when eating oats.
Are oats gluten-free?
People with gluten intolerance, particularly those with celiac disease, may still need to be careful about eating oats. One reason is that they can easily be contaminated with gluten, because they may have been grown in fields near wheat and other gluten-containing crops.
Additionally, many oat-processing plants also process foods that contain gluten. People with gluten intolerances should always check food labels, and look for oats that are completely free of gluten.