Summary Oatmeal, a greyish-yellow cereal ground from oat grain, is starting to come into its own. Research has now shown conclusively that this versatile grain with the nutty flavour actually reduces cholesterol, thereby decreasing the risk of related diseases and health problems, from intestinal disorders and weight and blood sugar management, to heart disease and cancer. Rich in carbohydrates for energy, protein for strong and healthy bodies, several vitamins and minerals for keeping all kinds of diseases at bay, and plenty of fiber to control appetite, to prevent constipation and to control weight, a bowl of oatmeal is now widely recommended by dieticians and doctors as an essential part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Its versatility is obvious. This is not just a breakfast cereal. The Scots and the Irish have a whole cuisine made out of oatmeal. It’s also popular in commercial and household kitchens as a thickener in soups and stews, a filler in meatloaf and casseroles, and in cookies, breads, pancakes, granolas and instant cereals. They even use it in beauty preparations! Description and Origin Oats originally come from Eurasia and thrive in temperate climates. Oatmeal, like maize meal, is another one of those ill-regarded foods that just cannot make it to the top of the hit list because of much more popular, though much less healthy, commercial cereals. Again, however, its popularity is to a great extent determined by culture. The Scots and the Irish love it and have made a whole cuisine out of it. Oat’s is seldom found as a whole grain but is sold processed in one form or another, whether whole grain or refined, as dry cereal or instant, in breakfast and energy bars or in muesli. In decreasing order of nutritional value, the most common forms of commercial oatmeal are rolled oats (more flavour, texture and nutrition), quick-cooking rolled oats (rolled a little thinner to cook faster) and instant rolled oats (very convenient, but less nutritious). Oat bran is a very popular product that is produced from the outer layers of the oat kernel and contains a much higher proportion if fiber. Nutritional Content of Oatmeal Oatmeal is rich in protein and contains healthy (unsaturated) fats. It is a good source of vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B12, and a very good source of vitamin B6, folic acid, calcium, iron and manganese. Other nutrients found in fairly significant amounts in oatmeal are potassium, magnesium, and vitamins E, B1 and B2. Health Benefits of Oatmeal Most commercial cereals are loaded with sugars and sodium which result in excess fat storage in the body. Many of the nutrients so loudly proclaimed on those colorful boxes are often artificially added. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is one of nature’s very own gifts – it doesn’t need to be “enriched” with nutrients because it already has a wide variety of nutrients in abundant supply. It is one of those rare foods that actively remove cholesterol from the blood stream. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has certified that three grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal, eaten on a daily basis as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may actually reduce the risk of heart disease. In one clinical study, the participants volunteered to eat a bowl of oatmeal daily for 30 days. At the end of this period, 70% of them showed a significant drop in their cholesterol. Amazingly, studies show that oats leaving the body takes the bad LDL cholesterol along with it, but it leaves the good HDL cholesterol behind. Oatmeal is also rich in a surprising variety of other essential nutrients. The protein builds and repairs the cells of the body. There is vitamin A for better eyesight and for boosting the immune system. Vitamin E, another antioxidant and therefore also an immune system booster, attacks free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules that stabilize themselves by ‘stealing’ electrons from healthy cells, thereby damaging tissue throughout the body), and helps prevent all kinds of diseases, including heart disease and cancer. B complex vitamins are essential for keeping the nerves healthy and repairing brain tissue. They are also believed to relieve depression, irritability and stress, help metabolize carbohydrates into energy and improve memory and brain function. Studies suggest they may even relieve the symptoms of migraine. The great thing is that oatmeal contains so many of the B vitamins – thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), which combats high blood pressure, lowers LDL cholesterol and prevents pellagra, pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B8), which helps prevent birth defects, and the cobalamins (B12). Minerals are in good supply too. There is calcium for healthy muscles, teeth and bones, manganese to help the body absorb calcium, potassium for good kidney and heart function and for the smooth function of other muscles, magnesium for healthy muscles, bones and nerves, and iron to combat fatigue, anemia, gallstones, headaches and insomnia. Last but not least, the fibre also helps with cholesterol and weight control, and because it staves off the hunger pains for longer, it also makes it easier to control the appetite. Other Uses of Oatmeal Oats are not just good for breakfast. Even if you turn up your nose at the Scots’ haggis, you’ve probably eaten this humble grain as a thickener in soups and stews, a filler in meatloaf and casseroles, and in cookies, breads, pancakes, granolas and instant cereals. They even use it in beauty preparations! So the next time you’re in the breakfast cereal aisle at the supermarket, don't walk past the oatmeal!