Oatmeal- A Great Carbohydrate Choice For Breakfast
It bears saying that with the exception of human breast milk for babies, there is no such thing as a perfect food. ‘Superfoods’ and the like are little more than well thought out advertising propaganda designed to make you buy more products- and they work very well at doing just that. However, the ‘superfood’ marketing strategy has no anchor in the science of nutrition and biochemistry. Not one food can be termed better than another since one of the central tenet of human nutrition is that we tend to be the healthiest when we have our nutritional needs met by eating a wide variety of different and minimally processed natural foods.  Each one providing different vitamins, minerals, macro-nutrients and phytochemicals that come together to create a perfect blue print for optimum nutrition as long as food supplies are adequate . That being said, there are foods that are most certainly not good for us- a fact that is lost in the miasma of product centered advertising that makes up most of the ‘health information’ we are exposed to on a daily basis. Those foods, unfortunately. encompass the majority of products you find in the inner isles of any supermarket. Processed foods and refined products make up the lion-share of what most people in affluent countries eat today- but at a price. Obesity and the slew of preventable diet-related diseases that have become commonplace in our society are silent testaments to the fact that there are foods that should not be part of our regular diet. Almost unheard of in societies untouched by industrialized food products, obesity and metabolic disease are preventable as they are brought on not by inevitable genetic factors, but rather by the choices we make everyday at the dinner, lunch and breakfast table. While there may be no superfoods that can come to our rescue- there are good food choices available to us and when it comes to breakfast- oatmeal is one such better choice.
Oats and Gluten- Understanding the Relationship
Oatmeal is made from ground oats, steel-cut oats, crushed oats, or rolled oats. Steel cut oats are very much a la mode these days but they are nothing more than smaller cut oats that are steamed and flattened. With the exception of instant type oats and brands with added sugars, all forms of oatmeal are pretty much the same in terms of health benefits. Oats and oatmeal do not contain gluten, but many associate it with gluten as individuals with celiac disease (who must avoid gluten in their diets) can often have adverse reactions to it. The reaction has nothing to do with gluten sensitivity however, but rather a protein high in proline and glutamine called avenin. Studies have found that oats can indeed be part of a gluten free diet for individuals suffering with celiac disease, as having this disorder does not necessarily mean that avenin will negatively affect you. That being said, here in the United States oats are usually processed in the same factories that refine wheat, barley and other grain products and so there is always some risk of cross contamination and they are sometimes listed as containing gluten for this reason. It can be a bit confusing but oats themselves are gluten free and many steel cut and higher priced organic brands advertise as being processed in factories that do not manufacture wheat and grain products. In Europe where wheat and oats are not usually milled together oats are always classified as gluten free. Should you avoid oats made in factories that may have some degree of gluten contamination? My take would be that unless you have celiac disease and have been recommended specifically by your physician to avoid all traces of gluten, I wouldn’t worry about it. Microscopic amounts of gluten aren’t going to do much to you if you are healthy and if the cheaper brands make it easier for you to eat oatmeal consistently, then I say by all means go for it.
Instant Oatmeal- Junk Food Disguised As A Healthy Product
Instant oatmeal in all of its incarnations should be avoided. Unlike other forms of oats which are dehusked by pounding and then heated, instant oats are cut into smaller pieces and pre-cooked. Rolled and steel cut oats require longer cooking times and the shorter cooking times required by instant oats may seem like a great idea for those pressed for time, but there are some problems created by the refinement process. Instant oats have much less fiber than its counterparts as the fiber is removed to make it cook faster and to give it a lighter taste. In so doing, the glycemic index value increases. Glycemic index is a tool used in nutrition to measure the effect of a food on our blood sugar levels. Foods that breakdown quickly during digestion and rapidly release sugars into our system are said to have a high glycemic index. Foods that digest slowly and gradually release glucose into the bloodstream are said to have a low glycemic index. Foods with a high glycemic index value such as candy bars, white bread and table sugar wreak havoc with our insulin levels and increase the likelihood of visceral abdominal fat storage.
Instant oatmeal has a glycemic index of 62- the which is the same as ice cream and that’s without the sugar usually added to instant varieties which effectively turns a potentially healthy food choice into a junk food. A fact that doesn’t stop food manufacturers from claiming it to be healthy even though it clearly isn’t.
Benefits Of Oatmeal As A Breakfast Food
For decades, oatmeal has been the standard morning meal of bodybuilders and athletes. (Wheaties and Corn Flakes may be marketed as the breakfast of champions but unless your sport is being overweight and out of shape you’ll do best to put cold cereals on your avoid list.) Oatmeal is high in slow burning complex carbohydrates and water-soluble fiber that not only fills you up but also stabilize your blood sugar levels. High as well in B vitamins, fats and proteins, oatmeal provides a calorie rich food that can help you start the day on the right foot.
Due to the high beta-glucan and fiber levels found in oats- oatmeal was a bit of a health fad in the eighties when research found positive associations between oatmeal consumption and lower blood cholesterol. This lead to a glut of oat bran products on the market masquerading as healthy foods. Oat bran muffins, instant oatmeal and other foods containing little in the way of fiber and filled with sugars, salt and artificial ingredients were vigorously promoted as being heart friendly and in turn adding even more misinformation to the clamor of misleading nutritional information.
Oatmeal is a great breakfast food, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that simply eating a bowl of oatmeal and then having junk for the rest of the day is going to do much. Instead, it is a valuable addition to the arsenal of wholesome and natural foods that can help you maintain an optimal body weight, help you increase performance, lose weight and decrease your risk of diet related disease. [4,5, 6,7] Avoid the temptation to look at any one food as a magic formula and don’t negate the health benefits of your oatmeal by adding milk, sugars and sweeteners, instead stick with fruit and berries for added flavor. So have some oatmeal for breakfast- you’ll feel better and look better as a result.
1. Rottmann LH (2006-09-26). “On the Use of Oats in the Gluten-Free Diet”. Celiac Sprue Association/United States of America, Inc. (CSA)
2. Janatuinen, E.K., Kemppainen, T.A., Julkunen, R.J.K., Kosma, V-M., Mäki, M., Heikkinen, M. and Uusitupa, M.I. (2002) No harm from five year ingestion of oats in celiac disease, Gut, 50, 332–335
3. Nestle M. FOOD POLITICS: HOW THE FOOD INDUSTRY INFLUENCES NUTRITION AND HEALTH, University of California Press. Paperback, 2003
4. Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan. Nutr Rev. 2011
5. Bell S, Goldman VM, Bistrian BR, Arnold AH, Ostroff G, Forse RA. Effect of beta-glucan from oats and yeast on serum lipids. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1999
6. Tiwari U, Cummins E.Meta-analysis of the effect of β-glucan intake on blood cholesterol and glucose levels.Nutrition. 2011
Kevin Richardson is an award winning health and fitness writer, the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training™ and one of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City. If you live in the New York City area and need help losing weight or getting into shape give Kevin and his team a call at 1-800-798-8420.