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Oats: A Surprisingly Unique and Powerful Food for Gut Health and Preventing Disease


Robyn Openshaw - Dec 22, 2023 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links


Health benefits of oats blog post

Oats may seem like a simple food, with a warm bowl of oatmeal being the most common way to enjoy them.

But, the health benefits of oats are far from simple.

Not only are oats low in anti-nutrients, such as phytates, but they are also a source of quality protein, minerals, vitamins, and soluble fiber. Plus, they are an excellent source of health-promoting, plant-compounds called phytochemicals.

Oats are particularly beneficial for heart health, gut health, weight control and obesity, fighting inflammation, and diabetes, and even potentially for fighting cancer.

Who knew your morning oatmeal was so powerful for your health?

Let’s take a look at exactly why oats are so healthy, as well as some possible concerns about the oatmeal you may be eating.

In this article:

The Health Benefits of Oats – Why Are Oats So Good for You?

Oatmeal with berries

Oatmeal is packed with nutrients!

Researchers have recognized oats as one of the most promising functional foods of the future, with many opportunities.1

Oats differ from other whole grains largely because they are one of the richest sources of soluble fiber beta-glucan, which I’ll discuss more throughout the rest of this article.

Oats also contain a high amount of antioxidants, including a unique type of antioxidant called avenanthramides, which exist almost exclusively in oats.

Other antioxidants in oats include vitamin E, flavonoids, and sterols. Vitamin E is beneficial for preventing premature aging and chronic disease.

(Note: however, taking synthetic vitamin E is associated with negative outcomes. As is generally the case, getting our vitamin E from whole foods is the way to go!)

[Related: Read why you should get your nutrients from whole foods]

Oats Are A Staple Food in Our Signature Health Program

Oats are a staple food in our signature health program, the GreenSmoothieGirl Detox, which we do as a guided group with thousands of people every January.

Detoxing changed everything for me. Join the guided GreenSmoothieGirl Detox for 40% off!

On this guided detox, most of the food is fresh, green smoothies, fresh juices, and satisfying, oxygenating, alkalizing plant foods. Oatmeal is one of the cooked foods that add to the bulk needed for good elimination and feeling satisfied and “full.”

I use oatmeal in the GreenSmoothieGirl Detox due to its use by Dr. Max Gerson, a legendary doctor who, after curing his chronic migraines, fled Nazi Germany and helped thousands of people in the U.S. with his protocol that my own detox program leverages “best practices” from.

In early 2011, I traveled to speak in the Pacific Northwest with my friend, author, nutritionist, and raw-food celebrity David Wolfe. He said in one of our lectures:

“If I were going to eat cooked food, I would eat organic sweet potatoes and oatmeal.”

The Gerson Therapy, whose track record against cancer far exceeds the success of modern oncology, features 11 glasses daily of raw vegetable juices, with some green apple juice allowed as well.

This is so useful because green and vegetable juices are so nutrient-dense, and they let the body rest from digestion. To put its energy into rebuilding and repairing the immune system.

The Gerson Therapy has also featured, for over 70 years now, lots of oatmeal – as well as well-cooked white Russet potatoes and a few other cooked foods.

Oats Give You Energy

Oats are a good source of complex carbohydrates – the good kind – which give you a steady release of energy.

Oats also have high amounts of B vitamins, like niacin, thiamine, and folate, which can boost energy levels in your body.

Unlike processed, sugary cereals, whole oats don’t result in a sugar crash later. The high amount of fiber helps you feel full longer, preventing overeating throughout the day, which can lead to fatigue.

Fiber is also crucial for healthy digestion – the soluble fiber in oats feeds your good-for-you bacteria and prevents constipation, which drains your energy.

Oats Boost Your Immunity

As mentioned earlier, oats contain beta-glucan.

White blood cells – the warriors of our immune systems – have special receptors for the absorption of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan stimulates the white blood cells and helps them fight off infections.

Beta-glucans also accelerate the healing of wounds and help the body fight a variety of infections caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasites.2

In addition, the zinc and selenium in oats help in fighting infections. Selenium stimulates the production of antibodies in the immune system, which help protect you from toxins and other substances the body doesn’t recognize.

Oats may also help fight off respiratory infections. Research has found that babies who start eating oats earlier are protected against childhood asthma.3

Oats for Heart Health

Oatmeal is great for heart health

Oatmeal is an excellent choice for heart health

Perhaps the most well-known health benefit of oats is for heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, with one of the major risk factors being high blood cholesterol.

A meta-analysis of 18 studies found that the highest whole-grain intakes, including oats, were associated with a 21% reduced risk of heart disease, compared with the lowest intakes.4

A critical trial reported that a single serving of oatmeal could oppose the disturbances of endothelial function – which plays a key role in keeping your blood moving smoothly through your body – observed after the consumption of a high-fat meal.5

Oats and Cholesterol

At least 50 studies show that beta-glucans in oats are effective at reducing both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, with beta-glucan being identified as the major active cholesterol-reducing component of oats.6

If you want the cholesterol-lowering benefits of oats, organic, unrefined, and whole-oat-based products are more effective than processed oat products, where the oat tissues are highly disrupted.1

Oats for Gut Health

If you want a healthy digestive system, oats are an excellent choice.

