It is highly recommended to enjoy your whole grains separately from other foods. The body will absorb the nutrients more efficiently due to the phytic acid present in whole grains, seeds and nuts.
Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants, especially in the bran or hull of grains and in nuts and seeds. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. This is bad news because phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron and zinc) in food and prevents us from absorbing them. Studies suggest that we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent. It’s important to note that phytic acid does not leach minerals that are already stored in the body; it only inhibits the absorption of minerals from food in which phytic acid is present.
Phytic acid interferes with enzymes we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.
Soaking grains, legumes, and nuts can reduce the amount of phytic acid. Unfortunately the soak does not do the trick very well with oats. The problem with oatmeal is that it lacks sufficient quantities of phytase. Soaking it will make it cook faster and that is a great thing on a busy weekday morning, but the soaking does not help from a phytic acid perspective. UNLESS you add a bit of fresh ground wheat, spelt, rye, or buckwheat to the oatmeal and then soaking it. The phytase in these other grains will work to reduce the phytic acid in the oats. Use about 10% of the complementary fresh ground grain to 90% oatmeal, though often add a heaping tablespoon to a cup or so of rolled oats. Soak the oatmeal in water above body temperature overnight in a warm spot. Use the same amount of water you usually cook it in and simply throw it all in the pan in the morning. I do not recommend using the yogurt or whey anymore, just stick with the complementary grain for more diligence.
Oats, known scientifically as Avena sativa, are a hardy cereal grain able to withstand poor soil conditions in which other crops are unable to thrive. Their fortitude seems to be transferred to those who consume this nutrient-rich grain. After all, when we think of a satisfying and enriching way to start the day, one that gives us strength and lasting energy, we often times relish the thought of a hot bowl of oatmeal.
Oats gain part of their distinctive flavor from the roasting process that they undergo after being harvested and cleaned. Although oats are then hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and their germ allowing them to retain a concentrated source of their fiber and nutrients. Different types of processing are then used to produce the various types of oat products, which are generally used to make breakfast cereals, baked goods and stuffings:
- Oat groats: unflattened kernels that are good for using as a breakfast cereal or for stuffing
- Steel-cut oats: featuring a dense and chewy texture, they are produced by running the grain through steel blades that thinly slices them.
- Old-fashioned oats: have a flatter shape that is the result of their being steamed and then rolled.
- Quick-cooking oats: processed like old-fashioned oats, except they are cut finely before rolling
- Instant oatmeal: produced by partially cooking the grains and then rolling them very thin. Oftentimes, sugar, salt and other ingredients are added to make the finished product.
- Oat bran: the outer layer of the grain that resides under the hull. While oat bran is found in rolled oats and steel-cut oats, it may also be purchased as a separate product that can be added to recipes or cooked to make a hot cereal.
- Oat flour: used in baking, it is oftentimes combined with wheat or other gluten-containing flours when making leavened bread.
Check out a recipe for oatmeal and others
The modern oat draws its ancestry from the wild red oat, a plant originating in Asia. Oats have been cultivated for two thousand years in various regions throughout the world. Before being consumed as a food, oats were used for medicinal purposes, a use for which they are still honored. The growing of oats in Europe was widespread, and oats constituted an important commercial crop since they were a dietary staple for the people of many countries including Scotland, Great Britain, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. In the early 17th century, Scottish settlers brought oats to North America. Today, the largest commercial producers of oats include the Russian Federation, the United States, Germany, Poland and Finland.
Lower Cholesterol Levels
A steaming bowl of fresh cooked oatmeal is the perfect way to start off your day, especially if you are trying to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes. Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan. Since 1963, study after study has proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels. Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. High cholesterol levels correlate with the build up of plaques in blood vessel walls. If these plaques become damaged or simply grow too large, they can rupture, blocking a blood vessel and causing a heart attack, stroke, or blood clots elsewhere in the body. Lowering high cholesterol levels can therefore significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Antioxidant compounds unique to oats, called avenanthramides, help prevent free radicals from damaging LDL cholesterol, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers tested the antioxidant ability of avenanthramides to protect LDL cholesterol against oxidation (free radical damage) induced by copper. Not only did the avenanthramides increase the amount of time before LDL became oxidized, but when vitamin C was added, the oat phenols interacted synergistically with the vitamin, extending the time during which LDL was protected from 137 to 216 minutes.
