Oats 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Oats (Avena sativa) are a whole-grain cereal mainly grown in North America and Europe.
They are a very good source of fiber, especially beta glucan, and are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Whole oats are the only food source of avenanthramides, a unique group of antioxidants believed to protect against heart disease.
Due to their many benefits, such as lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, oats have gained considerable attention as a health food (1Trusted Source2Trusted Source3Trusted Source4).
They’re most commonly rolled or crushed and can be consumed as oatmeal (porridge) or used in baked goods, bread, muesli, and granola.
Whole-grain oats are called oat groats. They are most commonly rolled or crushed into flat flakes and lightly toasted to produce oatmeal.
Quick, or instant, oatmeal is made up of more thinly rolled or cut oats that absorb water much more easily and thus cook faster.
The bran, or fiber-rich outer layer of the grain, is often consumed separately as a cereal, with muesli, or in breads.
This article tells you everything you need to know about oats.
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Nutrition facts

The nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of raw oats are (5Trusted Source):
  • Calories: 389
  • Water: 8%
  • Protein: 16.9 grams
  • Carbs: 66.3 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 10.6 grams
  • Fat: 6.9 grams

Carbs

Carbs make up 66% of oats by dry weight.
About 11% of the carbs is fiber, while 85% is starch. Oats are very low in sugar, with only 1% coming from sucrose.

Starch

Starch, which is comprised of long chains of glucose molecules, is the largest component of oats.
The starch in oats is different than the starch in other grains. It has a higher fat content and a higher viscosity, which is its ability to bind with water (678).
Three types of starches are found in oats (9Trusted Source1011):
  • Rapidly digested starch (7%). This type is quickly broken down and absorbed as glucose.
  • Slowly digested starch (22%). This form is broken down and absorbed more slowly.
  • Resistant starch (25%). Resistant starch functions like fiber, escaping digestion and improving gut health by feeding your friendly gut bacteria.

Fiber

Whole oats pack almost 11% fiber, and porridge contains 1.7% fiber.
The majority of the fiber in oats is soluble, mostly a fiber called beta glucan.
Oats also provide insoluble fibers, including lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose (12).
Oats offer more soluble fiber than other grains, leading to slower digestion, increased fullness, and appetite suppression (13Trusted Source14Trusted Source).
Soluble oat beta glucans are unique among fibers, as they can form a gel-like solution at a relatively low concentration.
Beta glucan comprises 2.3–8.5% of raw, whole oats, mostly concentrated in the oat bran (1516).
Oat beta glucans are known to lower cholesterol levels and increase bile acid production. They’re also believed to reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after a carb-rich meal (1718Trusted Source19Trusted Source20).
Daily consumption of beta glucans has been shown to lower cholesterol, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol, and may thus decrease your risk of heart disease (21Trusted Source).

Protein

Oats are a good source of quality protein at 11–17% of dry weight, which is higher than most other grains (22Trusted Source).
The major protein in oats — at 80% of the total content — is avenalin, which isn’t found in any other grain but is similar to legume proteins.
The minor protein avenin is related to wheat gluten. However, pure oats are considered safe for most people with gluten intolerance (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source).
Vitamins and minerals
Oats are high in many vitamins and minerals, including:
  • Manganese. Typically found in high amounts in whole grains, this trace mineral is important for development, growth, and metabolism (25Trusted Source).
  • Phosphorus. This mineral is important for bone health and tissue maintenance (26Trusted Source).
  • Copper. An antioxidant mineral often lacking in the Western diet, copper is considered important for heart health (27Trusted Source).
  • Vitamin B1. Also known as thiamine, this vitamin is found in many foods, including grains, beans, nuts, and meat.
  • Iron. As a component of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for transporting oxygen in the blood, iron is absolutely essential in the human diet.
  • Selenium. This antioxidant is important for various processes in your body. Low seleniumlevels are associated with increased risk of premature death and impaired immune and mental function (28Trusted Source).
  • Magnesium. Often lacking in the diet, this mineral is important for numerous processes in your body (29Trusted Source).
  • Zinc. This mineral participates in many chemical reactions in your body and is important for overall health (30Trusted Source).
Other plant compounds
Whole oats are rich in antioxidants that may provide various health benefits. Their main plant compounds include (3Trusted Source31Trusted Source3233Trusted Source):
  • Avenathramides. Only found in oats, avenathramides are a family of powerful antioxidants. They may reduce inflammation in your arteries and regulate blood pressure (34Trusted Source35Trusted Source36Trusted Source).
  • Ferulic acid. This is the most common polyphenol antioxidant in oats and other cereal grains (1237).
  • Phytic acid. Most abundant in the bran, phytic acid can impair your absorption of minerals, such as iron and zinc (1238Trusted Source).
Health benefits of oats
Experts attribute oats with a wide variety of health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. This grain’s main benefits are listed below (39Trusted Source40Trusted Source41Trusted Source42Trusted Source43Trusted Source).

