Photo by nate steiner via Flickr
Most mornings, I have a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries mixed in. I’ll have fresh blueberries if they are in season, but otherwise, I go with frozen. Pure heaven! I know many people will think I’m crazy, but once you get used to eating oatmeal, you will agree. There is nothing like a nice, hot, steaming bowl of oatmeal to start the morning off right. It is the breakfast of champions!
Why is oatmeal so healthy?
Oatmeal is gaining in popularity again due to its ability to lower cholesterol. That benefit is due to the water soluble fiber that oatmeal contains, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. However, don’t think that eating oatmeal for breakfast will be enough to counteract the eating of a high fat diet the rest of the time. Oatmeal cannot undo the effects of such an unhealthy diet. Oatmeal, like any cholesterol lowering food, is most effective when the rest of your diet is heart healthy.
Now, the health benefits of eating oatmeal are not limited to improving your cholesterol. Eating oats also helps control blood sugar levels because it is a complex carbohydrate and complex carbohydrates release energy, in the form of glucose, more slowly into the bloodstream than simple carbohydrates. That gives you a more sustained energy that will last you until lunch, rather than the quick energy a donut provides, which will make you feel hungry again much sooner. Plus oatmeal is full of fiber, making you feel full with less calories, which is also a great thing for weight control. And as an added benefit, oatmeal has also been shown to be a great source of manganese and selenium.
Which oats should I choose?
Now, when you go to the store to buy oats, there are actually four varieties of oats available to choose from: steel cut, rolled (also called old fashioned), quick and instant. The difference between the different varieties is in the cooking time (finer cuts cook more quickly) and texture and not so much in nutritional value. The processing does not appear to dramatically change the nutritional value of the oats. The exception to that is instant oatmeal, which is often loaded with salt, sugar and even fat.
However, it is the flavor and texture that is lost in processing, creating a blander, mushier product. Here are the four varieties of oats from least to most processed.
- Steel cut oats: Also known as Irish oats or Scottish oats, they are the least processed of all the varieties and are the closest to the original whole form. They look like kernels. They are produced by running the grain through steel blades that slice each oat into 2 or 3 pieces. Steel cuts are a slow cooking oatmeal. They take 30 minutes to cook and have a denser, chewier texture that are preferred by many.
- Rolled or old fashioned oats: These have a flatter look, due to being steamed and rolled. They take 5 to 7 minutes to cook.
- Quick oats: The processing for these is very similar to rolled oats. The difference is that they are cut into smaller pieces prior to the steaming and rolling. They take about 3 to 5 minutes to cook.
- Instant oatmeal: The grains are precooked and dried prior to being rolled until they are very thin. Cooking time is usually 2 to 3 minutes. Often, sugar, salt and other additives are added to the finished product, making it the least healthy choice.
So, choose the oats you use for your oatmeal based on the time you have available and the taste and texture you prefer. Any variety, with the exception of instant oatmeal, will make for a heart healthy breakfast.
The bottom line:
Oatmeal is a great food for people trying to reduce or control their weight because it fills you up with less calories and gives you sustained energy that will last you longer than less healthy alternatives. Plus, it is an important part of a heart healthy diet that helps to prevent or combat heart disease and high cholesterol. So, have a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. And don’t forget the blueberries!