Is oatmeal truly beneficial for reducing cholesterol and keeping our hearts healthy? Let’s review some oatmeal nutrition facts to get the real scoop.
A half-cup serving of a leading brand of quick oats (cooked with milk) contains the following:
- 190 calories
- 27 grams of carbohydrates
- 4 grams of fiber
- 5 grams of protein
- 3 grams of fat (.5 gram saturated)
- 10 percent daily value (DV) of iron
Oatmeal can be rich in other minerals. The same cup of plain, instant oatmeal contains:
- 25 percent DV of magnesium
- 30 percent DV of phosphorous
- Significant amounts of selenium, copper and manganese
But isn't that a lot of carbs?
Maybe for a bodybuilder about to compete in a contest, but for the majority of people, the combination of slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber found in oats is a great source of fuel for breakfast. In fact, medical studies back this claim.
The fiber found in oats, barley, and pectin-rich fruits and vegetables provides lipid-lowering benefits, according to a paper by the American Heart Association. The AHA recommends a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 30 grams per day from foods.
Current dietary fiber intake among adults in the United States averages about half the recommended amount, says the AHA paper.
In addition to reducing serum lipid levels, diets that include whole-grain sources such as oatmeal helped reduce blood pressure in men and women who have elevated levels of cholesterol, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Not everyone thinks oatmeal should be touted as a healthy food.
An article in the Chicago Tribune reported that a consumer advocacy organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Quaker Oats of exaggerating the health benefits of oatmeal.
But more recent research seems to vindicate the oatmeal claims.
In a review of several studies on oatmeal’s benefits, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, the data concludes that the soluble fiber in oats does indeed lower cholesterol and contains properties that bolster cardiovascular health.
Other oatmeal benefits mentioned in the study include:
- Preventing oxidation of arteries
- Curbing weight gain
- Preventing type 2 diabetes
- Bolstering the immune system
What’s the main compound in oatmeal that’s so healthy?
A fiber known as beta-glucan seems to be the all-star compound in oatmeal. There have been hundreds of studies published on beta-glucan.
One study published in Vascular Health Risk Management concluded, “Dietary intake of beta-glucans has been shown to reduce risk factors to benefit the treatment of diabetes and associated complications. In addition, beta-glucans also promote wound healing and alleviate ischemic heart injury.
Can I take a beta-glucan supplement if I don’t like oatmeal?
You can, but the Vascular Health study also concluded, "…The mechanisms behind the effect of beta-glucans on diabetes and associated complications need to be further studied using pure beta-glucan."
But a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine concluded that a beta-glucan supplement may prevent upper respiratory tract symptoms, and improve overall health and mood following a competitive marathon.
Does oatmeal contain gluten?
Pure oatmeal does not contain gluten; however, most oatmeal is made in facilities that also process wheat, so a bit of cross-contamination may occur. It’s possible that people with Celiac disease may have an adverse reaction to commercially made oatmeal. This group should buy certified gluten-free oatmeal from a health food store.
Why not eat oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Oatmeal is also rich in omega-6 fatty acids, containing almost 2 grams per half-cup serving. Omega-6s seem to be a mixed bag, providing some health benefits, yet too much of them — combined with too little omega-3 fatty acid sources — can cause inflammation and other problems.
Most Americans consume upwards of 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, instead of the recommended ratio of 2-4:1 (up to four times more 6s than 3s); most nutritionists would likely caution against consuming large quantities of oatmeal as a result.
What about flavored packets of oatmeal?
The nutrition is roughly the same with the big exception being the amount of sugar. A packet of Quaker Oats’ apple and cinnamon instant contains 12 grams of sugar, as opposed to just one gram in regular oatmeal.
The fiber in the oatmeal will somewhat help prevent precipitous spikes and drops in blood sugar, however, those who are trying to lose weight or prevent diabetes should stick with the regular, unflavored variety.
Adding a handful of blueberries and a small squirt of raw honey can add sweetness to the oatmeal without adding refined sugar.
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.