Oats or Avena sativa are one of the most endowed grains when it comes to nutrients, as they are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. This rich content of healthy nutrients account for its many benefits which include lowering blood cholesterol, aiding weight loss, relieving constipation, and controlling diabetes.
Botanical name: Avena sativa
Other names: Steelcut oats, Rolled oats, Oatmeal
Oat is the fruit of the oat plant, Avena sativa, a herbaceous and annual plant of the botanical family Poaceae. Oats are composed of a bran and a seed which makes it a grain.
- Oats are used for human consumption, mostly as oatmeal or rolled oats. Oatmeal is prepared by rolling or crushing oats. It is usually eaten soaked in milk, or in the form of oatmeal cookies or cakes.
- Oat flour can be obtained after grounding oats into fine pieces. This flour is used to make bread and several kinds of dishes.
- Surprisingly, oats are more commonly consumed as animal feed than human’s. Even among the animals, they are commonly used as horse feeds.
- Oats are also used to make several drinks, and occasionally, in brewing.
- Industrially, oats extracts are used to make number of cosmetic products.
- Oats and its grass also have a long history of use in medicine. Its grass has been used medicinally to treat dysmenorrhoea, osteoporosis, and urinary tract infections. It is also used to help balance menstrual cycle.
Oats are one of the most endowed grains when it comes to minerals. They are certainly among the top nutrient-rich grains in the world. Below are its properties:
- Oats contain carbohydrates in high amounts. It is the most abundant nutrient in oats, representing about 66% of its total content. Carbohydrates in oats are easily assimilated and also absorbed slowly in the body. Like this, they provide energy for several hours, and this has been attibuted to the characteristic structure of the oat grain.
► Fructose – This is found in small amounts together with other carbohydrates. It does not require insulin before they can be absorbed and utilized by the body cells. This property makes them highly tolerated by the diabetics.
► Mucilage – This is also a form of carbohydrate present in oats that has the propensity to retain water. This property makes it very suitable for those with gastritis and colitis.
- Oats are considerably rich in minerals, as they contain iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorus in very high amounts. Others minerals in significant amounts include calcium and potassium. Interestingly, oats lack sodium.
- Vitamins are not left out in oats, as they are contained in reasonable amounts. Some of the vitamins that stand out in oats are vitamin B1 and vitamin B5. Others contained in significant quantities include folates, niacin, and riboflavin.
- Oats contain proteins in abundant amounts, representing about 17% of its total content. The proteins contains all the essential amino acids but not in the required proportions. Moreover, oats contain a few amounts of lysine and threonine and have an excess amount of methionine. On the other hand, legumes such as beans or lentils are very rich in lysine but lacks methionine. Due to this deficiencies on both hands, the combination of oats with legumes is highly recommended in order to supply the body with complete proteins.
- Fats are also found in oats, but in this case they are of nutritional value. This is due to the fact that the fats are made up of about 80% unsaturated fatty acids and only about 20% saturated acids. This dominance of unsaturated fatty acids in oats, makes it to have a regulating effect on the synthesis of cholesterol.
- Another important component of oats is its vegetable fiber. This vegetable fiber is mainly found in its outer layer and its bran. It contains beta-glucan, which is a soluble substance derived from cellulose. It helps lowers cholesterol levels due to its actions in absorbing and removing bile acids, which are the major components of cholesterol. Apart from its cholesterol lowering effect, it also acts as a mild laxative.
- Oats contain another important substance known as lecithin. This substance helps in lowering cholesterol level and also has some benefits to the nervous system. Another substance known as Avenasterol is present in oats, even though the substance is similar to cholesterol, it plays an interesting role by interfering with the absorption of main cholesterol.
8 Health benefits and medicinal uses of oats
- Lowers cholesterol level due to its richness in fiber
- Improves heart health
- Fights nervous system disorders
- Manages diabetes
- Relieves constipation
- Improves digestive function
- Aids weight loss
- Good for the skin
The presence of beta-glucan in the wheat bran of oats helps lower the body’s cholesterol level. It helps eliminate the bile salts in the intestine which forms cholesterol as well as reduce the absorption of fats by the body.
This research conducted in 2013 proved the effect of beta-glucan in lowering blood cholesterol level (1).
Improves heart health
Thanks to the fiber content of oats for helping in lowering cholesterol levels. Whenever the body gets rid of excess cholesterol, the risk of heart disease or the entire cardiovascular system disorders is greatly reduced. Excess cholesterol in the body can buildup in our arteries and block blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Such situations can lead to deadly conditions like heart attack and stroke.
Nervous system disorders
The presence of some important substances in oats such as fatty acids, phosphorus, lecithin, vitamin B1, and glucose, enhances the functioning of the nervous system. Additionally, presence of an important substance known as avenine in oats has a sedating effect on the nervous system (makes one more relaxed and calm).
Worth mentioning is the iron content of oats, which can help increase oxygen supply to the brain. This greatly improves brain functioning, which is critical for a healthy nervous system. People suffering from disorders such as nervousness, insomnia, fatigue, and depression, may find the consumption of oats to be very beneficial.
Even though oats contain very high carbohydrate content, they still remain tolerated by the diabetics. This is due to the carbohydrate content being dominated by fructose. Moreover, beta-glucan a substance found in oats bran, has been proved to greatly improve the tolerance of glucose released from starch during digestion of food materials.
In 2015, a research took place to find if oat intake was beneficial for type 2 diabetic patients (2). Interestingly, oat consumption was found to help lower the level of blood glucose and even LDL or bad cholesterol.
Characterized by infrequent bowel movements that are hard to pass, constipation becomes a major digestive tract disorder. The rich fiber content of oats, especially its bran, can act as great laxative to help aid the movement of stool down the colon. The fiber content stimulated peristaltic action of the gut which is necessary for moving feces out of the body.
A research conducted in 2008, found fiber consumption in form of oat bran to help relieve constipation in elderly people, which went as far as making them to abandon their laxative pills (3).
The mucilage present in oats accounts for this property. It possess a soothing effect, as well as ease of digestion. Moreover, the rich fiber content of oats can improve digestive function by stimulating peristaltic action of the gut, enhancing the secretion of digestive juices, and promoting the growth of beneficial gut flora.
The consumption of oats in combination with either milk or broth may be beneficial for those suffering from gastroduodenal ulcer, gastritis, colitis, and even diverticulosis.
By now, you must have known that oat meals are very filling, especially if you do consume them for breakfast. Oats, due to richness in protein and fiber (beta-glucan), can make you go full for a very long time, and prevent you from eating those high-fat between-the-meal snacks.
Moreover, beta-glucan contained in oats has been linked with increased release of peptide hormone YY, which is produced in the gut in response to eating (4). This hormone has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity and total calorie intake.
Good for the skin
As we have seen earlier in the uses of oats, some of its extracts are used to make cosmetic products. This is actually no fluke, as oats have a long history of benefits for the skin. Most cosmetic products that contain oats often indicate its content as colloidal oatmeal.
Oatmeal has been found to eliminate excess oils in the skin. This actually justifies its use in fighting acne (5). Colloidal oatmeal compounds have also been found to be beneficial in the treatment of atopic dermatitis and eczema (6).
Oat water as a medicine
Oat water can be prepared by placing two spoons of oats grain in one liter of water. This mixture is boiled for about five minutes then strained carefully. The resulting liquid may be sweetened with honey – this is optional. It can be consumed throughout the day.
Oat water has a stabilizing and an invigorating effect on the nervous system. Its consumption may be beneficial in cases of arterial hypertension and nervousness.