By The Green Divas
Oats are a pretty amazing food staple. Like its counterparts, spelt, rye, and barley, this grain is completely genetically modified organism-free. Because of the nature of the seeds themselves, oats cannot be grown in a GMO form, a fact that makes them a great ingredient for companies who are looking for non-GMO ingredients to put in their foods.
In fact, General Mills caught on to this insight recently: As I’m sure you’ve all heard, General Mills proclaimed their original Cheerios cereal completely GMO free, thanks entirely to oats’ being the primary ingredient. For this week’s foodie segment, then, I’ve been asked to look into what makes this grain so outrageously awesome.
A Wee Bit of Oat History
Oat domestication is thought to have originated in Asia Minor or southwestern Europe before the Common Era. Early on, the grain was not as sought after as wheat and barley, and it is believed that our present-day cultivated oats are actually from a mutated variety of wild oats.
One of the oldest oat grains found among human effects was discovered in Egypt and dates from 2000 B.C.E. Archaeologists found it among artifacts from the Twelfth Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom, although they believe these were actually the remains of plants Egyptians at the time considered weeds. The oldest known cultivated oats were found in Swiss caves and are believed to date from the Bronze Age.
In 1602, oats were brought to North America with other grains and planted on the Elizabeth Islands off Massachusetts’ coast. George Washington is noted as having sowed 580 acres of oats as early as 1786. Once the industrial revolution commenced, the westward shift of oat acreage in the U.S. shifted to the middle- and upper-Mississippi Valley, where the majority of the crop’s cultivation still occurs today.
The grain is primarily known as a European and North American crop now because it grows best in cool, wet climates. Russia, Canada, the U.S., Finland and Poland produce the most oats worldwide. Scotland, meanwhile, has the highest consumption rate of the crop. All those steel-cut oats must be needed for the hearty oatmeal Scots are so famous for.
Oats are healthy, hardy, and good for your heart!
As I’m sure you heard throughout childhood (thanks to Wilford Brimley’s Quaker Oats commercials), “oatmeal can lower cholesterol.” This is, in fact, very true. Oatmeal and oat bran are great sources of dietary fiber. This specific fiber comprises half soluble and half insoluble fibers. One of these soluble fibers, beta-glucans, is proved to effectively lower bad cholesterol.
When digested, beta-glucans form a gel that encases cholesterol-related substances, such as cholesterol-rich bile acids. This gel encasing reduces the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. This decrease in cholesterol also means oats can lower your blood pressure. Moral of the story, the Quaker Oatmeal man was right!
Oats are also thought to prevent breast cancer. Like many other grains and vegetables, they contain plant chemicals called phytochemicals, which some studies suggest have the ability to reduce a person’s risk of getting cancer. While most of this research pertains to breast cancer, the insoluble fibers in oats are thought to reduce carcinogens in the digestive tract, too.
The phytochemicals in oats also contain a good balance of essential fatty acids, which have been connected to longevity and overall good human health. Consequently, oats have one of the best amino-acid profiles of any grain. What’s more, they are rich in folic acid, biotin, thiamin and vitamin E. And, mineral-wise, they contain zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese and magnesium. In fact, recent studies suggest the combination these vitamins helps speed up the body’s response to infection – thus prompting the body to heal quicker. Way to go oats!
Looking for a great way to incorporate oats into your diet?
Check out my Green Diva (and Piglet Approved) granola recipe! It’s not only a great breakfast or snack option; it’s a recipe you can easily personalize to fit your specific tastes. Instead of including cranberries, as I do, why not try dried apricots? Don’t be afraid to let your stomach make the decisions on what to include in your granola. Enjoy!
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