Seven Powerful Benefits of the Humble Oat

Don’t let the humble oat mislead you into thinking it’s short on benefits. Despite being one of the cheapest and most accessible foods, oats are also one of the most nutritious. Aside from the many powerful health and weight loss benefits discussed in more detail in this article, oats are also known as a longevity food. Adele Dunlap was the oldest living American. She passed away on February 5, 2017, at the age of 114 and ate oats every day. The Donnelly family was inducted into the 2017 Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest family in the world. The family currently resides in Northern Ireland and holds an impressive combined age of 1,075 years. Their secret? They attribute their health and longevity to eating a bowl of oatmeal twice a day.


Health Benefits of Oats


1. Boost the Immune System…


Oats are among the richest sources of Beta-glucans – a soluble fiber that is gaining a lot of interest in the research community. Scientists tell us that B-glucans act as immunomodulators – meaning they have the ability to help regulate or normalize the immune system. And although more research is ongoing, it is suggested that B-glucans may have the potential to be used in treating cancers and other diseases.

In one study, Beta-glucans extracted from oats were even shown to enhance resistance to bacterial infections in mice.


2. Decrease Inflammation with Antioxidants…


Speaking of the immune-boosting powers of oats, this can’t be done without mentioning their rich source of antioxidants.

Antioxidants play a major role in fighting off free radicals in our bodies. While a certain number of free radicals are used by our bodies to fight off infections, an excess of free radicals can lead to oxidative stress. This can cause illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. It is therefore crucial that we consume enough antioxidants in our diets to balance out the free radicals.

There are three powerful antioxidants found in oats worth mentioning…

  • Avenanthramides (AVA) – Oats are the only grain that contain this remarkable antioxidant. In fact, AVA are so unique to oats that the only other sources in nature known to contain avenanthramides are cabbage butterfly eggs and fungus-infected carnations! Not likely you want to eat a bowl of those for breakfast. Avenanthramides have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. They promote nitric oxide which helps to relax veins and arteries and as you’re most likely already aware, oats help soothe itching and inflamed skin… this is enabled through their avenanthramides. Much more about AVA’s throughout this article, but they have also been shown to benefit athletes in particular. In one study, researchers concluded that AVA supplementation via oat cookies was linked to reduced inflammation and perception of discomfort in test subjects participating in the activity of downhill running.
  • Zinc – Oats are in the top 10 foods containing zinc! This is a mineral that our body cannot produce or store. This makes it an essential nutrient and one that we must continually intake from our diets. Zinc is vital for the function of over 300 enzymes, immune function, and preventing excess inflammation. Be sure to serve your children a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast because zinc plays a huge role in body growth and development.
  • Selenium – This mineral has been shown to decrease the risk of certain cancers. It’s important for reducing oxidative stress and decreasing inflammation, so much so that selenium deficiency could weaken the immune system.


3. Strengthen the Heart…


Not only do B-glucans strengthen your immune system, but there is evidence that they can reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol, thus, reducing the risk for heart disease. But the heart-health benefits of oats do not stop with B-glucans. The soluble fiber in oats can also reduce LDL cholesterol. And the unique avenanthramides in oats may  protect against coronary heart disease. In addition, AVA can also help prevent clogged arteries.

There’s more… a study involving 54,871 Danish adults found that eating whole grains is related to a lower risk of heart attacks for both men and women. But this was especially true for men who ate rye and oats. Another study indicates that those who eat a higher intake of whole grains have a 29% lower risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.


4. Aid the Digestive System and Gut…


Thanks to oatmeal’s high fiber content, it can help you stay “regular”.  A trial involving 30 elderly patients found that the fiber from oats helps to improve constipation so much that 59% of the group consuming this oat bran were able to discontinue their use of laxatives!

Seeking relief from heartburn? Diets high in fiber-rich foods, such as oats, have also been linked to reducing acid reflux. And one study using the bran of oats, saw a significant improvement in abdominal pain and reflux from patients with ulcerative colitis.

B-glucans really are the superstar in oats, and we need to circle back to their benefits yet again!  Science says B-glucans have the potential to act as novel prebiotics, which aids the gut by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria. Having a healthy gut microbiome is essential for many aspects of health, including digestion.


