Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Health Benefits of Oats

oats are heart healthy

While the health benefits of oats are documented in hundreds of studies, we've listed just a sample here to indicate the power of oats to improve human health.

Oats May Reduce Asthma Risk in Children

While there is widespread belief that introducing solid foods to children too early may cause later health problems, a Finnish prospective study of 1293 children found that those introduced earlier to oats were in fact less likely to develop persistent asthma.
British Journal of Nutrition, January 2010; 103(2):266-73

Oats May Boost Nutrition Profile of Gluten-free Diets

Two recent studies out of Scandinavia show that adding oats to a gluten-free diet may enhance the nutritional values of the diets, particularly for vitamins and minerals, as well as increasing antioxidant levels.  Researchers asked 13 men and 18 women with Celiac disease to follow a gluten-free diet with the addition of kilned (stabilized) or unkilned oats.  After six months, the addition of stabilized oats resulted in an increased intake of vitamin B1 and magnesium, while the unkilned oats increased intakes of magnesium and zinc.  In the second study from Scandinavia, the addition of gluten-free oats allowed people on gluten-free diets to achieve their recommended daily intakes of fiber, as well as increasing levels of a particular antioxidant called bilirubin, which helps the body eliminate free radicals as well as protect the brain from oxidative damage.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2010; 64:62-67, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2009.113 and
The European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, December 2009; e315-e320

Oats Increase Appetite-Control Hormones

Australian researchers studied fourteen people who ate a control meal and three different cereals with different levels of oat beta glucan. They then collected blood samples for four hours after each meal, and found a significant dose response between higher levels of oat beta glucan and higher levels of Peptide Y-Y, a hormone associated with appetite control.
Nutrition Research, October 2009; 29(10):705-9

Oat Beta Glucans Improve Immune System Defenses

Italian researchers reviewed existing research about the positive effects of beta glucans on human health. They found that, in addition to reducing cholesterol and blunting glycemic and insulin response,  beta glucans boost defenses of the immune system agains bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.
Minerva Medica, June 2009; 100(3):237-45

Oats Help Cut the Use of Laxatives

Laxative use, especially among the elderly in nursing homes, can lead to malnutrition and unwanted weight loss. Viennese researchers studied 30 frail nursing-home residents in a controlled, blind, intervention trial where 15 patients received 7-8g of oat bran per day. At the end of 6 weeks, 59% of the oat group had discontinued laxative use while maintaining body weight; the control group showed an 8% increase in laxative use and a decrease in body weight.
Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging, February 2009; 13(2):136-9

Oats May Help Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Researchers in Mannheim, Germany carried out a dietary intervention with 14 patients who had uncontrolled type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. The patients were introduced to a diabetes-appropriate diet containing oatmeal during a short hospital stay, then examined again four weeks later. On average, patients achieved a 40% reduction in insulin dosage – and maintained the reduction even after 4 weeks on their own at home.
Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes, February 2008; 116(2):132-4

Oats May Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Researchers in Chicago carried out a randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trial of ninety-seven men and women, in which half of the group consumed foods containing oat beta-glucan, while the other half ate control foods. At the end of the trial period, the oat group showed improvements in insulin sensitivity, while the control group was unchanged.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2007; 61(6):786-95

Oats Lower Bad Cholesterol

Researchers at Colorado State University randomly assigned thirty-six overweight middle-aged men to eat either an oat or wheat cereal daily for twelve weeks. At the end of the three-month period, the men eating the oat cereal had lower concentrations of small, dense LDL cholesterol (thought to be particularly dangerous) and lower LDL overall, compared to those in the wheat group, while their HDL (“good”) cholesterol was unchanged.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2002; 76(2):351-8

Oats Help Control Blood Pressure

Using a randomized, controlled parallel-group pilot study, researchers followed 18 hypertensive and hyperinsulemic men and women for six weeks, while half of them ate oat cereal (5.52g/day of beta-glucan) and the others ate a lower-fiber cereal (less than 1g total fiber). The oat group enjoyed a 7.5mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure and a 5.5 mm Hg reduction in diastolic blood pressure, while the wheat group was unchanged.
Journal of Family Practice, April 2002; 51(4):369

Oats #3 Overall, #1 for Breakfast, in Satiety Index

Also in Australia, researchers at the University of Sydney fed 38 different foods, one by one, to 11-13 different people, then asked them to report their “satiety” or fullness every 15 minutes for the next two hours. From this, they ranked all 38 foods in a “Satiety Index.” Oatmeal rated #3 overall for making people feel satisfied and full, and it rated #1 in the breakfast food group.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1995; 49(9): 675-90

Historic Health Observations

While the studies above are fairly recent, the health properties of oats have been recognized for centuries, as witnessed in the two excerpts below:

From the writings of German botanist Adam Lonitzer (1528-1586)
Oats are a useful grain for both cattle and man. Cooked and eaten it is an excellent medication encouraging one’s daily stool; it fills the belly and is a fortifying source of nutrition. Its particular virtue lies in penetrating the damp and consuming hardened ulcers; the flour of oats may be used as a poultice. It is exceedingly good for fistula. It may be consumed warm as a meal but used as a medication externally it should be cool and dry. Oats are good when used for all manner of swellings and pustules on the body that occur from heat. Wild oats, the stem, seeds and leaves steeped in red wine and drunk soothes both red and white effluvia from the belly and increases the function of the urethra, taking with it all refuse which hath collected in the bladder and womb.

From the writings of Italian herbalist Pietro Andrea Mathioli (1519-1603)
The effect of oats: the broth from the steeping of oats is good against coughs. Boiled and eaten, the gruel plugs stool. Against gall stones the common man is wont to heat oats or juniper berries and to place them in a poultice. Oats may be used on swollen or dislocated limbs, just as barley flour. Mixed with white lead and used to wash the countenance it makes a clear, attractive complexion. Against the mange and scabs of small children there is nothing better than to bathe them in steeped oats.

[We were unable to find the original sources of the citations above (reprinted at www.avogel.ch) but have nonetheless included them here because we found them so intriguing! That said, we don't advise anyone to use white lead for a good complexion, and we're very glad that fistulas and mange are no longer common.]

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