Oats are a healthy and delicious whole grain breakfast option.
They taste great, are amazingly versatile, filling, low in saturated fat and warm you up in winter
If that hasn't won you over, oats can also lower your cholesterol and are a rich source of of soluble and insoluble fibre.
It's the soluble fibre in oats, called beta-glucan, that is responsible for the cholesterol-lowering properties of this revolutionary grain.
But what are the different varieties of oats? Which type of oat is the most healthy?
The difference comes down to the way the oat is processed, which then determines the cooking time and texture.
Note - we have not included oat bran here as it is not a complete whole grain and the following oat varieties are.
What are steel cut oats?
You may also know them as Irish oats or Scottish oats.
Steel cut oats will take the longest to cook out as they are the least processed. They're produced by chopping the whole oat groat into pieces, rather than rolling it flat (hello, rolled oats).
This type of oat is known for its chewy texture and the way it retains its shape even after cooking.
What are rolled oats?
You may also know rolled oats as old-fashioned or whole oats.
Rolled oats are oats that are first steamed then rolled flat. These oats are the ones that look like flat, funny shaped discs.
Rolled oats will cook faster than Steel cut oats and absorb more liquid. These are the oats you'll see used in granola and muesli.
What are quick oats?
Quick oats are also known as instant oats.
Quick oats are the most processed of all the oats as they've already been cooked, drained, rolled and then pressed.
These extra steps make oats thinner than rolled oats and means they turn into mush when cooked.
As the name would suggest, quick oats cook the fastest of all the oat varieties.
Which oats are the healthiest?
All three oat varieties have a very similar nutritional value, as they all come from the same whole oat groats.
However, experts say steel-cut oats are best for you.
Because they are the least processed, steel-cut oats retain a high level of nutrients.
While steel-cut oats and rolled oats are equal in levels of protein and level of carb count, steel-cut oats have slightly less sugar than rolled or instant.
Just make sure you cook them thoroughly to avoid any potential digestive upset.
How do oats help lower cholesterol?
The beta glucan soluble fibre that is present naturally in oats binds with the end products of cholesterol metabolism and stops the cholesterol from being absorbed. This in turn results in lower cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL cholesterol levels which clog our arteries.
How much beta glucan do we need?
Australia does not have a recommended intake for beta glucan. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (1997) specifies that at least 3.0g of beta glucan needs to be consumed daily as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol to make a significant impact on cholesterol metabolism and re-absorption.
A cup of oats, either as a bowl of steaming porridge drizzled with a swirl of honey and low fat milk, or your favourite bircher muesli topped with slivered almonds, chopped banana and a dollop of low fat yogurt will give you 3.6g beta glucan — well in excess of your daily beta glucan needs.
Other benefits of oats
Oats are also good for people who have diabetes as the soluble fibre helps to maintain blood sugar levels. The insoluble fibre in oats can also have laxation benefits and all high fibre foods are more filling which is always helpful in preventing the unwanted winter kilos.
Oats and weightloss
Like all whole grains, oats are high in fibre, which makes them an appropriate choice for weight loss eating plans. They have a low glycemic index and the soluble fibre helps fill you up and helps prevent overeating mid-morning. Also, compared to other whole grains, oats are higher in protein (approximately 10-17%), which makes them an effective addition to a higher protein diet for weight loss.
Do oats boost your mood?
High carbohydrate, nutritious foods like oats have another little-known effect, the ability to positively influence mood. Recent studies have confirmed that the types of breakfast people eat can affect the state of their mood in the middle of the day. Oats are rich in nutritious carbohydrates which can affect a chemical messenger in the brain called serotonin that promotes feelings of calmness and positive mood. And these calming effects may even improve the likelihood of sticking with a weight management program.
Finally oats may also boost your mood as they are heart warming and often conjure up pleasant memories associated with childhood. This is just what you want in your dietary prescription. And because they're a breakfast food, they're one of the easiest things to keep consistent and make a daily habit.