Oats and Health: Why Include Them in Your Diet?

3. 5. 2024
Oats and Health: Why Include Them in Your Diet?
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Surely, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that an athlete who hasn’t had oats before, would not exist. Oats remain as a staple ingredient through the fads of various diets, and even in a modern 21st‑century diet, it offers numerous health benefits for everyone, athletes included. Let's explore the advantages of incorporating oats into our diet.

Oats boast an ideal nutritional composition and can be adapted in a thousand ways. Thanks to their complex carbohydrates providing a sustained energy release, having oats for breakfast is an excellent choice!. 

And not just for breakfast! In fact, oat flakes can be added to  almost every meal of the day, for example as part of porridges, yoghurts and smoothies. They are also suitable as a pre‑workout meal. You can choose from unground, ground, finely ground or coarse oat flakes. With oats as your fuel, you’ll be ready to take on any workout or challenge that comes your way!!

Nutritional values of oats

Compared to other cereals, oats contain slightly more protein and fat (roughly 20‑30% more), and as a naturally whole grain food, their high fibre intake is never lost. Oats also score high in vitamins and minerals.

In 100 g of oats, you get about 50% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and 16% of the RDA for folic acid, along with smaller amounts of other B vitamins such as riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3) and pyridoxine (B6), as well as the antioxidant vitamin E.

A 100g serving will also cover approximately 20% of the RDA for potassium, 33% for magnesium and 25% for phosphorus. Zinc and iron, both essential trace elements, are also present at about 3‑4 mg, covering about 33 % of the RDA. However, the bioavailability of these trace elements is generally lower in plant foods

100 g oat flakes
Energy369,6 kcal/1552 kJ
Protein12 g
Carbohydrates60 g
Fibre9,4 g
Fats7 g

1 Minute Oats

Finnish Ultra Fine Oats

Quality and naturally gluten‑free proteins

The total protein content in oats ranges from 11‑15g per 100g, depending on the variety. The protein of oats is characterised by more than 90% digestibility and a biological value in the range of 75‑80, which is quite high for a plant protein.

By far the most well‑known cereal protein is gluten, which consists of the proteins prolamin and glutelin. It is the prolamins that are thought to trigger celiac disease in predisposed individuals. The prolamins of wheat and other cereals (e.g., rye, barley) are generally the most risky in this respect.

However, oat prolamins (also known as avenins or "oat gluten") differ from the others in their structure and amino acid composition. As a result, a large proportion of those with celiac disease can tolerate oats without any adverse health effects and can include them in their diet. From this perspective, oat gluten behaves differently. However, it is not entirely accurate to consider oats completely safe, as oats can also cause the typical symptoms of celiac disease in some cases.

Flakes are only gluten free if it says so on the box

However, contamination of oats with gluten from wheat, rye or barley can occur during harvesting, transport, storage or processing, presenting a major issue. Therefore, oats contained in foods labelled 'gluten‑free' or 'very low gluten' must not contain more than 20 mg/kg of gluten. In this case, these foods could become part of a gluten‑free diet. However, always consult your doctor regarding the suitability of including oats in your diet.

Gluten Free 1 Minute Oats

Gluten Free Instant Oats

Complex carbohydrates and fibre, including beta‑glucans

Oats contain about 60g of complex carbohydrates per 100g of raw oats. Slow absorption, low glycaemic index and good carbohydrate saturation of the flakes are ensured by the large amount of fibre (approx. 10 g/100 g) that the flakes naturally contain.

The most important type of fibre in oats is beta‑glucans. This is a soluble type of fibre that has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels (when consumed at least 3 g per day), while also acting as a prebiotic, i.e., serving as food for the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut. The beta‑glucan content ranges from 2.3‑8.5 g/100 g of food.

The healthiest fat of all cereals

Oats contain 5‑9g of fat per 100g. Almost half of the fatty acids in oats are represented by oleic acid, which is also the highest proportion in olive and rapeseed oil. About one‑third of the fatty acids are made up of the essential omega‑6 linoleic acid. The remainder are saturated fatty acids and also the plant omega‑3 alpha‑linolenic acid.

Therefore, the overall fat composition of oats is beneficial for health. However, the higher fat content requires stricter storage conditions compared to other cereals to ensure that the flakes retain their original taste and aroma and do not become rancid. Storing the flakes in a humid environment is particularly risky.

How to prepare oats?

Oats have a wide range of uses in the kitchen, and it is up to us to choose our preferred preparation method.

  • The most popular use of oats is to make porridge, which can be made with either water or milk. The porridge can be enhanced with nuts, nut butters, seeds, dried and fresh fruit. We shouldn't forget to add whey or plant‑based vegan protein to make the porridge a complete meal with all the macronutrients. Calorie‑free syrup can also serve as an interesting enrichment. In this way, we can turn porridge into a flavourful meal that meets even the strictest nutritional criteria.
  • The flakes can also be ground into oat flour, which can be used to create tasty desserts such as pancakes, oatcakes, biscuits or pancakes. Be sure to try oat flour muffins! 
  • Oats will also win your heart when preparing savoury treats. You can easily use oats in beef or chicken broth as a topping, to thicken soups, in stuffing, meat rolls, meatballs, potato pancakes or in vegetable dishes.
  • Some athletes even make a drink out of blended oats and whey or plant‑based vegan protein to give their bodies the nutrients they need when they're not eating or have another workout coming up. 
  • Another option are various flavoured instant oat mixes, which often already contain whey protein, making them a balanced meal in terms of macronutrients.

Bottom line

Oats are one of the most nutritionally valuable cereals. They are excellent in quality proteins, complex carbohydrates and soluble fibre consisting mainly of beta‑glucans. They also offer high‑quality, health‑promoting fats, along with a rich content of B vitamins and essential minerals like potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. 

Oats find a place in the diet of almost every athlete. However, you don't have to reach only for oats, as they are often included in bars, such as in the case of flapjacks.

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