Oats : My Superfood
I always thought oats meant porridge, and I always thought porridge was like rice pudding. The two bowls of white lumpy ‘mush’ look the same to me so therefore they must taste the same: gross. I was wrong. At some point I built up the courage to try porridge. It is now my staple ‘go-to’ for breakfast.
Apart from porridge, I only knew oats in the form of flapjacks – those delicious, chewy, golden syrupy bars. My grandma was amazing at making them. Made of oats, flapjacks are maybe considered a healthy option. Well, the amount of golden syrup, sugar and butter that goes into them means they aren’t that great for us, sadly. It annoys me when people call some energy bars ‘flapjacks’. No, they are energy bars and don’t contain refined sugars and all the naughty goodness that flapjacks have. If you’re going to have a flapjack, go all out and have one with golden syrup in it.
Oats are so versatile and over the next few posts I will share with you some recipes that I use on a regular basis. And, not just porridge. Or flapjacks. These whole grains can be added to crumble mixtures, made into granola and muesli, sprinkled on top of yoghurt with other seeds and nuts, ground to a flour to use in baking cookies, bread, pancakes, cupcakes and muffins. I’ve added them to ‘nice’ cream and smoothies and made energy balls and bars. They are a very versatile wholegrain. If you are a coeliac, note that oats are gluten free. However it is very important to read the packaging and make sure you select a brand or packet that doesn’t allow contamination during the milling process from other gluten containing wholegrains, such as wheat.
Health benefits of oats
So what makes oats so good for us?
These wholegrains contain beta-glucans. This is a type of soluble fibre that slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. This slower digestion prevents dramatic spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels that would otherwise encourage our bodies to produce and store fat. If you see that oats have a low glycemic index, this is what it is referring to. For diabetics, eating oats can help stabilise glucose levels in the blood.
As a result of the high fibre content, when the oats travel through the digestive system, they expel many foods that are associated with high cholesterol. They also keep the gut ‘moving along’.
Oats are a rich source of magnesium, which is key to enzyme function and energy production, and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels, aiding the heart muscle, and regulating blood pressure.
This link lists the macronutrient content (fats, protein and carbohydrates) of oats as well as providing a breakdown of the micronutrient content, explaining the properties of each mineral and vitamin contained in oats. It is a very good website including similar and different recipe ideas and how to incorporate oats into your diet.
Tips and things to consider…
Tip 1: Choose your oats wisely.
Depending on the brand, oats can come in coarse or fine varieties. I prefer the coarser variety and less processed. Soaking the oats becomes more important when making porridge, but these coarser oats are much better in crumble toppings and homemade muesli for example, as they add more texture.
Tip 2: Leave your oats to soak overnight when making porridge.
I know a lot of people who bung their oats into a pan in the morning, shove them on a high heat, or throw them in the microwave, and then are left with, in my opinion, a congealed gloop. That’s fine, if that’s what you like. However, taking two minutes before going to bed to cover your oats in water, milk or a mix of both, means that the following morning the oats will cook much better and leave you with a creamier finish. You won’t need to stand over the pan either and stir constantly which, will leave you time to get up and ready for the day. You also won’t have to deal with explosions in the microwave. Make sure you start cooking your porridge on a low-ish heat and let the mixture warm up – the hob is the first thing I switch on in the morning.
Tip 3: Water or milk, or both?
Obviously depending on the liquid you use affects the calorie content of your meal and how fast it is digested. Using milk will give it more calories, but also more nutrients. You then have a choice of milks to use: dairy (full-fat, semi-skimmed, skimmed), soya, almond… All with their particular health benefits, too. Using milk also adds taste. I find however, too much milk and whatever I am making can be quite rich. I tend to use a mixture of water and milk. Water alone can result in a bland taste. Experiment and through trial and error see what works best for you.
Tip 4: How much?
The quantity of oats I use for most recipes depends on how I am feeling, what I have been doing and what I am going to do. Am I just eating breakfast, am I re-fuelling or am I loading my body up with energy for a workout? Do I want a more carbohydrate based meal, more protein based or protein and fats based meal? It’s important to learn which foods are important to eat when in order to fuel the body correctly, help nourish it and keep it in shape as much as possible. This affects for example, the oat v egg v flaxseeds and other seeds v nut butter ratio as you’ll see for Protein Pancakes or Overnight Oats.
Tip 5: Protein powders?
I don’t use them. I feel I get enough nutrients from my diet that I don’t think I need them. There are many recipes out there for the recipes I make (originality is not my thing) that include protein powder. I haven’t included it in my recipes, but do so if you wish. Normally a tablespoon is enough.
Tip 6: What toppings?
A general point about topping and extras – many of the health benefits of oats refer to the oats alone. Be warned that as soon as you start adding toppings the dynamic of the meal changes. For example a diabetic who opts for oats for their blood stabilising benefits and then adds a lot of dried fruit and honey to them, has immediately increased the sugar content of the meal and is consuming food that will affect their glucose levels.
Oats are easy to cook with. Be imaginative and get incorporating them into your diet in a variety of ways but REMEMBER just because oats are good for you does not mean you need to go into oat-overload. Moderation and balance is key and striving to eat a variety of foods is far healthier and more interesting for you.
Oats: Recipe No.1
Porridge – I can’t not include a recipe!
This recipe is a twist on your regular porridge and a bit more comforting and ‘treat’ like to start your day, especially as autumn approaches. It was inspired by Running for August who has added a chocolatey-banana taste to an old favourite.
Regular porridge is made in the same way (oats, water/milk and your favourite toppings).
These are, what I would rate, as ‘standard’ quantities. Adapt them to your requirements.
1 banana – half mashed, half whole as a topping
1 tablespoon cacao powder (raw cacao powder has more antioxidants and goodness in them – the unsweetened powder used for baking is made from cacao beans that have been roasted and therefore lose some of their nutrients)
1tsp coconut oil (Optional. A saturated fat which is good for you and contains health benefits of it’s own, and can add a creamier texture to the end result. However, I am sure without it you wouldn’t notice as it does add extra calories, if you don’t need them.)
Toppings: figs, nut butters, seeds and nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit…go wild!
If you can, soak the oats overnight in water. There should be about a cm of liquid above the oats. Add enough milk to cover the oats again, coconut oil and mashed banana in the morning and gently simmer the mixture until you get the porridge to a consistency you like – normally when most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir through the cacao powder. Pour into a bowl and pop on your toppings. Simple.
Next recipe : Overnight Oats.