Oats are a beneficial addition to any diet because they are high in fiber, provide important proteins and are packed with iron. Many different types of oats are available on the market today. You can find whole oats, rolled oats, instant oats, quick oats and steel cut oats. Plus, oats are a whole grain and whole grains provide important vitamins and antioxidants to the body.
Forms of Oats
Whole oats, or "groats," are the least processed version of oats. The hull is removed, but the bran, germ and endosperm remain intact and unprocessed. The bran and germ provide B vitamins, vitamin E and other antioxidants, as well as protein. The endosperm provides carbohydrates. Groats are chewier and take a longer time to cook. Rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and pressed to speed up the cooking time. They are the type commonly sold to make the breakfast cereal known as oatmeal. Quick oats are rolled oats that have been cut into smaller pieces to further speed up the cooking process. Instant oats are rolled oats that have been precooked and only need boiling water to be quickly turned into oatmeal. Lastly, there are steel cut, or Irish, oats. Instead of the groats being steamed and pressed, they are cut as-is into small pieces to speed up the cooking process while keeping their chewy texture and nutty flavor.
Oats are a good source of protein because they are a whole grain.Their bran and germ, which contain the protein, remain intact. The less the oatmeal is processed, the higher the protein content will be. Steel cut oats and oat groats have 7 g of protein per 1/4 cup (uncooked) serving, whereas rolled oats have 3 g per 1/4 cup (uncooked). Both are highest in the amino acid glutamic acid, which is necessary for metabolism. Glutamic acid is nonessential, meaning your body can synthesize the appropriate amounts. The amino acid leucine is also prevalent in all types of oats, with more being available in the least processed versions. Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning your body cannot produce it and you must therefore obtain it from your diet. Leucine is used by the liver, muscle tissues and adipose tissues.
Because oats are a whole grain, they are also a good source of fiber. Depending on the type of oatmeal, a 1/4 cup (uncooked) serving can have anywhere from 2 to 4 g of fiber. Many advertisements out there that say eating oatmeal can lower cholesterol and these stem from the fiber content. Oats contain more soluble fiber, the kind that is linked with lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Soluble fiber traps the unused bile in the large intestine, carrying it out of the body and forcing the body to make more. Making bile requires cholesterol, therefore the body uses up more of the cholesterol in the blood when there is more fiber present.
Uses of Oats
Oats have a variety of uses in cooking and baking. Many people enjoy making oatmeal, either from rolled oats, quick or instant oats, or steel cut oats, and mixing it with milk, dried fruit and nuts for a protein- and fiber-packed breakfast. Oats are used to make oatmeal cookies and other baked goods. Many recipes are even using oat flour as a substitute for white or whole wheat flour.
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Erica Steinhart is a registered dietitian and professional writer. Her areas of experience include working with low-income populations and those with disordered eating behaviors. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Delaware.