Many of us are familiar with the idea that oats are good for heart health, but is it really true and how does it work?
Ten years ago the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first food specific health claim that oatmeal and other oat containing foods help prevent cardiovascular disease . Since then hundreds of papers have been published reporting their findings about oatmeal and LDL or “bad cholesterol.” In general these studies found that oats and oatmeal reduce LDL without effecting HDL “good cholesterol” levels . Therefore, eating 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal a day could possibly help reduce ones risk of cardiovascular disease [1, 3]. So what is oatmeal’s secret weapon?
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The LDL reducing powers of oatmeal come from a viscous fiber called beta-glucan [1-4]. During digestion the liver secretes bile, a cholesterol dense liquid which aids in fat breakdown, to help dissolve the oatmeal. Then the beta-glucan attaches to the bile so it leaves through the feces and cannot be reabsorbed into the body. As a result, the liver must make more bile for digestion. The live uses cholesterol in the body which reduces the amount of free LDL circulating in the blood resulting in lower cholesterol levels [1-4]. This is the magic of oatmeal.
Oatmeal is not just a cholesterol lowering food, it also makes the body feel full for a long period of time and reduces blood sugar spikes by the mechanism it reduces LDL [1-4]. And that is not all, oatmeal is consider a good source of thiamin, niacin, folate, vitamin E, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc according to the European Commission . With all these benefits, who could refuse to eat it.
Now that we know how beneficial oatmeal is, how can we get more in our diet? Oatmeal is generally easy to use and easier to mask. Throw ½ a cup into soups or cookie batter; no one will notice they are actually eating something healthy. Buy bread made with oat bran or rolled oats. Serve a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or add ½ a cup to muffins or biscuits in the morning. These are just a few ways to use oatmeal your family will love.
1. Retelny, V.S., A. Neuendorf, and J.L. Roth, Nutrition Protocols for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Nutr Clin Pract, 2008. 23(5): p. 468-476.
2. Andon, M. and J. Anderson, State of the art reviews: the oatmeal-cholesterol connection: 10 years later. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2008. 2(1): p. 51.
3. Ruxton, C. and E. Derbyshire, A systematic review of the association between cardiovascular risk factors and regular consumption of oats. British Food Journal, 2008. 110(10-11): p. 1119-1132.
4. Queenan, K., et al., Concentrated oat beta-glucan, a fermentable fiber, lowers serum cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic adults in a randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Journal, 2007. 6(1): p. 6.