The Washington Post food columnist, Tamar Haspel, argues that oats are the best superfood on the planet and Lydia Ramsey ranks it as the healthiest grain that packs “the most nutrients per calorie of any of the grains”. Harvard’s School of Public Health also recommends oats.
The primary type of soluble fiber in oats is beta-glucan, which has been researched to help slow digestion, increase satiety, and suppress appetite. Beta-glucan can bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestine and transport them through the digestive tract and eventually out of the body. Whole oats also contain plant chemicals called phenolic compounds and phytoestrogens that act as antioxidants to reduce the damaging effects of chronic inflammation that is associated with various diseases like cardiovascular disease and diabetes…
Beta-glucan fiber may help to prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and insulin levels after eating a meal, and may benefit gut health as the fiber is broken down and fermented by intestinal bacteria.
Dietary fiber should be considered a superfood because it reduces heart disease, reduces risk of diabetes, and makes the gut biome healthier which has all sorts of mental health and other benefits science is just beginning to understand. Fiber is the world’s best food for weight reduction because it is the only food with zero calories that actually makes you feel fuller and less hungry and makes you healthier. With all these benefits, you would think that diet-conscious Americans would be loading up on fiber, but Americans are steadily eating less fiber with the average American only eating half of the recommended amount.
Plain, raw oats are the ideal breakfast cereal because they are full of fiber and other nutrients and are cheap and easy to make. I’m a bit of a raw oatmeal fanatic. It has been my main staple for breakfast ever since I spent a semester in London in 1989 where I discovered muesli. Muesli is like granola except it is untoasted and the ingredients are loose instead of glued together by sugar and oil into clumps. Muesli is just a mix of rolled oats (I much prefer quick oats), nuts, seeds, some cereal flakes, and dried fruit. My favorite brand when I was a student in Europe even had some powdered milk already mixed in:
Pretty much anywhere I went in Europe, I could go into any convenience store or grocery and buy a box of muesli for a nutritious meal that was light weight, non perishable, compact for packing in a backpack, and cheaper than fast food. I generally tried to eat it with milk (powdered was the most convenient for travel), but I just ate it with water when milk was inconvenient to find and although I like it a lot better with milk, and it is nutritionally much more complete, it is still pretty good without.
Ever since then, my staple breakfast has been plain, raw rolled oats mixed with fruit, milk, nuts, seeds, and a sprinkle of bran flakes or corn flakes on top (after the milk) for crunch. A bowl of raw (or toasted) oats and seeds tastes great and keeps you full for a long, long time. Quick oats are easier to chew than the old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, but I like to soak my breakfast oats in milk for at least 15 minutes while I shower to make it easier to chew. I’ve experimented with soaking steel-cut oats overnight to make it chewable, and it eventually gets soft enough to be edible, but is still too chewy for my tastes. Soaked oats taste better and soaking makes their nutrients more bioavailable. Oats contain a substance called phytate that can block absorbtion of some of the minerals in your oats, but soaking your oats helps decrease phytate and make them more digestable. Soaking overnight probably increases digestibility even more, but I think taste begins to decline after four hours or so. Heating also destroys phytate and that is another reason to prefer quick oats which aren’t truly raw because they are briefly pre-cooked and then dehydrated.
This is what it looks like when miniature Nordic walkers traverse my breakfast:
My current practice is to soak chia seeds, quick oats, and raisins for about 15 minutes while I’m getting ready in the morning. Then I very slightly grind sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds in a dedicated coffee grinder that only grinds seeds. I grind them fresh every morning because seeds go stale quickly after they are ground up and their oils begin to oxidize whereas whole raw seeds are living creatures that are designed by nature to last for years. I prefer to only partially grind the seeds because I prefer to keep the texture of small pieces of seeds that are a bit chewy. Over-grinding creates a powder which gets a bit gooey after dissolving in milk. For the same reason, I don’t soak ground flax seeds because they develop texture that becomes too gummy for my tastes, but I like the texture of soaked chia seeds. Hemp seeds are too soft to need grinding and they taste best without soaking. Almond slivers and crushed walnuts are good no matter how you add them.
Fruit can be added at any time. This is about what my current breakfast would look like if I didn’t grind up my seeds before pouring them on top of my oats:
One reason I prefer not to cook my oats is that they keep me full a lot longer than hot, cooked oatmeal. They don’t digest nearly as quickly as cooked oats, so I don’t get hungry a few hours later. In fact, I routinely skip lunch after my superbreakfast. Although a 3/4 cup serving of raw oats has more than double the potential calories of the same size serving of cooked oats, the cooked oats digest more completely and more quickly, so you don’t necessarily actually digest double the calories from the raw oats and it takes a lot longer. Similarly, keeping the seeds ground up a bit coarse helps them digest more slowly too.
(Note for people who worry about FODMAPs: Monash University rates uncooked oats as being low FODMAPs whereas cooked quick oats have moderate amounts. This is probably because cooking pre-digests food so that it is absorbed more quickly and this is another reason why raw oats might be better for some people, particularly those who are sensitive to FODMAPs.)
Unfortunately, oats are increasingly being contaminated by Roundup because of changing agricultural processes, so it is probably worth paying a few cents extra to get organic oats. Most Roundup is sprayed on genetically modified crops, but that isn’t the problem with oats because with GMO crops, the Roundup is sprayed when the crop is young and it biodegrades fairly rapidly so that by the time the crop is harvested, there is hardly a trace in the food. Unfortunately the chemical corporations found a new use for Roundup with oats and the Environmental Working Group found that recently most conventionally-grown oats have had high levels of Roundup (AKA Glyphosate):
Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so that it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.
That is the absolute worst time to spray pesticides on crops. It guarantees that the chemicals will persist on your food after harvest and Roundup causes cancer.
But organic oats never use pesticides and even organic raw oats are super cheap. They still have one of the highest ratios of nutritional value per dollar that you can buy. Plus it makes a super tasty and convenient meal that is nutritionally dense and if you add a few seeds and a little fruit, it is nutritionally complete. It is also nonperishable and portable so I always like to travel with a little bag of my homemade muesli mix (with dried fruit and milk powder pre-mixed in) for a quick meal anywhere, anytime.