Awesome oats

Beyond cholesterol lowering

Don’t wait for a cold winter’s day to reap the health benefits of oats. New evidence suggests there may be more to oats than cholesterol lowering, with recent research revealing special compounds in oats may help protect against heart attached by reducing inflammation and blockages in blood vessels, and initial investigations have found oats may decrease the risk of asthma in young children.

Killing one Australian every 10 mins and affecting two out of three Australian families, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Australia with huge financial impacts on our health care system. Fortunately, many of the risk factors for CVD are preventable including smoking, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, diabetes, overweight, obesity and high cholesterol.

For the past decade or more, there have been a growing number of scientific studies supporting the role that oats can play lowering cholesterol and helping to protect against cardiovascular disease. A new study has found oats can help not only reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), but also decrease waist circumference in overweight and obese adults as part of a 3 month weight loss program. Just 2 serves (40g each) of a wholegrain oat cereal each day as part of a weight loss program reduced LDL cholesterol by almost 10%, significantly more than lower fibre control foods as part of a weight loss program (5%). The even better news is; these favourable outcomes were noticed as early as 4 weeks into the study. Both groups lost around 2kg over the duration of the weight loss program, but the group eating oats lost significantly more weight from around their waist.

Oats are naturally rich in beta-glucan (a type of soluble fibre), considered to be responsible for the cholesterol lowering benefits of oats. More recently, another powerful component of oats has been linked to good health. Avenanthramides, a type of antioxidant has been found to help reduce the ability of blood cells to stick to artery walls. This effect could help reduce hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) which can in time lead to heart attack. One study also suggested these avenanthramides could help explain how oats can reduce the risk of colon cancer.

In addition to heart health, some evidence from initial investigations has shown oats can help reduce the risk of asthma in young children. The study conducted in Finland found early introduction (in the first 6 months) of oats into the diets of babies with an increased risk for type 1 diabetes was associated with a significantly lower risk of persistent asthma by the age of 5 years. These findings need to be confirmed in other populations.

Oats are an economical and versatile wholegrain that can provide the whole family with essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre for good health. Many food manufacturers have realised the health benefits of oats, and you can now enjoy the pleasure of eating oats all year round with new product developments such as oat breakfast biscuits, bread with added oats and many flaked and shaped breakfast cereals made from oats. Aim to eat 4 or more serves of grain-based foods (like oats, breads, breakfast cereals, pasta and rice) everyday – at least half should be wholegrain.

1. Maki KC et al. Whole-grain ready-to-eat oat cereal, as part of a dietary program for weight loss, reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in adults with overweight and obesity more than a dietary program including low-fibre control foods. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; 110;205-214
2. Andon MB et al. Stae of the Art Reviews: The oatmeal-cholesterol connection: 10 years later. AJLM 2008; 2:51-57
3. Virtanen et al. Early introduction of oats associated with decreased risk of persistent asthma and early introduction of fish with decreased risk of allergic rhinitis. B J Nutr. 2010; 103:266-273

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