In another study also conducted at Tufts and published in Atherosclerosis, researchers exposed human arterial wall cells to purified avenenthramides from oats for 24 hours, and found that these oat phenols significantly suppressed the production of several types of molecules involved in the attachment of monocytes (immune cells in the bloodstream) to the arterial wall—the first step in the development of atherosclerosis.
Oat avenanthamides suppressed production of ICAM-1 (intracellular adhesion molecule-1) and VCAM-1 (vascular adhesion molecule-1), E-selectin, and the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines KL-6, chemokines IL-8 and protein MCP-1 (monocyte chemoattractant protein).
Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast
Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years. Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years. After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure.
Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women
Eating a serving of whole grains, such as oats, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A 3-year prospective study of over 200 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:
- Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
- Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.
The women's intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains was not associated with a lessening in CVD progression.
Enhance Immune Response to Infection
In laboratory studies reported in Surgery, beta-glucan significantly enhanced the human immune system's response to bacterial infection. Beta-glucan not only helps neutrophils (the most abundant type of non-specific immune cell) navigate to the site of an infection more quickly, it also enhances their ability to eliminate the bacteria they find there.
According to study leader Jonathan Reichner of the Department of Surgery at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University, priming neutrophils with beta-glucan helps these immune defenders quickly locate the bacterial mother lode within infected tissue. And this more rapid response to infection results in faster microbial clearance and healing. Since our non-specific immune defenses are the body's first strike forces against invading pathogens, starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal may boost your immune response in addition to your morning energy levels.
Stabilize Blood Sugar
Studies also show that beta-glucan has beneficial effects in diabetes as well. Type 2 diabetes patients given foods high in this type of oat fiber or given oatmeal or oat bran rich foods experienced much lower rises in blood sugar compared to those who were given white rice or bread. Starting out your day with a blood sugar stabilizing food such as oats may make it easier to keep blood sugar levels under control the rest of the day, especially when the rest of your day is also supported with nourishing fiber-rich foods.
Oats and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Oats and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion.
Research data confirms inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.
Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women's dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser—19%—reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control.
Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer
When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women's Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as oats, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al.,International Journal of Epidemiology).
Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).
Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).
Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).
Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits
Whole grains, such as oats, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.
Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the "free" forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the "bound" forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.
Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin (onions), curcumin (turmeric), ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.
When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the "free" form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, "free" phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in "bound" form.
As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts—its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat—or any whole grain—is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain's weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. "Different plant foods have different phytochemicals," he said. "These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect—this teamwork—that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains."
Lignans Protect against Heart Disease
One type of phytochemical especially abundant in whole grains including oats are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, and fruits. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.
A Well-tolerated Wheat Alternative for Children and Adults with Celiac Disease
Although treatment of celiac disease has been thought to require lifelong avoidance of the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, recent studies of adults have shown that oats, despite the small amount of gluten they contain, are well-tolerated. Now, a double blind, multi-center study involving 8 clinics treating 116 children newly diagnosed celiac disease suggests oats are a good grain choice for children with celiac disease as well. The children were randomly assigned to receive either the standard gluten-free diet (no wheat, barley, rye or oats) or a gluten-free diet with some wheat-free oat products. At the end of the study, which ran for a year, all the children were doing well, and in both groups, the mucosal lining of the small bowel (which is damaged by wheat gluten in celiac disease) had healed and the immune system (which is excessively reactive in celiac patients) had returned to normal.
Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains' Health Benefits
In many studies, eating whole grains, such as oats, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutritionexplains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.
Whole grains are concentrated sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.
But it's not just fiber's ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrients—as well as in fiber.
In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.
Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.
The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran, for example, is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.
Whole grains are good sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.
Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.
Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.
The whole kernel of truth: as part of your healthy way of eating, whole grains can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enjoy at least 3 servings a day.