Can lower cholesterol

Studies have repeatedly confirmed that oats can lower cholesterol levels, which may reduce your risk of heart disease (44Trusted Source45Trusted Source46Trusted Source47Trusted Source).
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and high cholesterol is a major risk factor — especially oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol (48Trusted Source49Trusted Source).
Oats’ ability to lower cholesterol is mainly attributed to their beta glucan content (50Trusted Source51Trusted Source52Trusted Source53Trusted Source54Trusted Source).
Beta glucan may slow your absorption of fats and cholesterol by increasing the viscosity of the food you’ve eaten (55Trusted Source).
Once in your gut, it binds to cholesterol-rich bile acids, which your liver produces to aid digestion. Beta glucan then carries these acids down your digestive tract and eventually out of your body.
Normally, bile acids are reabsorbed into your digestive system, but beta glucan inhibits this process, leading to reduced cholesterol levels (56).
Authorities have determined that foods containing at least 3 grams of beta glucan per day may lower your risk of heart disease (57).

May prevent type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has become much more common in recent years.
This disease is characterized by the abnormal regulation of blood sugar, usually as a result of decreased sensitivity to the hormone insulin.
Beta glucans, the soluble fibers from oats, have demonstrated benefits for blood sugar control(58Trusted Source59Trusted Source).
Modest amounts of beta glucans from oats have been found to moderate both glucose and insulin responses after carb-rich meals (60Trusted Source61Trusted Source62Trusted Source).
In people with type 2 diabetes and severe insulin resistance, a 4-week dietary intervention with oatmeal resulted in a 40% reduction in the insulin dosage needed for stabilizing blood sugar levels (63Trusted Source).
Studies suggest that beta glucans may improve insulin sensitivity, delaying or preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes, but a review study concluded that the evidence is inconsistent (53Trusted Source64Trusted Source65Trusted Source66Trusted Source67Trusted Source).
Boiled whole oats cause low glucose and insulin responses, but the responses increase significantly if the oats are ground into flour before cooking (68Trusted Source69Trusted Source70Trusted Source).

May boost fullness

Fullness plays an important role in energy balance, as it stops you from eating until hunger returns (71Trusted Source).
Altered fullness signaling is associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes (72Trusted Source73Trusted Source).
In a study ranking the fullness effect of 38 common foods, oatmeal ranked third overall and first among breakfast foods (74Trusted Source).
Water-soluble fibers, such as beta glucans, may increase fullness by delaying stomach emptying and promoting the release of fullness hormones (75Trusted Source776Trusted Source).
Human studies reveal that oatmeal may boost fullness and reduce appetite more than ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and other types of dietary fiber (13Trusted Source14Trusted Source77Trusted Source78Trusted Source).
Plus, oats are low in calories and high in fiber and other healthy nutrients, making them an excellent addition to an effective weight loss diet.

Largely gluten-free

A gluten-free diet is the only solution for individuals who suffer from celiac disease, as well as for many individuals with gluten sensitivity.
Oats are not glutenous but contain a similar type of protein called avenin.
Clinical studies indicate that moderate or even large amounts of pure oats can be tolerated by most people with celiac disease (79Trusted Source80Trusted Source81Trusted Source82Trusted Source83Trusted Source84Trusted Source).
Oats have been shown to enhance the nutritional value of gluten-free diets, increasing both mineral and fiber intakes (85Trusted Source86).
However, oats may be contaminated with wheat because they’re often processed in the same facilities (87Trusted Source88Trusted Source).
Therefore, it is important for people with celiac disease to only eat oats that have been certified gluten-free.

Other health benefits

Oats have a few other potential benefits.
Feeding oats to young infants under six months of age is associated with a decreased risk of childhood asthma (89Trusted Source).
Additionally, a few studies indicate that oats may boost your immune system, enhancing your ability to fight bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites (90Trusted Source).
In older adults, eating oat bran fiber may improve overall well-being and decrease the need for laxatives (91Trusted Source92Trusted Source93Trusted Source).
Potential downsides of oats
Oats are usually well tolerated, with no adverse effects in healthy individuals.
However, people sensitive to avenin may experience adverse symptoms, similar to those of gluten intolerance, and should exclude oats from their diet (94Trusted Source9596).
Also, oats may be contaminated with other grains, such as wheat, making them unsuitable for people with celiac disease or a wheat allergy (87Trusted Source88Trusted Source).
Individuals allergic or intolerant to wheat or other grains should only buy oats certified as pure.
The bottom line
Oats are among the world's healthiest grains and a good source of many vitamins, minerals, and unique plant compounds.
Beta glucans, a type of soluble fiber in this grain, provide numerous health benefits. These include lower cholesterol, better heart health, and reduced blood sugar and insulin responses.
In addition, oats are very filling and may reduce appetite and help you eat fewer calories.
If you’re curious about them, you can add oats to your diet today.
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