Oats are high in soluble fiber, which cleans the gut as it travels through it. Additionally, the fiber helps with bowel regularity and prevents constipation.

Whole oats also have beta-glucan, high lipids, and phenolics, which play an important role in gut health. 7,8

Oats for Weight Loss and Obesity

Oats are a filling food. Consuming filling foods helps you eat fewer calories and lose weight.

The beta-glucan in oatmeal also delays the time it takes your stomach to empty of food, increasing the feeling of fullness.

When researchers looked at the effect of oatmeal on appetite, they found that oatmeal increased fullness and decreased the desire to eat for the next 4 hours.9

Oats for Diabetes and Blood Sugar Control

The beta-glucan in oats helps improve insulin response and possibly reduces blood sugar, too.

Research shows that for people with type 2 diabetes, oats have a positive effect on blood sugar control.10

Oats May Help Fight Cancer

Data from various studies have shown that oats can be effective in fighting cancer.

Specifically, the avenanthramides in oats have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.11

Most of the research concerning avenanthramides and cancer demonstrates their effectiveness in inhibiting proliferation, inducing cell death, and reducing migration of colon cancer cells, without harming normal colon cells.12

A study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that a diet high in oats was associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer in both men and women.

In particular, the beta-glucans in oats can boost immune health, which is critical in cancer prevention and treatment. Studies also suggest that beta-glucans help stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells and inhibit the growth of tumors.

Oats and Breast Cancer

during adolescence and midlife had a reduced risk of breast cancer in old age.

[Related: 6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer]

What’s the Healthiest Form of Oats to Eat?

With oats, you have many options, such as:

  • Oat groats
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Rolled oats
  • Instant oats
  • Flavored oats

Oat groats and rolled oats

Oat groats (left) and Rolled oats (right)

Oat groats are whole oats that have been hulled to remove their inedible hulls, leaving the germ, endosperm, and bran intact.

Steel-cut oats are made by chopping oat groats using steel blades, keeping the germ, endosperm, and bran intact. They take about 10 to 20 minutes to cook.

My daughter makes her steel-cut oats before bed, in her InstaPot, and in the morning, eats it with a scoop of our Sprouted Flax, making her breakfast delicious with a bit of cinnamon. A habit like this is worth its weight in gold, for your health.

Rolled oats, also known as old-fashioned oats, are steamed and pressed flat after the oat hull is removed. Steaming and processing oat groats in this way has been shown to result in a modest to moderate loss of avenanthramides.

Instant oats are the most highly processed type of oats. They take the least amount of time to cook, may be mushy, and have the fewest nutrients. They also typically have added salt and sugar. I do not eat them.

Oats are so nutrient-dense that all forms will have some benefits for your health. But, you want to watch out for added sugars in oat products.

How To Upgrade Your Oatmeal with Even More Nutrition

Try adding Sprouted Flax or Sprouted Tri-Omega to your oatmeal

Whole oats alone make an excellent breakfast choice. You can also upgrade your oatmeal with other ingredients, such as:

  • Flax seed – I call it a “miracle food” because it’s affordable, and is proven to stabilize your mood, lower your blood pressure, balance cholesterol, give you healthy skin and nails, and protect your bone, heart, and brain health. Try adding our Sprouted Ground Flax to your oatmeal.
  • Sprouted Tri-Omega – Made with sprouted flax, plus sprouted chia and broccoli seeds, this product is a powerful source of essential fat omega-3s, which all your cells need daily. Tri-Omega Superfood is great for adding to your oatmeal, or your smoothie.
  • Nut butter or nuts – nuts add a delicious crunch and texture to your oatmeal, like almonds, walnuts, and pecans. Dr. Tim Specter recommends keeping a jar of various nuts and seeds, to sprinkle on your oatmeal, yogurt, or salad – which helps achieve his goal of eating 30 plants per week, for a healthy, diverse microbiome.
  • Fresh or frozen fruit, like bananas, blueberries, and strawberries.
  • Coconut flakes.
  • Spices, like cinnamon.

Other Ways to Eat Oats: 5 Healthy Oat Recipes for You

Photograph of a green smoothie in a glass mug topped with oatmeal, from "10 Easy Green Smoothies Kids Will Love" at Green Smoothie Girl

You can add oats to green smoothies!

Oats can also be consumed in soups and oat pasta, and can also be incorporated into many meals.

Warning: Dangerous Toxins Found in Oats

Oats, like many other crops, may contain pesticide residues if not grown using organic methods. I highly recommend buying only organic oats.

An investigation by the Environmental Working Group found troubling concentrations of the toxic agricultural chemical chlormequat in all but one of the 13 non-organic oat-based products sold in the U.S.

Quaker’s Old Fashioned Oats had the highest amounts. You can see the results from their independent test.

Chlormequat has been called eerily similar to glyphosate. In animal studies, it has caused a host of harm to the reproductive and nervous systems, as well as other health problems, suggesting harm to human health.

