20 Mar Brainy Bliss Balls Recipe
Oats So Good
It might not be a sexy new superfood, but oats are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Oats grow extremely well in Ireland so you can buy high quality local and even organic porridge oats if you prefer. Oats are also far more economical than some junky, sugary breakfast cereals.
On a chilly morning a warm bowl of porridge is a comforting way to ease yourself into the day. Many people claim that a bowl of porridge ‘sets them up’ for the day. And they are absolutely right. Oats, unlike other grains, have a very high level of soluble fibre, called beta glucan. This fibre forms a gel in the digestive tract that has many positive effects. The most measurable is probably the lowering of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. It does this by trapping the cholesterol in the digestive tract and moving it out of the body. A regular serving of oats lowers bad cholesterol by 23%. Avenanthramides are antioxidants in oats that reduce the build-up of plaque in the artery walls and thereby prevent hardening of the arteries, another factor in heart disease.
The fibre in oats helps to make it a slow releasing carbohydrate, which keeps blood sugar nice and steady. This is vital for diabetics and for weight loss, but also for sustained energy and good brain function and concentration. Oats are also incredibly rich in B vitamins which are vital for the nervous system and brain function. Along with selenium, an important antioxidant for healthy brain chemistry. If you have trouble keeping focused at work, try a bowl of porridge for breakfast with some added nuts and seeds for healthy fats.
New studies show that beta glucan, the soluble fibre in oats, also helps immune cells in the body to treat bacterial infection more effectively, facilitating quicker healing and recovery. This is important for all of us struggling with colds and flus, but even more important if you have a long-term illness. The high levels of zinc in oats also contribute to a healthy immune system.
There are also several antioxidants and phytonutrients present in oats that have powerful anti-cancer actions. Selenium, along with happy brain chemistry, is involved in DNA repair and is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. Ferulic acid is another antioxidant that protects the colon from cancer. The lignans in oats protect against breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.
My favourite type of oats is pinhead oatmeal, also known as steel cut oats in the States. This is the whole, round unprocessed oat grain that had been cut in half by a steel blade. Because it hasn’t been processed it any way, this form of oats porridge is the platinum standard in porridge. The oats take much longer to break down into glucose in your bloodstream so pinhead porridge is the ultimate breakfast to sustain you till lunchtime and keep you fuller for longer. Because of the high quality of this carbohydrate, it is also one of the best breakfast foods for a weight loss programme. Pinhead oatmeal has more fibre than regular porridge oats so it will be the most effective at lowering high blood cholesterol if eaten consistently.
The one downside is that pinhead porridge takes much longer to cook. But the solution to this is to cook a big batch, enough for three to four days, and reheat portions as you need them. One cup of the dried oats will make four portions of porridge. Take one cup of dried pinhead oatmeal and add four cups of liquid-water, milk, rice milk-in a pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce to gentle simmer for 25 minutes. Soaking the oats overnight will shorten the cooking a fraction.
A more versatile form of oats would be what I call porridge oats. These are the oat flakes that have been rolled and take roughly 8 to 10 minutes to cook on the hob, or a little longer if you are using a low temperature. I prefer these to the instant oats which have been partially cooked then dried which enables them to cook quicker. Great as a time saver, but not as slow releasing or sustaining as regular oats. Here are some of the many ways I use oats on an almost daily basis.
Top Tips for Making the Most of Porridge Oats:
- Sprinkle in a pinch of cinnamon when cooking porridge for a natural sweetness. Cinnamon also helps to balance blood sugar.
- Add dried fruit such as raisins, dried cranberries or apricots when cooking porridge for extra fibre and natural sweetness.
- Serve porridge with ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for added healthy plant oils.
- Make bircher muesli by soaking uncooked oat flakes in apple juice, milk or soya milk for 20 minutes. Serve with fresh fruit, yoghurt or nuts and seeds.
- Make a smoothie with banana, berries, soya milk and a handful of oat flakes.
- Substitute oat flakes for a ¼ of the flour in breads, cookies, muffins and cakes.
- Use oat flakes for breading fish and chicken.
- Add oat flakes to meatballs, meatloaf and burger mince beef mixes.
- Use oats as a stuffing for peppers and baked tomatoes, mix with herbs, chopped vegetables and onions.
- Mix yoghurt with oat flakes, nuts and seeds.
If you’re a fan of oats, or just want to use this fantastic food more, sign up to my newsletter. Oats often feature in my recipes as the star or in a supporting role.