5. Help with Weight Loss and Controlling Blood Sugar…


  • Weight Loss:

A bowl of oatmeal every morning could be an effective way to help you trim down. The abundant source of Beta-glucans in oats helps increase satiety. This can prevent overeating, and in turn, lead to weight loss.  B-glucans do this by boosting the gut hormone, cholecystokinin, which improves digestion and fights hunger by increasing a feeling of fullness during a meal. In fact, one study found that not only did oat B-glucans increase cholecystokinin levels, but they also decreased insulin response as well as giving a feeling of fullness in overweight subjects. Lowering insulin is another way oats can help you shed pounds because when insulin levels are too high, this can lead to excess glucose, which the body then converts into fat.

What is more, a clinical trial concluded that oats may reduce obesity as well as improve liver function. Maintaining a healthy liver is important to functionally regulate fat metabolism by breaking down fats and producing energy.

  • Blood Sugar:

Type-2 diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when blood sugar levels are too high. While high spikes of blood sugar are best avoided, the current trend to avoid all grains and carbohydrate foods when dealing with elevated blood sugars can work against you in the long run. It is important to stay metabolically flexible. Your body was created to burn both carbs and fats to be at its optimum. Oats are an excellent choice for those with type-2 diabetes since the B-glucan fiber in oats may help prevent sharp rises in blood sugar after a meal.

study observing 22 people with type-2 diabetes looked at the effects of an oat-enriched diet over a period of 8 weeks. They discovered that oats decreased harmful microparticles that could lead to high blood sugar and inflammation – concluding that oats improved risk factors assessed by microparticles, even among those with type-2 diabetes who maintained a healthy diet lifestyle. Oatmeal has also been shown to significantly reduce the acute postprandial glucose and insulin responses in patients with type-2 diabetes.

But, not so fast!


Sold on the benefits of weight loss and controlling blood sugar? Before you add oats to your daily breakfast (or lunch) routine, keep in mind that preparing them the wrong way could give you the opposite effects! Adding lots of sugar or too many high-calorie toppings could inhibit the weight loss benefits. And using instant oats, which have a higher glycemic index, won’t be as helpful in controlling blood sugar. Instead, opt for natural, zero glycemic impact sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit, and erythritol to sweeten oats beautifully. If your blood sugar is testy, instead of using instant oats, go with the lesser processed oats like groats, steel-cut, or rolled oats, which all have a lower glycemic index. If you’re still having trouble with your blood sugar when eating oats this way, try pairing them with added lean protein or extra fiber mixed in e.g., 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon glucomannan powder or 2 to 3 teaspoons whole husk psyllium powder with a ½ – 1 cup extra water when cooking. Adding extra fiber and water this way gives you a bigger, more filling bowl of oats while helping stabilize blood sugar and without adding any calories.


6. Support Fertility, Pregnancy, and May Boost Milk Supply in Breastfeeding Mothers…


Oatmeal may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of fertility-boosting foods, but its benefits are worth mentioning, particularly how it benefits male fertility. As mentioned above, oatmeal is one of the highest foods in zinc (a nutrient that keeps sperm healthy). An investigation to find whether micronutrients improve sperm quality discovered that zinc, along with other nutrients, may prevent sperm damage, especially in older men. Oats are also a rich source of selenium, another antioxidant required for sperm motility, and zinc may reduce the risk of miscarriage.

Zinc and selenium have a role in female fertility too. A study involving pregnant Australian women found that those with lower zinc and selenium concentrations had a harder time getting pregnant.  And a review of the role of selenium in human conception and pregnancy emphasizes the importance of selenium for both male sperm and fetal development during pregnancy. In addition, whole grains are recommended to be part of a fertility diet in both men and women.

Oats are historically believed to have lactogenic properties that boost breast milk supply. Many lactation experts recommend oats to new mothers or mothers struggling with supply. Although there is a lack of studies undertaken, anecdotally a great many mothers have reported an increase in their supply after regularly consuming oats. There are several different theories as to why oats may be lactogenic. Some credit the iron content in oats since anemia has been linked to low milk supply. Another theory is that the B-glucans and/or saponins in oats could support hormones related to breast milk production. One thought is that oatmeal’s ability to decrease cholesterol may, as a result, increase milk supply.

Even if we can’t prove oats produce more milk through studies, we know they produce many nutrients in milk! As we’ve learned, oats are great for both mama and baby, regardless of whether studies have been undertaken to support this.


7. Good for Your Skin…


Using oats to treat a number of skin problems is a centuries-old practice. Oats have been known to help itchiness, dryness, rashes, burns, and eczema. However, up until just over a decade ago, there were very few studies investigating the chemical compounds in oats that give them their anti-inflammatory and anti-itch benefits. A 2008 study found that the AVA in oats are the anti-inflammatory agents that are likely to give oats their skin-soothing properties.

