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Welcome to Hawthorn’s Healthy Kitchen! Most people can agree that sound nutrition provides an essential foundation to ultimate health and longevity, however learning about various healthy food options, their health benefits, and more importantly how to use them in the kitchen can be extremely daunting! That’s where we come in! January is National Oat Month so join us as we learn more about a long time breakfast favorite – oats!
Introduction to Oats
Botanically known as Avena sativa, oats are a type of cereal grain from the Poaceae grass family of plants. The part that is commonly consumed actually specifically refers to the edible seeds of oat grass, but when it comes to commercially available oats there are a number of terms thrown around that can sound confusing and unfamiliar.
- Oat Groats
Groats are a whole oat that has not been steamed, pressed, or broken apart in any way except to remove the inedible outer hull. Due to their lack of pre-processing, oat groats take the longest to prepare, about 45-60 minutes.
- Steel Cut Oats (also called Irish Oats)
This type of oats are oat groats that have been cut up into pieces. This minimal processing technique cuts the required cooking time to 20-40 minutes. As a general rule, the smaller the pieces, the shorter the cooking time. (Scottish oats are oat groats that are stone ground to a more mealy consistency.)
- Rolled Oats (also called Old Fashioned Oats)
These are whole oat groats that have been steamed and pressed then dried out. This helps extend the shelf life and shortens the cooking time to a mere 10 minutes.
- Quick-Cooking Oats
To shorten cooking time further, this type of oats are steel cut oats that have been steamed longer, pressed, and dried. The required cooking time is cut further to 3-5 minutes.
- Instant Oats
These are among the most processed oats. They are quick cook oats that have been pre-cooked then dried. They often contain preservatives, sweeteners, and other additives common to processed foods. They have the shortest cooking time at 1-4 minutes.
Where do oats come from?
Oats are among the oldest grains. Archaeological findings of oats date back to Ancient Egypt and the 12 Dynasty in China, however it is believed that these were unlikely to be of the cultivated variety.1 The oldest cultivated oats date back to the Bronze Age (3000-1200 BC) were found in Swiss caves. Literary mention of cultivated oats are found as far back as the 1st century AD. Oats are believed to have originated in multiple places including Asia and the Mediterranean.1
In contemporary times, oats are cultivated all over the world. Today, the Russian Federation remains the world’s largest producer of oats, with Canada coming in second. Oats made their way to the US in the 1800s.2 Currently, within the U.S., Wisconsin is the largest oat-producing state, with about $31 million in total production.
When purchasing oats, it is important to buy only the quantity that can be consumed fairly quickly. The higher fat content of oats means that they are more likely to go rancid in storage than other grains. Also consider that oats that are more processed (the quick and instant varieties in particular) are often laden with salt, sugar, preservatives, or other additives so be sure to read labels carefully.
What nutrients do oats contain?
Oats are considered a high nutrition food – providing a rich source of protein, fats, starch/fiber, vitamins, and minerals.3 Oats are an excellent source of manganese and molybdenum. They are also a very good source of phosphorus as well as a good source of copper, biotin, vitamin B1, magnesium, chromium, and zinc.2
Oats are primarily made up of carbohydrates. Of this, approximately 85% is starch with around 11% being fiber (mostly a soluble type known as beta glucan).4 The starch in oats is unique to most grains. It has a higher fat content and high viscosity meaning it has an incredible ability to bind water.5 There are three types of starch found in oats:
- Rapidly digested starch, which is quickly
metabolized and absorbed as glucose.
- Slowly digested starch that is slower to be broken down and absorbed.
- Resistant starch is not well digested and actually functions more like fiber inside the body. This type of starch actually helps to feed the bacteria of the gut microbiome.6
Oats are also a significant protein source particularly when compared to other grains.7 The major protein in oats — at 80% of the total content — is avenalin, which isn’t found in any other grain but is similar to legume proteins.8 Avenalin is a globulin type storage protein (versus the protamine gluten found in most grains) and is generally well tolerated by most individuals. Oats are generally less likely to cause immune reaction/allergy than gluten containing grains.
Note: Oats do not contain gluten like other grain types but cross contamination with gluten containing grains is common in commercially produced oats so there are varieties that bear a “gluten free” label. Many scientific studies have shown that the regular consumption of moderate amounts of oats is safe for adult celiac patients.9 Although oats do not naturally contain gluten, they do contain small amounts of avenin which is also a prolamine and is structurally similar which may cause reactivity in a minority of celiac patients.10 However, recent research has suggested that it may only be in certain strains of oats which could produce a toxic response to people with celiac disease. Research suggests that the risk from consuming oats may be less harmful than first thought; however, may vary according to the strain of oat.3
What medical conditions/symptoms can oats help with?
(Click item for a direct link to supporting research!)
Try out oats at home with these delicious and nutritious recipes!
Carrot Cake Steel Cut Oats
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup Steel Cut (Quick and Easy) Irish Oatmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained, unsweetened
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- unsweetened coconut flakes, for serving
- chopped, toasted pecans, for serving
- half n half or coconut cream, for serving
- In a medium pot, bring the water and milk to a boil. Add oats, salt, carrots, and raisins; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 6-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat and stir in the pineapple, cinnamon, and brown sugar.
- Divide among 6 bowls; top with a sprinkle of unsweetened coconut and chopped, toasted pecans, and a drizzle of half n half or coconut cream.
- Serve and enjoy!
Note: It is important to get the Quick and Easy variety of steel cut oats to shorten cooking time, but regular steel cut oats may also be used and the cooking time adjusted.
Many thanks to bellyfull.net for this wonderful recipe.
Flourless Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 16 cookies
- 2 cups quick oats
- 2 (approx. 1.25 cups) ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter of choice)
- 1–2 tbsp maple syrup, coconut sugar, or stevia to taste
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup chocolate chips or 1/4 cup add-in of choice such as chopped nuts, raisins, or dried cranberries (add up to 1/2 cup if you want and feel free to mix and match!)
- Pre-heat oven to 350.
- Mash the bananas in a bowl with a fork until they form a thick, smooth paste.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until everything is combined into a dough.
- Drop 16 spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, shaping each spoonful into a cookie shape. The cookies will not change shape during baking, so make sure you create the cookie shape you want beforehand. You can make them larger and flatter or keep them as more of a haystack-style.
- Bake for 15 minutes. They should be firm and slightly browned when done.
- Let cool completely before storing. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days, in the fridge for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.
Notes: The maple syrup, vanilla, salt, chocolate chips, etc. are all optional. The most basic version of this recipe is just the oats, banana, and peanut butter. Feel free to use the add-ins to suit your needs and taste preferences.
Rolled or old fashioned oats are totally fine to use in this recipe but quick oats hold together a little better since they are finer.
These have a soft, baked oatmeal-like texture and do not get hard or crunchy. Gratitude to runningonrealfood.com for this great recipe!
Andrea Pryce, N.D., received her baccalaureate degree from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and is a 2006 graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Following completion of her N.D. degree she went into private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has a strong background in biomedical research with significant experience in both bench top and field research. She has worked as a bench top research associate performing genetic oncology assays for a major biomedical research foundation. Additionally, she served as a project coordinator for a homeopathy study co-conducted by the Southwest College Research Institute and the University of Arizona’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. She maintains a research interest in the epigenetics and nutrigenomics particularly as they relate to oncology. In 2009, she moved to Florida and began working at Life Extension in Fort Lauderdale where she was Medical Editor for their monthly magazine. Dr. Pryce joined the faculty at Hawthorn University in April of 2014 and also serves on the faculty of Everglades University. She has recently joined the team at the Integrative Health Institute in Boca Raton, Florida.