6 Proven Health Benefits of Oatmeal
Oatmeal appears so innocent, but it’s mainly one of the more polarizing breakfasts. On one hand, it’s gained a reputation as this uninteresting, gluey plain slop sprinkled with raisins. On the other, social media has hyped oatmeal as something drool-worthy, piled high with fine toppings. (Go search #oatmeal on Instagram right now.)
If you haven’t been on team oatmeal, it’s time to give it another shot. Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast that’s loaded with complex carbohydrates (including fiber), vitamins, and minerals, and it can be a great dish for nutritious toppings like nuts, seeds, and fruit, says Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist Ginger Hultin, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Champagne Nutrition.
What’s more, oats are naturally gluten-free, making them an excellent source of carbs for persons with specific dietary needs (such as those with celiac disease), says Hultin. (Some oats can still contain traces of gluten, however, so always check the brand you’re buying.)
Another thing to pay attention to is the type of oats you’re eating. For the most health benefits, opt for steel cut, old-fashioned, or rolled oats instead of instant or quick oats. That’s because the latter are relatively lower in fiber, says Hultin.
Next time you’re planning breakfast and considering oatmeal, keep these seven potential perks in mind.
1. Oatmeal Is a Great Source of Fiber
A plate of oats can help you consume the recommended amount of fiber per day. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men under 50 years old should aim for at least 38 grams (g) per day, while women under 50 should eat 25 g or more per day, though most Americans are eating just half of that, points out the International Food Information Council Foundation. With 4 g of fiber per cup, cooked oatmeal covers about 14 percent of the daily value (DV) of this nutrient, making it a good source, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eating a diet rich in whole grains and other food sources of fiber has been shown to be protective against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast, colon, and rectal cancers, according to a study published in February 2019 in The Lancet.
2. Oatmeal Helps in Lowering Cholesterol
Oats contains a particular soluble fiber called beta-glucan, notes a review published in November 2019 in Frontiers in Nutrition. “The soluble fiber in oats has been shown to lower cholesterol. It works like a Roto-Rooter to clear out cholesterol that may be building up in arterial walls,” explains Jessica Crandall Snyder, RDN, CEO of Vital RD in Centennial, Colorado. Daily consumption of beta-glucan was found to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol compared to control groups, according to a review and meta-analysis of 58 trials that was published in October 2016 in the British Journal of Nutrition. A high LDL cholesterol level raises your risk of heart disease, notes the American Heart Association (AHA).
3. Oats Can Help Energize Your Body and May Boost Its Immunity
When you eat up a bowl in the morning, you’re serving up B vitamins, plus minerals including manganese, iron, magnesium, and zinc, says Hultin. For example, 1 cup of cooked oats has about 2 milligrams (mg) of iron, or 11 percent of your DV. As the NIH points out, iron energizes the body and helps trigger the process of carrying oxygen through your body from your lungs. Oats also provide 1.5 mg of zinc, a nutrient necessary for immune function, according to the NIH, which is 14 percent of your daily need.
4. Oatmeal Can Boost Digestive Health
The fiber in oats is good for your overall health, but it’s particularly good for a well-functioning digestive system, points out the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Not only does oats provide insoluble fiber, which promotes regularity, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, but also soluble fiber, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sources of soluble fiber have prebiotic properties, per Oregon State University. “This can help feed the good bacteria living in the gut for a healthier microbiome,” says Hultin.
5. Oats Are Packed With Antioxidants to Help Protect Against Disease
Mostly, you see fruits and veggies as disease-fighting antioxidants, but your bowl of oatmeal is brimming with them, too. Hultin points out that oats contain a specific antioxidant called avenanthramides. According to a study published in September 2019 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, this oat antioxidant is a promising cancer fighter — though more studies are needed. But did you really need another reason to grab a spoon?
6. A Bowl of Oatmeal Could Help Reduce Belly Fat
Another win-win for oatmeal’s soluble fiber: It may help reduce visceral fat, the type of fat in your midsection that hugs your organs and raises your risk of heart disease and stroke — even if your body mass index is deemed normal, notes the AHA. According to a study published in September 2016 in the journal Nutrients, which looked at adults who have type 2 diabetes, oats helped reduce blood sugar, blood lipids, and weight better than a control group that ate a healthy diet but no oats. Snyder points to research that looked at a variety of lifestyle factors that lead to a reduction in visceral fat and prevented its accumulation over the years: “They found soluble fiber was one of the biggest things that helped clear out fat stores in this area,” she says.