The oat grain is a hardy cereal grain which resembles wheat and can withstand poor soil conditions. The oat kernel is covered with bran which is extremely nutritious and is not always removed.
Oats have been cultivated for several thousand years but were generally regarded as only fit for animal consumption. Even today they are commonly used as livestock feed and in dog and chicken feed. The discovery that they have cholesterol reducing properties has led to the sudden popularity of this grain. The quality of the protein found in oats is superior to the quality of protein found in wheat or other grains. The quantity is also much more.
 Varieties of Oats
There are several varieties of oats and they are categorized by how much they have been processed.
Oat groats: These are oats that have been processed the least. Only the outer covering has been removed. However, they need to be soaked and cooked for a good amount of time to soften them.
This is the outer covering of the oat grain and is highly nutritious. It is sometimes mixed with groats or added to baked foods.
These are also known as Irish oats. These are groats that have been fairly finely chopped up. They are used in muesli and also in cereals which require some amount of cooking. They have a chewy texture. The term comes from the fact that they are passed between sharp steel blades to chop them.
Rolled oats are commonly recommended as a breakfast cereal. Rolled oats are oats that have been hulled They are then roasted, lightly baked or steamed to soften them and flattened under heavy rollers. As a result they have a flatter shape.
These are oats that have undergone the same process as the rolled oats but are more finely cut and have been rolled into thinner flakes to reduce the cooking time to a few minutes. Those who know their oats will tell you that they lack the distinct nutty taste of the less processed oats.
These are very finely chopped oats which are precooked, dried and then flattened with big rollers. They simply need to be mixed with a hot liquid. They are often flavored and sometimes sugar, salt and other ingredients are added. The taste is quite unlike the groats that they processed from.
Groats are ground to a fine powder to make them into oat flour. This can even be done at home by grinding rolled oats in a food processor. This is often used for baking by combining it with wheat or some other flour that contains gluten.
 Nutritional benefits
One ounce of oats contains twice as much protein as one ounce of wheat or cornflakes.
Oats contain most of the B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, calcium, thiamine, manganese, selenium and dietary fiber. They also contain beta-glucan which helps people suffering form type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar level and fight off bacterial infections. In addition they contain soluble fiber and gamma linoleic acid.
 Health benefits
Oats have high fiber content. Studies have shown that consuming one bowl of oats regularly reduces cholesterol by 10 to 20 percent in just one month. This is because cholesterol binds to the fiber and since fiber is not absorbed by the body, neither is cholesterol.
High cholesterol causes plaques to build up in the walls of blood vessels. These plaques can block blood vessels and cause a heart attack or a stroke. Consuming oats regularly brings down cholesterol levels thus slowing down the progression of atherosclerosis.
Reduces risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Soluble fiber, which is found in abundance in oats, slows down the digestion of starch. This is beneficial to people suffering from type 2 diabetes. The slow digestion of starch prevents the blood sugar level from rising sharply, reducing the need for insulin.
The insoluble fiber found in oats reduces the toxicity of certain bile acids. In addition the phytochemicals contained in oats are believed to have cancer fighting properties.
The insoluble fiber found in oats makes stools bulky and relieves constipation.
Improves the immune system
Oats contain bets-glucan which enhances the body’s immunity against bacterial infections. Eating a bowl of oats everyday boosts the body’s immune response. The selenium that is found in oats acts along with vitamin E to decrease asthma symptoms.
Oats are believed to have a calming and soothing effect on people suffering from anxiety and frustration. Oats contain gramine, an alkaloid which has mild sedative properties.
Treatment of wounds
Oats have always been used to treat wounds and for various skin diseases and rashes. Wrap oatmeal in an old sock and use it to soothe itchy, dry skin while having a bath.
 Health risks
Pure oats have been found to be well tolerated by most celiacs (people suffering from gluten intolerance). However oats do contain avenin, a substance that has been found to trigger off an allergy in some celiacs. Oats are often processed in the same mills as wheat and other gluten containing grains and may get contaminated, making it unsafe for consumption by celiacs.
Oats contain purines, a naturally occurring substance. Excessive intake of purines may trigger off a reaction in individuals susceptible to purine related health problems. The excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to an excessive accumulation of uric acid in the body. This could eventually lead to the formation of kidney stones and gout.
 Selecting and Storing
The high fat content of oats makes it a perishable grain. It goes rancid very quickly. Buy oats in small quantities and store in air tight containers in a cool dark place. The oats should smell fresh. They have a shelf life of two months.
Getting your daily requirement
- Add oat flour to cakes, cookies and muffins
- For a healthy breakfast eat a bowl of oats every morning with milk or yoghurt and chopped fruits
- Start a cold winter morning with a bowl of piping hot oats
- Add oat bran to your favorite cereal
- Add oats to your poultry stuffing
- To make the bowl of bland oats more exciting, add blueberries, strawberries or any other fruit
- Use oats as a thickening agent for soups and gravies instead of flour or cornflour.
 Did you know
- Rolled oats were mixed with peanut butter and soy sauce and used as bait by biologists to trap small terrestrial animals.
- Processed oats can be eaten raw since they are not really raw. Processed oats are oats that have been steamed at 212 degrees to prevent them from turning rancid.
- Oats are the only grain that are referred to in the plural form.
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