- It helps to reduce cholesterol levels
- It increases the sensation of being full and assists weight loss diets
- It is a rich source of vitamins and minerals
- It helps to prevent cancer
Oatmeal is oat groats roughly ground or cut into small pieces, but sometimes it is first steamed then flattened and rolled. Quick-cook oatmeal is first chopped into smaller pieces, then steamed and rolled. Instant oatmeal is sold in pre-cooked and dried form, usually with some flavourings added 1. Oatmeal may be cooked to make porridge, which is used as an ingredient in oatmeal cakes, biscuits and, for instance, oat bran breads. It is also used as a thickening agent in some products (e.g. canned chili con carne) as well as in alcoholic drinks, cosmetics, soaps and animal food.
In recent years, interest in oatmeal and its beneficial effects has grown. Even a small quantity of it decreases cholesterol levels significantly due to its soluble fibre content.
A little history and tradition
Oatmeal was a traditional meal in rural life; people consumed it as porridge. It has a long history in Scottish culinary traditions because oats are better suited than wheat , for example, to the short and wet growing season. In this way, oats became the staple grain of these regions. The old schools of Scotland had a holiday called Meal Monday to permit students to return to their farms and collect more oats for food.
Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this in his dictionary definition of oats: "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." His biographer, James Boswell, noted that Lord Elibank was said by Sir Walter Scott to have retorted, "Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men? "8
A common method of cooking in Scotland is to soak oatmeal overnight in salted water and cook it on a low heat in the morning for a few minutes until the mixture thickens.
In Scotland, oatmeal is created by grinding oats into a coarse powder. Several types may be found, from coarse to fine groats. The main uses are:
- Traditional porridge
- Brose: A thick mixture made with uncooked oatmeal (or medium oatmeal that has been dry toasted) and then adding butter. Brose is eaten like porridge but is much more filling.
- Gruel: it is oatmeal mixed with cold water. Water is heated afterwards; it is given to infants and sick people as a remedy.
- An ingredient in baking:
- In making oatcakes
- A thickening agent in poultry products
- A coating for Caboc cheese
- To make pudding
- Mixed with beef's blood, salt, and pepper to make Highland black pudding (marag dubh).
- Mixed with fat, water, onions and seasoning, and boiled in a cow's intestine to make “marag geal”
- It is served sliced with fried eggs at breakfast. A sweeter version with dried fruit is also known.
- A major component of haggis (minced meat and oat flour stuffed in a sheep’s stomach).
Some old Scottish rules regarding porridge:
- It should be eaten standing up.
- It should be stirred only clockwise during cooking.
- Medium ground oatmeal is the best for this purpose but cooking coarse oatmeal after soaking it overnight gives the result richest in nutrients.
- Milk should be served separately.
Traditional Scottish breakfast consists of warm porridge with a pinch of salt and sometimes with raisins and/or almonds. Or it is served with milk or kefir topped with sugar, jam, apple sauce or rarely with honey.
In Denmark, people often eat raw oatmeal mixed in cold milk, typically with sugar, raisins or fresh fruit.
In the American state of Vermont, oatmeal-eating has a long tradition originating in its Scottish roots. The oats are soaked overnight in cold water, salt and maple syrup. Early the next morning, before beginning work, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon and sometimes ground ginger are added to the oats. It is cooked for 90 minutes and served with butter and milk. As nowadays people do not work on farms, they cook porridge for 10 to 30 minutes at a higher temperature. Vermont leads the United States in per capita consumption of cooked oatmeal cereal. Another way of consuming oatmeal is topping the porridge with maple syrup and vanilla ice cream; it makes a good contrast to the hot porridge.9
Further benefits in a nutshell
- It is an excellent source of calcium, especially when made with milk. As such, it strengthens teeth and bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
- It is an rich source of vitamins and minerals; it contains a significant amount of vitamin B1, as well as vitamins B2, B3, B6 andK. It is a good source of vitamin E, but it is also rich in zinc, selenium, copper, iron, manganese and magnesium.
- It increases the sensation of fullness. People who eat oatmeal for breakfast are less likely to eat snacks before lunch.
- It contains a lot of fibre that has a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels and digestion.
- It is a low-fat meal. Even consuming large amounts of oatmeal does not induce obesity, since its high carbohydrate content is absorbed slowly due to the fibres.
- Its water-soluble fibre content reduces the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level and at the same time it does not reduce the HDL (“good”) cholesterol level. This is because its soluble fibres (beta-glucan) absorb some of the cholesterol in the digestive system. In this way, the absorbed cholesterol is eliminated from the body.
- Since the fibre slows the digestion of starches and other carbohydrates, there is no reason to fear marked insulin fluctuations . This is good news, especially for diabetic patients.
- It helps to prevent cancer as well. Its insoluble fibres reduce the toxicity of certain acids. At the same time, its phytochemicals have a cancer-preventing effect as well.
- It has a high protein content, especially relative to other plants.
- It helps to prevent heart disease
- Trowbridge Filippone, F. (2007) "Oatmeal Recipes and Cooking Tips" About.com
- Prewett's (manufacturer of oatmeal)
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Cholesterol: The top five foods to lower your numbers. MayoClinic.com, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/CL00002.
- Spokane Chronicle - Jan 24, 1990
- "How I Made $812 in the Oat Bran Craze". 1989-10-09. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1989/10/09/72556/index.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
- New Standard Encyclopedia, 1992 by Standard Educational Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; page O-8.
- The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Including a Journal of His Tour to the Hebrides. Volume 3 by James Boswell. Publisher: Derby & Jackson, New York, 1858. Page 11.
- Maholo: Oatmeal Facts, Figures, and Sites
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