Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Oats – January Grain of the Month

January is Oats Month

Each month we feature a different whole grain on the Whole Grains Council website, including information on its health benefits, cooking tips and recipes, historical/cultural facts, and more. Click to see the full calendar.

January's Grain of the Month is Oats. We buy more oats at that time than in any other month – and January has long been celebrated as National Oatmeal Month.

Oats at a Glance

Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary defined oats as "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people." The Scotsman's retort to this was, "That's why England has such good horses, and Scotland has such fine men!"

Oats (Avena sativa) have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereals. Unique among the most widely-eaten grains, oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. So if you see oats or oat flour on the label, relax: you're virtually guaranteed to be getting whole grain.
In the U.S., most oats are steamed and flattened to produce rolled oats, sold as "old-fashioned" or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook – and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats, also sometimes called Irish or Scottish oats. Steel-cut oats consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice), sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain. Cooked for about 20-30 minutes, steel-cut oats create a breakfast porridge that delights many people who didn't realize they love oatmeal!

Click here for pictures and descriptions of the different forms of oats.

Health Benefits of Oats

Scores of studies have documented the many health benefits of oats.

  • Eating oats helps lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Oats help you feel fuller longer, which helps control your weight.

  • Oatmeal and oats may help lower blood pressure.

  • Oats may help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, since their soluble fiber helps control blood sugar.

  • Oats help cut the use of laxatives, without the side effects associated with medications.

  • Oats are high in beta-glucans, a kind of starch that stimulates the immune system and inhibits tumors. This may help reduce your risk of some cancers.

  • Early introduction of oats in children's diets may help reduce their risk of asthma.

  • Oats are higher in protein and healthy fats, and lower in carbohydrates than most other whole grains.

  • Oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itching activity.

Click here to learn more details and to reference studies on the health benefits of oats.

Cooking Tips and Recipes

Ask the person next to you to name all the ways we can eat oats, and "as oatmeal porridge, for breakfast" – would be the likely answer, followed quickly by "oatmeal cookies, granola, and granola bars." But that's only the beginning. Take a look at a few of the oat recipes right on this website, for inspiration:

As these recipes indicate, there are many ways you can cook with oats. They make a great crispy coating; they extend meatloaf and burgers, while enhancing their juiciness; they can be boiled into a creamy porridge; or they can make a savory side dish. Click here for cooking tips for oatmeal.

Many companies that support the work of the Whole Grains Council also have great oat recipes on their websites, including:

Bear Naked Granola
Bob's Red Mill
Country Choice Organic
McCanns Irish Oatmeal
Nature's Hand
New England Natural Bakers
Old Wessex
Quaker Oats
Shamrock Foods
Sturm Foods

Fun Facts about Oats

  • Oatmeal rated #1 among breakfast foods and #3 overall in a “Satiety Index” created by Australian researchers seeking to find foods that make people feel full and satisfied the longest.

  • Oats grow best in cooler climates with plenty of rainfall – conditions inhospitable to most grains. This explains why they’re so popular in Scotland and Ireland!

  • The inedible hulls of oats can contribute to a healthier planet. In a joint Quaker/University of Iowa project, oat hulls in a biomass boiler provide 14% of the energy at the university, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 70,000 tons a year – the equivalent of taking 1,200 cars off the road. As of early 2010, the program had saved the university over a million dollars.
  • Want to visit Oatmeal, Texas? It's about 56 miles northwest of Austin – but you'll have to stop over in nearby Bertram, TX for the annual Oatmeal Festival.

  • Oats are used in the food industry as a stabilizer in foods like ice cream.

  • Because of their natural anti-itching properties, oats are used in the cosmetic industry for a variety of products. The name Aveeno, for instance, comes from the botanical name avena, for oats.

  • Oats were originally considered a nuisance weed, to be pulled up and burned when they appeared in fields of wheat and barley.

  • In Britain, a warming and nourishing oatmeal broth drink was traditionally made from oat husks soaked until they soured; it was called “sowans” in Scotland, and “brewis” in Wales.

  • Many people consider oatmeal brulée the ultimate porridge: picture a thick bowl of oatmeal topped with a thin layer of caramelized sugar and some fresh berries.

  • Russia, Canada, the United States, Finland, and Poland are the world’s leading producers of oats.

  • Oats are naturally gluten-free, but may be contaminated with gluten during growing and processing. Look for oats certified gluten-free if you are sensitive to gluten.

  • An 18-ounce package of old fashioned oats contains about 26,000 rolled oats.

  • Early attempts to promote oats as a good food for people – not just for horses – prompted editorials and cartoons poking fun at oat-eaters as likely to develop a whinny. Still, only 5% of oats grown worldwide are consumed by humans today.

 

All information on this website is © 2003-2013, Oldways Preservation Trust/Whole Grains Council, unless otherwise noted.