The best form of oats for skincare is colloidal oatmeal, which is made of whole oat kernels ground into a very fine powder. This makes the oats more easily applied and absorbed into the skin and offers more healing benefits because it contains the oat bran. One study found that colloidal oatmeal was shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities after subjects were treated with a colloidal oatmeal lotion.

The skin-healing properties listed above apply when oats are used topically… but can you benefit your skin by ingesting oats? When it comes to acne-prone skin, eating a bowl of oatmeal could possibly help there too!  There is evidence that oral zinc can be effective at treating acne, and as we know, oats are a tremendous source of zinc! It’s important to note that acne is linked to high glycemic food diets. Instant oats have a higher GI, so best to more regularly choose old-fashioned rolled oats, steel-cut oats, or oat groats, for a lower GI, to keep the breakouts at bay.

Not all oats are created equal.


The Different Types of Processing


All oats start out as oat groats. Oat groats are the least processed after having the outer inedible shell of the oat kernel removed (they take a longer time to cook so they’re fabulous cooked overnight in a slow cooker). Steel-cut oats are the second least processed – they are simply oat groats cut into smaller pieces by steel blades. Then comes the classic rolled oats, or “old-fashioned oats”. These are oat groats that have been steamed and rolled flat to give a softer texture and a shorter cooking time. Lastly, quick oats are processed similarly to rolled oats, but they are rolled out thinner to give an even shorter cooking time.

Although the nutritional content may only vary slightly between these different types of oats, the least processed oats are the healthiest options since they are the gentlest on blood sugar. Oat groats and steel-cut oats have the lowest glycemic index, while quick oats and instant oats have the highest. The low glycemic oats will also take longer to digest, which means they will leave you feeling full for longer. If you prefer a quicker cooking time, you can mix a 50/50 combination of rolled oats (for their lower GI benefit) and instant oats (for their quick-cooking benefit) with added fiber to further slow the rise of blood sugar.

  • Gluten -vs- Gluten-Free…

It’s also important to note that even though oats are naturally gluten-free, some oats are contaminated with gluten when they are grown alongside other crops or processed in the same facility as gluten-containing grains. This is why you may want to look for a brand of oats that is marketed to be gluten-free if you have Celiac disease.

  • Organic -vs- Non-Organic…

When choosing oats, it may be a safer bet to choose organic over non-organic. A test conducted by the Environmental Working Group found an unsettling amount of the weed killer herbicide called glyphosate in many brands of oats.  The highest levels of glyphosate were found in the conventional brands, with either minor amounts or none detected in the organic brands. This news is concerning considering one study has found that glyphosate can increase the risk of some cancers by more than 40%. Glyphosate could also disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut. Children and unborn babies are the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of glyphosate since their organs and bodily systems are still in development. 


How to Enjoy Oats on the Trim Healthy Mama Plan


Oats are considered an E (energizing) food on the Trim Healthy Mama Plan since they consist of wholesome, healthy carbs. E meals utilize the crucial benefits of gentle carbs and keep fats to lower amounts. To stay in E-zone, pull back the fat when eating oats by only adding minimal amounts (about one teaspoon) of oil, butter, or nuts. Adding more fat than this will turn oats into a Crossover meal, which is perfect for growing children, pregnant or nursing mothers, and also fine for those who need Crossovers to maintain their weight or don’t need to lose weight. Whether you’re enjoying an E or a Crossover, remember to stick to healthy sweeteners that don’t spike your blood sugar, such as stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol. If you’re sensitive to sugar alcohols, raw honey or coconut sugar would be a better option than cane sugar since they are more nutritious and have a lower glycemic index. But keep coconut sugar to small amounts and use it in moderation, since overdoing any type of blood-sugar-spiking sweetener can come with health consequences and hurt your waistline. And lastly, get creative with toppings! Sprinkle in a small amount of stevia-sweetened chocolate chips, or use fun flavors with the Natural Burst extracts.  Other great flavor combinations could be apple and cinnamon or blueberries with a teaspoon of nut butter!



For more ideas, here are two delicious, slimming, (and free) Trim Healthy Mama oatmeal recipes:

Facebook: Pearl’s Sweat Pants Oatmeal  /  Membership: Pearl’s Sweat Pants Oatmeal

THM Dot Com: Pearl’s PPP Porridge / Membership: Pearl’s PPP Porridge


You can find many additional recipes using oats (including oat-based pancakes, muffins, and cakes) in THM Cookbooks – Trim Healthy Mama CookbookTrim Healthy Table, & Trim Healthy Future.