Why is chlormequat in oat products? Because in 2018, under the Trump administration, the EPA started to permit this chemical in imported oats. Then, the agency started allowing even higher levels in 2020.

Overall, buying organic oats products is your best bet for reducing your exposure to pesticides and potential toxins, such as chlormequat.

[Related: Is Buying Organic Always Necessary?]

Oats Are an Excellent Choice for Breakfast – and Beyond

Oatmeal for breakfast is an excellent choice – for lasting energy and for feeling full. After all, what you eat in the morning sets the tone for your day.

No matter how you eat them, consuming more oats as a regular part of your diet is an excellent idea for your gut health and weight control – and for preventing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and even cancer.

When you consider all the nutrition packed into oats, a bowl of oatmeal isn’t so simple after all! But, don’t forget to buy organic to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins that may be in oat-based products.

 

Read Next: Is Oat Milk Really That Great? Plus, How To Make Oat Milk

Photograph of Robyn Openshaw, founder of Green Smoothie GirlRobyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that help support the GSG mission without costing you extra. I recommend only companies and products that I use myself.

Resources

  1. Paudel D, Dhungana B, Caffe M, Krishnan P. A Review of Health-Beneficial Properties of Oats. Foods. 2021; 10(11):2591. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10112591
  2. Daou, C., & Zhang, H. (2012). Oat Beta‐Glucan: Its Role in Health Promotion and Prevention of Diseases. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 11, 355-365.
  3. Virtanen, Suvi M et al. “Early introduction of oats associated with decreased risk of persistent asthma and early introduction of fish with decreased risk of allergic rhinitis.” The British journal of nutrition vol. 103,2 (2010): 266-73. doi:10.1017/S0007114509991541
  4. Tang G, Wang D, Long J, Yang F, Si L. Meta-analysis of the association between whole grain intake and coronary heart disease risk. Am J Cardiol. 2015 Mar 1;115(5):625-9.
  5. Katz, D.L., Nawaz, H., Boukhalil, J., Giannamore, V., Chan, W., Ahmadi, R., and Sarrel, P.M. Acute effects of oats and vitamin E on endothelial responses to ingested fat. Am. J. Prev. Med. 20:124-129, 2001.
  6. Paudel, D., Dhungana, B., Caffe, M., & Krishnan, P. (2021). A Review of Health-Beneficial Properties of Oats. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 10(11), 2591. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods10112591
  7. Valeur, J., Puaschitz, N. G., Midtvedt, T., & Berstad, A. (2016). Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(1), 62-67.
  8. Gamage, H. K., Tetu, S. G., Chong, R. W., Ashton, J., Packer, N. H., & Paulsen, I. T. (2017). Cereal products derived from wheat, sorghum, rice and oats alter the infant gut microbiota in vitro. Scientific reports, 7(1), 14312.
  9. Rebello, Candida J et al. “The role of meal viscosity and oat β-glucan characteristics in human appetite control: a randomized crossover trial.” Nutrition journal vol. 13 49. 28 May. 2014, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-49
  10. Hou, Qingtao et al. “The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients vol. 7,12 10369-87. 10 Dec. 2015, doi:10.3390/nu7125536
  11. Turrini, Eleonora et al. “Overview of the Anticancer Profile of Avenanthramides from Oat.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 20,18 4536. 13 Sep. 2019, doi:10.3390/ijms20184536
  12. https://foodforbreastcancer.com/foods/oats

Image Notes

  1. Oatmeal with berries used under a CC-BY 2.0 license
  2. Oatmeal for heart health image used under a under a Creative Commons 2.0 license by
  3. Oat groats and rolled oats image by Jack Kennard

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6 thoughts on “Oats: A Surprisingly Unique and Powerful Food for Gut Health and Preventing Disease”

Leave a Comment
  1. Yvonne Trigg says:

    Learned alot about oatmeal. Thanks for information

  2. Shelly says:

    Hello Robyn! I wondered if you have a list of Oat companies that are what you would say are the best brand down to the worst (which sounds like Quaker.) If I missed it here, let me know. Thank you! I'm looking forward to challenging myself with your 26 day detox! 🙂 Shelly

    1. Sarah Greg says:

      No, we cannot possibly know all the brands, there's so many and not all available in all areas, the thing to look for is: ORGANIC, and NOT PROCESSED (instant oats) — and Quaker, as the blog post says, has some really bad toxin lab tests.

  3. Marie says:

    Just a wonderful in-depth article and so much info we never thought
    of when we were youngsters….we ate what mom gave us and who
    doesn't like oatmeal /raisin cookies? Quaker old fashioned oats
    will not cross my threshold again….thank you, Robyn

  4. Debora Thomas says:

    Please post or email the oatmeal companies with the least amount of chemicals and best for health benefits

    1. Sarah Greg says:

      No, we cannot possibly know all the brands, there's so many and not all available in all areas, the thing to look for is: ORGANIC, and NOT PROCESSED (instant oats) — and Quaker, as the blog post says, has some really bad toxin lab tests.

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