Oats are naturally the base for a warm bowl of oatmeal, but they are much more versatile than your standard breakfast staple. They also add substance to muffins, cookies and crisps, and they can even replace other grains for savory recipes, like risotto.
Not only are oats hearty and filling, but they also pack a nutritional punch. As a matter of fact, oats are known for having a particular type of fiber that has been shown to lower cholesterol. They are a heart-healthy food that makes a great addition to anyone’s diet.
Learn the nutritional benefits of oats, including how they differ among types, and get yummy oat recipes.
Oats nutrition facts
A ½ cup serving of rolled oats has:
- 140 calories
- 5 grams protein
- 3 grams fat
- 27 grams carbohydrates
- 4 grams fiber
Believe it or not, all types of oats have the same nutrition profile per gram. The only difference is the way the oats are cut and processed.
The health benefits of eating oats
Starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal will do more than fill you up. Oats are beneficial for heart health, type 2 diabetes and gut health. While many may associate oats with carbohydrates, they also contain protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phenols (plant compounds) that make them beneficial for several diseases. Plus, oats are affordable and widely available.
Oats are most well-known for their cholesterol-fighting abilities. Ample evidence suggests eating oats regularly can lower blood cholesterol through a fiber in the oats, called beta-glucan. This soluble fiber sends messages to the liver to pull LDL (bad) cholesterol out of the blood, bind to it, and excrete it in the fecal matter with the fiber. In addition, an observational study of over 50,000 Danish adults found that regular consumption of rye and oats was associated with a lower risk of heart attack.
In addition, the healthful properties of oats have been shown to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A 2021 meta-analyses in the journal Nutrients states that eating more than 5.7 grams of oats per day is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The standard serving size of oats is 40 grams, or ½ cup, so eating just one serving of oats per day is enough to potentially ward off diabetes.
Lastly, oats are a good source of fiber, which is vital for staying regular and preventing constipation. Fiber intake is also necessary for good gut health. A 2021 research review in Nutrients found that eating oats was associated with the growth of beneficial bacteria in healthy individuals and those with celiac disease. Other research suggests that beta-glucan fiber is responsible for these beneficial results.
Types of oats: What’s the difference between oat varieties?
You’ve likely heard that steel-cut oats are healthier than whole oats or that instant oats aren’t as good for you. But both of those statements couldn’t be further from the truth. Believe it or not, all varieties of oats have the same nutrition profile per gram. The only difference is how they are cut.
All oats begin as groats, another name for the oat grain kernel. When groats are chopped into smaller pieces, they become steel-cut oats. To make rolled oats, the husk is removed from the groat and the grain is steamed and flattened. When cut into even smaller pieces, rolled oats become instant oats. Generally, the smaller the cut of the oat, the quicker the cooking time.
That said, all types of plain oats have the same nutrition per weight. The nutrients only change when other ingredients, like fruit, nuts or sugar, are added. The serving size will vary for different oat varieties. For example, just 1/4 cup of steel-cut oats is a 40-gram serving, whereas 40 grams of old fashioned and instant oats are a 1/2-cup serving.
Are there drawbacks to eating oats?
Eating oats is good for you in many ways, but there may be a few potential downsides. Although oats are technically a gluten-free food, many oats are not processed in gluten-free facilities, making them unsafe for people with celiac disease. That said, many oat manufacturers sell gluten-free oat varieties that are safe for people who cannot tolerate gluten.
Also, most instant oatmeals or prepared oatmeals found in the store are loaded with added sugar. Obviously, this transforms a healthy breakfast staple into something similar to a sugary dessert. Instead of buying the flavored oatmeal, make your own and add natural sweetness with fresh or dried fruit. Or if you opt for the instant oatmeal in a pinch, mix ½ bag of flavored oatmeal with ½ bag of plain to reduce the sweetness.
More nutritional information on everyday foods
Fun facts about oats
Here are a few more interesting tidbits about oats.
Oats can soothe dry skin and eczema
Oats are a natural beauty product. Taking an oatmeal bath may soothe itchy or dry skin. Colloidal oatmeal, or oat powder, has been shown to moisturize skin, treat rashes and soothe eczema. Researchers believe the antioxidants in the oats create these unique results. You can buy an oatmeal bath product or make your own by blending oats into a fine powder in a food processor. Add 1 cup of colloidal oatmeal to a bath to reap the benefits.
Oats may regulate appetite
Research suggests that the beta-glucan fiber in oats influences hormones that control hunger and appetite. With that, many studies show a positive correlation between eating oats and body weight management and reduced incidences of obesity.
Healthy oat recipes
Break out of your breakfast rut with these creative oat recipes.
Courtesy Elena Besser
Courtesy Elena Besser
Vladislav Nosick / Getty Images
Tyler Essary / TODAY
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