Oats – when a good thing can go wrong

It is a well-known fact that oats are great for our health but just having foods containing oats will not make them a naturally healthy food.  In fact, quite often, the oat-based food we are eating are actually junk foods and can be detrimental to health.

In this blog I’ll explain

  • What is so great about the humble oat
  • When oats can become a junk food
  • The worst offending oat based products on the market
  • How to have a great oat based breakfast and get all the benefits

If you haven't time to read the full blog skip to the "one minute read"


Benefits of oats

Oats are a grain that have been eaten since the hunter-gather times some 32,000 years ago.  They contain mostly carbohydrate but, compared with other grains, have a higher protein and fat (lipid) content.  They are also rich in a nutrient called beta glucan which is a form of soluble fibre and is know for support blood glucose management and the heart as it reduces cholesterol levels.

Oats also contain iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and a number of other micronutrients.  So, it really does have a lot going for it and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet

Oats can be processed in several ways from being steel cut or rolled.  They can also be ground into oatmeal/ oat flour.


When Oats Become A Junk Food

You may have heard of the glycaemic index (GI) which tells you how quickly a food releases its sugars.  Foods that have high GI levels are not recommended for anyone who has issues with blood glucose management as they are often linked to a spike in blood glucose followed by a crash an hour later.  They are also often linked to weight gain.

A high GI food is one with a rating of 70+

A medium GI food is one rating 56-69

A low GI food is one that is below 55


When it comes to oats size matters!  If you mill the oats into an oat flour it breaks down that important fibre and that means the oatmeal turns to sugar very quickly inside the body.  Instant porridge oats are the ones that you either just add boiling water to and stir or the ones that can microwave within 2 minutes.  These have a GI rating of 83 putting them in the high rating

The rolled or steel cut oats are much bigger.  They take longer to cook and are chewier.  The rolled oats have a GI of 55 with the steel cut coming in best at 42 (ref)

How you cook oats matter too.  Baking is known to reduce the levels of beta glucans in oats whilst cooking is okay.  So, the baked oat goods (cereals, biscuits, flapjacks, baked oats etc) are not as beneficial to the heart….but simply cooking porridge is!  Soaking oats such as in overnight oats is great too.  It helps break down the starches making it easier to digest and it retains all its nutrients as it’s not been heated at all (ref)

With the baked goods you need to be mindful of what is being added.  Yes, oats are good but if you pair them with sugars or syrups, butters, chocolate chips etc then that really does make them a junk food and not a health food


Worst offending oat products on the market

I’m not going to name and shame brands but I would be looking to avoid the following types of products

  • Instant sachet porridges – especially the flavoured ones with added golden syrup or raisins
  • Oatmeal porridges – the ones where you stir boiling water into the oat flour to produce a smooth and creamy porridge
  • Muesli – unless it tells you it is low sugar or you’ve made it yourself and know what is in it
  • Granola – also unless it tells you it is low sugar. Some on the market have chocolate chips, a lot of dried tropical fruits and plenty of added sugars!
  • Baked cereal bars – they are often marketed as healthy but they are just crunchy flapjacks packed with syrup and other ingredients


How to pimp up your morning porridge 

If you are after a traditional porridge

  1. Start with steel cut or rolled oats
  2. Choose a good milk (full fat cows milk or a plant based alternative that has simple ingredients)
  3. Cook slowly on the hob – not done at extreme temperatures and quickly in the microwave
  4. Add some protein (this can be an egg whisked in whilst cooking on a low heat, a spoon of protein powder whilst cooking or you can add nuts, nut butter or seeds once cooked as a topping)
  5. Add some flavour – cinnamon is a great option but alternatives are nutmeg or ginger
  6. Add some fresh fruit – bananas, berries, pears, figs, apples and cherries all go exceptionally well

Alternatively go for an overnight oat

  1. Start with steel cut or rolled oats
  2. Add a dollop of a natural yoghurt (or plant based alternative)
  3. Top with milk (cows or plant based)
  4. Add some chia seeds for added protein and essential fats
  5. Give it a good stir and leave in the fridge
  6. In the morning top with some fresh food and nuts or seeds





Oats are just brilliant for blood glucose management and heart health but just having oats in a product doesn't make it a health food.

When you start to add things to oats (such as sugars and fats) or mill the oats it starts to reduce the health benefits significantly and the resulting product becomes a processed food.

Oat based foods to avoid include shop bought granolas, oat based cereal bars and instant sachet porridge.

If you want to enjoy all the healthy benefits of oats you should start with a home made porridge.  Getting the rolled or steel cut and having them with protein and added fresh fruit, nuts and seeds is a perfect start to the day.  Overnight oats are a second superb option.

Janet Padfield

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