Can Oats Boost Your Heart Health?
Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a special type of fiber known as beta-glucan. Study after study has demonstrated the beneficial effects of beta-glucan on cholesterol levels. According to The World's Healthiest Foods, studies show that individuals with high cholesterol, consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (found in one bowl of oatmeal) experienced lower total cholesterol by 8 to 23 percent. The fiber helps carry out the unnecessary cholesterol from the body, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.
There is another mechanism in which oats boost heart health: the antioxidant compounds (unique to oats), called avenanthramides, help prevent free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition.
Oats are also rich in manganese, necessary for an enzyme (manganese superoxide dismutase), which is a potent antioxidant, associated with protection against free radical damage. They are also rich in magnesium, which helps maintain nervous system balance as well as controlling inflammation, both contribute to heart health.
Shopping for oats, what's the difference?
- Oat groats: unflattened kernels that are good for using as a breakfast cereal or for stuffing.
- Steel-cut oats: featuring a dense and chewy texture, they are produced by running the grain through steel blades that thinly slices them.
- Old-fashioned oats: have a flatter shape that is the result of their being steamed and then rolled.
- Quick-cooking oats: processed like old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling.
- Instant oatmeal: produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. Oftentimes, sugar, salt and other ingredients are added to make the finished product.
- Oat bran: the outer layer of the grain that resides under the hull. While oat bran is found in rolled oats and steel-cut oats, it may also be purchased as a separate product that can be added to recipes or cooked to make a hot cereal
- Oat flour: used in baking, it is oftentimes combined with wheat or other gluten-containing flours when making leavened bread.