Oats are whole grains that are gluten free and are a rich source of vitamins, fiber, minerals and antioxidants. Oats are scientifically known as Avena sativa. Whole form of oats takes a very long time to cook, hence usually rolled, crushed or steel-cut oats are eaten. Oatmeal is usually eaten for breakfast. It is made by boiling oats in milk or water, according to taste. Oats are also used in muffins, cookies or other baked goods to improve their health quotient.
Oats have been cultivated for two thousand years in various parts of the world. Earlier oats were used for medicinal purposes, now they are used as food and for medicinal purposes too. Oats have a well balanced nutrient composition. They contain more fat and protein than most grains, and are rich in carbs and fiber. Being very high in vitamins and minerals, oats are among the most nutrient-dense foods one can eat. Whole oats are rich in antioxidants especially a unique group of antioxidants known as avenanthramides. These help in lowering the blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide which helps to dilate blood vessels leading to a better blood flow.
Oats are also high in the soluble fiber betaglucan which helps to reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also promotes healthy gut bacteria and brings a feeling of fullness thus helping in losing weight. Oats are also known to lower the risk of heart disease by reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels. They protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a pivotal step in progression of heart disease and causes inflammation in arteries, tissue damage and raises risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Oat bran helps to reduce constipation in elderly people and thus reduces the need to use laxatives significantly. Eating a bowl of oats everyday is very beneficial for postmenopausal women with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other signs of cardiovascular disease. Starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal also boosts the immune response along with the energy levels. Cereal fiber and fruit fiber also reduces the risk of pre and post menopausal breast cancer.
Oats are used in many skin care products. Application of colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oats) helps to treat dry and itchy skin. It is also helpful in various skin conditions like eczema.
There are many ways of enjoying oats as a meal or a snack. Your favourite fruits and nuts can be added to the hot bowl of oatmeal to make it more delicious and wholesome. Oats can be boiled with water and a little salt and vegetables like beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes or even peas may be added. Oatmeal cookies make a great snack. Oat bran may be added to the dough while making chapatis or baking too.