Awesome Oats! A Great Complex Carb Choice

Tired of eating the same bowl of oatmeal every morning to get those complex carbs? Spice it up.

The thought of having to scarf down a plain bowl of mundane oatmeal zapped in the microwave with water just to adhere to your diet isn’t exactly appetizing. While it’s true that oats are quick, easy and convenient, they leave much to be desired in terms of taste, excitement and variety. That is, unless you know how to spice them up. Let’s first take a look at this super carbohydrate before we write it off in favor of sweet potatoes or wheat pasta.

For starters, the known health benefits of oats are simply amazing. More than 40 studies have proven that oats have the effect of lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol. This benefit is due to the high amount of soluble fiber present in this super grain, which has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease as well. And while on the subject of fiber, it’s important to point out that meeting daily fiber requirements is necessary to maintain healthy gastrointestinal function. Some studies show that individuals with adequate daily fiber intake have better weight management as well.

Oatmeal is an incredible whole grain. The Food Pyramid recommends that half your grain intake come from whole grains. Necessary vitamins and nutrients found in the bran and germ of the grain are lost in the milling process of refined “white” grains. Whole grains provide satiety (feeling of fullness), promote digestive health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and lower risk of developing colon, stomach, rectal and prostate cancers. Whole grains may also reduce risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and help control blood sugar among diabetics. Whole grains such as oatmeal are broken down by the body into glucose. Glucose is the body’s primary and preferred energy source, especially during moderate- and high-intensity physical exercise. Oats are a nearly perfect option as they provide a sustained release of complex carbohydrates, allowing a constant stream of energy to fuel your body and provide blood sugar stability.

Not All Oats are Created Equal
The process of making oat “meal” involves de-husking, heating and cooling to create “oat groats.” The oat groats are then processed in one of several ways: milling (fine, medium or coarse), steamed and flattened to create the familiar rolled oats; cut, steamed and rolled to make quick-cook oats; or simply cut or broken to be deemed steel-cut oats.

When it comes to health benefits, the less processing the oats go through before being packaged leads to a higher nutritional value. That being said, your best bet is either oat groats or steel-cut oats. Old-fashioned oatmeal and quick-cook oats are next in line. Most of these have had the oat bran layer removed, and thus vital nutrients. Instant oatmeal, as in packets, is the least healthy due to the most processing of the oat. In addition, most of these have artificial flavorings, colorings and sweeteners added. Even the plain “original” flavor of a popular brand of instant oatmeal contains caramel coloring and a soy gum base. The good thing is these processed oats have been fortified with additional vitamins A, C, iron and calcium, which help bring the vitamin and mineral count higher. However, supplemental vitamin fortification is not always as well absorbed as the natural nutrients found in foods.

So now you’re ready to throw a pot on the stove and cook up a batch of steel-cut oats. But how do you make it tasty while keeping it healthy? Add a pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) of salt to the batch of oats while it’s cooking. This will help bring out the natural nutty flavor of the oats, as well as any flavors you may add to the
final product.

Oats are a great high-energy complex carbohydrate source, but to make a balanced meal requires the addition of healthy fats and high-quality protein. This can be as simple as stirring in a scoop of protein powder and some milk or dairy alternative, such as soy, hazelnut or almond milk. Nonfat yogurt or Greek yogurt gives a tangy creaminess to the oatmeal. For a little more flavor and texture, you can add chopped nuts to your oats. Slivered almonds, chopped walnuts or pecans are delicious choices. Add some fresh fruit to your dish and things really start to get exciting. Strawberries, blueberries, sliced banana, or even peaches are great options. Dried fruit makes your oats quite scrumptious, although watch for added sugars. Try dried unsweetened cranberries, raisins or blueberries. Liquid sweeteners work quite well with oats since they mix thoroughly. For healthy natural options, choose honey, agave nectar or a bit of maple syrup.

Spicing It Up
***Homemade Apple Pie Oatmeal*** 
• ¼ cup (cooked) steel-cut oats or ½ cup (dry) old-fashioned oats
• ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ cup cooked diced apples
• 2 Tbs. finely chopped walnuts
• Honey, to taste
• Low-fat milk, soy or almond milk

Directions: Cook oats according to directions, then stir in all remaining ingredients.

***Spicy Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal***
• ¼ cup (cooked) steel-cut oats or ½ cup (dry) old-fashioned oats
• ¼ teaspoon Pumpkin Pie spice
• ¼ cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
• 1 Tbs. ground flaxseed (flaxseed mill)
• 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
• 1 Tbs. agave nectar
• 1 Tbs. honey (if more sweetness
Directions: Cook oats according to directions, then stir in all remaining ingredients.

Think outside the box and be creative when prepping your oats. Oats add thickness, texture and a nutty wholesome flavor to any recipe. Don’t just make them sweet; oats can boost up savory dishes. Use them in meatloaf, combine them with brown rice in your stir fry and bake with oats, too.

Fun Facts About Oatmeal

  • 80 percent of American households have oatmeal in their cupboards.
  • The most popular toppings for oatmeal are milk, sugar, fruit and butter.
  • Oatmeal costs about 15 cents per serving.
  • January is Oatmeal Month, created by the Quaker company in the 1980’s.
  • Oatmeal cookies are the number one non-cereal use for oatmeal, followed by meatloaf.
  • An 18-ounce container of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats contains 26,000 rolled oats.

Oats Throughout the Ages
2000 BC: Oat grains found among Egyptian remains
1602: Oats first brought to North America and planted off the coast of Massachusetts
1786: George Washington sowed 580 acres of oats
1908: The first oatmeal cookie recipe, oat cakes, appears on a box of Quaker Oats

By Alissa Carpio