Oats have been hailed as the ultimate ‘health food’, and rightly so… in most cases.
So it’s not surprising that supermarket breakfast aisles and high street coffee shops are awash with oat based breakfast products. Instant porridge pots, sachets, bars, granolas and biscuits… all supposedly healthy and convenient. The problem is this: the more processed the oats, the more quickly they will make your blood sugars rise. They lose their principal benefit of being a ‘slow release’ grain. Not to mention that many of the processed oat products have had sugar or honey added to suit a sweeter tooth!
The instant porridge pots, which you can microwave for 2 minutes, are actually high in sugar. One well known brand’s ‘original’ flavour added up to more than 22% sugar.
So what are the different forms of oats you can get?
- Whole groats:
the whole grain, with the husk removed. They take the longest to cook, but if you leave them to soak overnight and give them enough cooking time, you’ll have a very slow release and tasty type of porridge
- Steel cut:
the oat groat, cut into pieces. This is the form of oats used to make porridge in Scotland traditionally. The coarser steel cut oats are best.
ground groats, with different levels of coarseness. The smaller the grains, the higher the GL (glycaemic load, in other words the impact on blood sugars) will be (because our digestive enzymes will break them down more quickly) – you’re best off avoiding fine oatmeal as it will raise blood sugars faster. At least we do know oatmeal is better than ready to eat breakfast cereals (see this Journal of the American College of Nutrition study)
- Rolled oats:
the oat groats have been steamed, rolled into flakes (thickly or thinly) and toasted. The large whole flakes are less processed and low GL than the smaller fragmented flakes you get in thin-rolled oats.
Here are a couple of preparation tips for you:
1. You should try to soak your oats overnight if possible.
It doesn’t have to be time-consuming – just put them in the pan with the milk and leave them in the fridge, so the next morning, all you have to do is pop them on the heat for a few minutes.
Why soak them?
Sally Fallon in ‘Nourishing Traditions’ explains it best: “All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer or bran. Oats contain more phytates than almost any other grain. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Soaking allows enzymes, lactobacillli and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid.” So you’ll be vastly increasing your oats’ nutritional benefits, as well as making them easier to digest.
2. Switch the honey for healthier toppings
- Sprinkle some cinnamon on top (cinnamon helps your cells make use of the blood sugars faster)
- Stir in some protein powder (see this research by the University of Missouri Columbia)
- Stir in a good spoonful of almond or hazelnut butter – yummy!
- Add some ground seeds and nuts on top
- Add as many berries as you fancy (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, they are all very safe in terms of blood sugars)
Author: Angela Steel