A 2015 analysis found that people who eat more whole grains, which includes oats, tend to live significantly longer lives independent of other measured dietary and lifestyle factors.

The Different Types of Oats

Oats are available in many forms: instant, rolled, steel-cut, Scottish, and oat groats.

Rolled vs. Steel-Cut Oats

The physical form of food alters carbohydrate absorption. Rolled oats have a significantly lower glycemic index than instant oatmeal, which is just oats, but in thinner flakes, and oat flakes cause lower blood sugar and insulin spikes than powdered oats. Indeed, the same single ingredient—in this case, oats—can have different effects in its different forms.

Why do we care? Well, the overly rapid absorption of carbohydrates after eating a high-glycemic index meal can trigger a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that may promote excessive eating. Researchers fed a dozen obese teen boys different meals, each with the same number of calories, and followed them for the next five hours to measure their subsequent food intake. Those who ate the instant oatmeal went on to eat 53 percent more than the boys who ate the same number of calories of steel-cut oatmeal. The instant oatmeal group was snacking within an hour after the meal and went on to consume significantly more calories throughout the rest of the day. The same food but in different forms had different effects.

The Wholiest of All Whole Grains

Beyond focusing just on whole grains rather than refined grains, the wholiest of all are intact grains. Instant oats are better than powdered oats, rolled oats are better than instant, steel-cut oats are better than rolled, and intact oat groats are the best of all.

How Many Daily Servings Should We Strive For?

Consistent with recommendations from leading cancer and heart disease authorities, my recommended Daily Dozen includes at least three daily servings of whole grains, such as oats. Harvard University’s preeminent twin nutrition studies—the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study—have so far accumulated nearly three million person-years of data. A 2015 analysis found that people who eat more whole grains tend to live significantly longer lives independent of other measured dietary and lifestyle factors.

The Many Benefits of Whole Grains

A diet rich in whole grains, for example, may yield the same benefits as taking high blood pressure medications without the adverse side effects commonly associated with antihypertensive drugs, such as electrolyte disturbances in those taking diuretics; increased breast cancer risk for those taking calcium-channel blockers; lethargy and impotence for those on beta blockers; sudden, potentially life-threatening swelling for those taking ACE inhibitors; and an increased risk of serious fall injuries for apparently any class of these blood pressure drugs.

Indeed, eating whole grains appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and stroke. Eating more whole grains could potentially save the lives of more than a million people around the world every year. Take note of the whole, however. While whole grains, such as oats, whole wheat, and brown rice, have been shown to reduce our risk of developing chronic disease, refined grains may actually increase risk.

People who ate the most whole grains had significantly slower narrowing of two of the most important arteries in our body: the coronary arteries that feed the heart and the carotid arteries that feed our brain. Since atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries is our leading killer, we should not just slow down the process but actually stop or even reverse it altogether, and eating more whole plant foods, including whole grains like oats, can help.

Oatmeal and Weight Control

Some of oatmeal’s proven health benefits include aiding in weight control. Oatmeal helps to keep us feeling full for longer. Researchers randomized individuals into three different breakfast groups—oatmeal made from quick oats, the same number of calories of Frosted Flakes, or just plain water—then measured how much they ate for lunch three hours later. Not only did those who ate the oatmeal feel significantly fuller and less hungry, but they then went on to eat significantly less lunch. Overweight participants ate less than half as many calories at lunch after eating the oatmeal for breakfast—hundreds and hundreds of fewer calories. In fact, the breakfast cereal was so unsatiating that the corn flakes group ate as much as the breakfast-skipping, water-only group. The soluble fiber in oatmeal forms a gel in the stomach, which delays stomach emptying and makes one feel full for a longer period, helping with weight loss.

Lowering Our Cholesterol and Helping Our Arterial Function

The fiber in oatmeal can lower our blood cholesterol levels so less gets stuck in our arteries. There are also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytonutrients in oats that can help prevent atherosclerotic buildup and then help maintain arterial function.

Improving Liver Function

In a double-blind, randomized trial of overweight and obese men and women, almost 90 percent of the participants given real oatmeal had reduced body weight (compared to no weight loss in the control group), as well as –a slimmer waist on average, a 20-point drop in cholesterol, and an improvement in liver function.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

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