Oats are one of the healthiest whole grains. Numerous studies have shown that both oats and oatmeal can provide many health benefits, such as reducing blood sugar levels, decreasing the risk of heart disease, and helping support weight loss.
But can you eat raw oats? Is oatmeal good for you? What are the health benefits of oatmeal? To the answers to these questions and more, keep reading!
In this guide, we will cover:
- What Are Oats and What Is Oatmeal?
- Oats Nutrition Facts
- Can You Eat Raw Oats?
- 5 Health Benefits of Eating Oats
Let’s jump in!
What Are Oats and What Is Oatmeal?
Oats are a whole grain with the scientific name Avena sativa.
They can be prepared, packaged, and sold in a variety of different forms based on the amount of processing that has occurred and the intended use.
Oat groats are the most intact, natural, and whole form of oats.
This means that oat groats are packed with the most nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but this form of oats is particularly hard because of the kernel, so it takes a long time to cook.
When cooked, the texture is firmer and toothsome.
For this reason, rolled oats and steel-cut oats are popular alternatives because they are slightly more processed while still retaining most of the health qualities of oat groats but can be prepared faster. Rolled oats and steel-cut oats do not have any added sugars unless marked on the packaging and sold as a flavored product.
Texturally, these types of oats cook up to a chewier texture, a bit al dente, compared with quick oats.
Crushed oats, instant oats, or quick oats are more heavily processed because the oats have a finer flake size so that they cook quickly. This processing reduces some of the fiber and creates a more mushy texture.
Both can also be milled into a fine powder known as oat flour, which can be used as a gluten-free flour substitute for regular white flour or whole wheat flour.
Although the various forms of oats may be prepared and enjoyed in different ways, one of the most common preparations is to make oatmeal, a common breakfast food.
Oatmeal, sometimes called hot cereal, is made by adding boiling water to oats or cooking oats in boiling water or milk.
Oatmeal may also be called porridge, but the two are essentially the same. Additional ingredients may be added to change the flavor profile and provide additional nutrients. Some examples include cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, coconut flakes, apples, peaches, berries, and other fruits.
Oats may also be prepared as “overnight oats, “ which involves soaking the oats in milk or plant milk overnight in the refrigerator, typically in a mason jar, with or without added ingredients.
Some people believe that there are benefits of eating overnight oats vs oatmeal because overnight oats include uncooked oats, which may help retain more of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that may otherwise be destroyed in the cooking process.
Another difference between oatmeal and overnight oats is that oatmeal is typically consumed hot or warm, whereas overnight oats are eaten cold or at room temperature. This does not affect the nutritional profile of the oats per se but does impact the eating experience.
Other common applications of oats include granola, granola bars, muffins, oatmeal bread, and cookies.
Oats Nutrition Facts
The health benefits of oats are mainly attributable to their nutrient composition.
Oats are a good source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Much of the fiber in the oats is beta-glucan, which is a prebiotic fiber that feeds the bacteria in the gut.
Whole-grain oats also contain some protein. Although oats are necessarily a “high-protein food,” they do contain a good balance of essential amino acids.
This makes oats a good option for vegans and vegetarians, though it is important to eat whole rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and oat groats to maximize the protein content.
Finally, oats are a good source of certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
According to the USDA, a one-cup (81 grams) serving of dry raw oats provides the following nutrition:
- Calories: 307
- Fat: 5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 55 grams
- Fiber: 8.2 grams
- Sugar: Less than one gram
- Protein: 10.7 grams
- Manganese: 63.91% of the daily value (DV)
- Copper: 17.6% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 15.5% of the DV
- Zinc: 13.4% of the DV
- Magnesium: 13.3% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 13.3% of the DV
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 9.07% of the DV
- Iron: 9.4% of the DV
- Folate: 3.24% of the DV
Oats also provide a little bit of calcium, potassium, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and vitamin B3 (niacin).
Can You Eat Raw Oats?
So, can you eat raw oats?
Yes. It is perfectly safe to eat raw oats. Another benefit of oats is that they are naturally gluten-free. With that said, if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, look for oats that are specifically labeled as gluten-free.
Although oats themselves do not contain gluten, depending on where and how they are processed, there can be cross-contamination with gluten-containing grains if the same equipment is used with whole grains like wheat, barley, or rye.
This is another reason why whole, unprocessed oats are a better choice than quick oats or processed oatmeal products with added sugars, flavorings, and other fillers.
The more “pure“ the oatmeal product, the more likely it will be free from any cross-contamination and will remain gluten-free.
5 Health Benefits of Eating Oats
Given the nutrition provided by oats, there are benefits of oatmeal and oats, including the following:
#1: Oats Are Rich In Antioxidants
Whole oats contain beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols, as well as antioxidants such as avenanthramides. In fact, this type of antioxidant is found almost exclusively in oats and has been found to reduce blood pressure.
Studies suggest that avenanthramides help increase the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that widens your blood vessels.
#2: Oats Can Reduce LDL Cholesterol Levels
One of the leading marketing claims surrounding oats is that eating oats may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.
This is thought to be due to the beta-glucan fiber, which may help reduce both LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.
Beta-glucan may help stimulate the release of bile from the gallbladder. Bile is a cholesterol-based substance, so an increase in secretion can reduce the circulating levels of cholesterol in your blood.
Another cardioprotective benefit of oats is that they may help prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation.
Free radicals, which are reactive oxygen species, can cause oxidation to LDL cholesterol. This is thought to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes because oxidation causes inflammation in blood vessels.
#3: Oats May Support Weight Loss
Oats and oatmeal may help support weight loss by providing a satiating, filling breakfast food that is nutrient dense but not particularly calorically dense.
Because oats are high in fiber, particularly beta-glucans, digesting oatmeal or oats takes longer. This means that oats can feel more filling because they do not empty from your stomach right away, helping control your appetite.
Moreover, beta-glucan fiber may also increase the secretion of peptide YY (PYY). This satiety hormone is produced in the gut after eating and can help you feel full. Studies have shown that increased levels of PYY can decrease caloric intake and may reduce the risk of obesity.
#4: Oats Can Help Manage Blood Sugar Levels
Another benefit of eating oats or oatmeal is that oats may help reduce blood sugar levels.
There is also some evidence to suggest that oats may help improve insulin sensitivity, which can be particularly beneficial for those who have pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or obesity.
The blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity benefits of oats are thought to be due to the beta-glucan fiber. This type of fiber absorbs water and swells in the digestive tract, forming a thick gel that helps delay gastric emptying and slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
#5: Oats Can Support Healthy Digestion
The fiber in whole oats may help reduce the risk of constipation and promote healthy bowel movements.
Research has found that the fiber-rich outer layer of oats, known as the oat bran, can help relieve constipation.
For example, one study with older adults found that consuming a dessert or soup with oat bran every day for 12 weeks found that overall well-being and digestion improved. Nearly 60% of the participants in the study were able to stop taking laxatives, while there was an increase in laxative use by 8% in the control group.
Overall, whether you enjoy oatmeal, overnight oats, steel-cut oats, or raw oats, incorporating oats into your diet is a great way to promote your health with a filling, versatile, nutritious, and cost-effective food.
If you are interested in learning about the health benefits of a wide variety of foods to help improve your daily eating habits, check out our nutrition guide database!