Get Back On Track With Oatmeal!

By Jan Skaar, RD, CSP, CNSC, CLE, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

After all the rich foods and sweets we may have indulged in over the holidays, it’s the perfect time to think about how we can get back on track to healthier eating habits.

January has long been considered national oatmeal month because we buy and eat more oatmeal during this month than any other time of the year! Oatmeal, in any form, is a whole grain, meaning it contains all three parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Refined grains have the bran and the germ removed in processing, which removes much of the fiber, iron and B vitamin content. Studies have shown multiple health benefits to diets higher in whole grains. Look for the 100% whole grain yellow stamp on the product label when choosing breads and grains. This stamp signifies that each serving contains at least 16gms of whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating half or more of your grains as whole grains or 3 servings of 100% whole grains per day (48gms).

Oats are more popular than ever and there are many different forms available. Steel cut oats, also called pinhead or Irish oats, are made by cutting the oat groats (the oat kernel with the hull removed) into tiny pieces with steel blades. It has a course texture, with a chewier result, and has a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. Scottish oats are ground into a meal, giving it a creamier texture. Steel cut and Scottish oats take the longest to cook, up to 30 minutes.

Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats, are steamed and flattened between rollers. Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats that are pressed thinner and made into smaller pieces to allow quicker cooking. Instant oats are rolled thin, cooked and dried again, making them the quickest cooking. They also have added salt, sugar and flavorings. Oats are inherently gluten-free, however can be contaminated with wheat in processing, so look for gluten-free oat products if you need to eliminate gluten from your diet.

So whether you choose steel cut oats, rolled oats, quick cooking or instant, it makes good sense for your health and for your budget to start incorporating oatmeal as part of your regular diet. Here are 10 good reasons why:

1. Heart health-oats were the first specific whole grain recognized by the FDA to help reduce cholesterol. The FDA-approved health claim states that there is significant scientific agreement that 3 grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
2. Blood glucose control-diets high in whole grains help improve insulin sensitivity, decreasing the risk of type II diabetes.
3. Weight management-the soluble fiber in oatmeal absorbs water, forms a gel, delaying gastric emptying and increasing satiety, helping control over-eating.
4. Improved digestion-increased fiber intake can reduce constipation and the need for laxatives
5. Blood pressure control-studies have shown diets higher in soluble fiber helped reduce systolic and pulse pressure, decreasing the risk of CVD.
6. Decreased risk of some cancers-a diet high in fiber may reduce  the risk of colon, rectal and breast cancers.
7. Improved immunity-beta-glucans in soluble fiber have been shown to help boost the defenses of the immune system against bacteria and viruses.
8. Improved alertness and school performance-researchers at Tuft’s University studied results of tests given to school children comparing performance after a breakfast containing oatmeal, a breakfast containing refined cereals, or skipping breakfast. Test performance and memory were higher after eating the breakfast containing oatmeal.
9. You probably already have oatmeal in your cupboard!
10. Best nutritional value for the price! – at $0.16 per serving, in comparison to other common breakfast selections, we get more soluble fiber, and less fat, sodium and calories.

Although many of you may already enjoy jazzing up your morning hot oatmeal with a variety of fruit, nuts, spices and sweeteners, you may be someone who just doesn’t like the hot gooey form.  Try one the following recipes as an alternative and start reaping the benefits of oatmeal for the New Year!

Best Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes Ever!
1 heaping cup old-fashioned or rolled oats
1 1/4cup lowfat milk
1 cup wheat flour
1/4tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 TB brown sugar
2 whole eggs
2 TB safflower or sunflower oil
1 container (6oz) fresh (or frozen) blueberries

Soak rolled oats in milk for ~5min. Set aside. Combine remaining dry ingredients through brown sugar. Set aside. Whisk eggs and oil together then add to milk and oat mixture. Add in dry ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon. Fold in blueberries. Cook on hot griddle until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through. These freeze well and can be popped in the toaster for a quick breakfast. Blueberries make them sweet enough so you may not want any syrup! (You can also experiment with using 1-2 TB ground flax seed for a portion of the wheat flour).

Awesome Strawberry Oatmeal Smoothie       
1 cup light soy milk
½ cup old-fashioned or rolled oats
1 peeled sliced banana
14 frozen strawberries
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp granulated sugar

Place oats in a blender or food processor. Pulse until oatmeal is ground fine. Add soy milk, banana, strawberries until well blended. Add the vanilla and sugar if desired. Blend until smooth. Makes 2 servings. Makes a fast “out the door” breakfast for yourself or your teenager!

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal Squares
2 cups rolled oats
1 ½ cups fat-free milk or soymilk
½ cup egg substitute or egg whites
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 TB melted butter or margarine
½  tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups chopped apple

Mix milk, brown sugar, egg substitute/whites, margarine and cinnamon together. In another bowl, combine oats and baking powder. Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl with the oats, add the apples and mix well. Spoon the mixture into a 8 x 8 inch pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes until top is firm and toothpick comes out clean in the center. Makes a tasty breakfast, snack or even a dessert (great served warm with ice cream!)

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