Oats and Health


Oats is a type of cereal grain from the Poaceae grass family of plants.  The grain refers specifically to the edible seeds of oat grass, which is what ends up in our breakfast bowls.  Oats are most prized for their nutritional value and health benefits.  In fact the Food and Drug Administration allows the use of a health claim on food labels associating reduced risk of coronary heart disease with the consumption of beta-glucan soluble fiber from whole grain oats.  Oatmeal is also a desired asset to those trying to lose weight and control hunger levels due to its high water and soluble fiber content.

Types of oats

Oats are available in a variety of forms based on how they are processed.  The following list shows the types of oats in order of least to most processed.  Keep in mind that although the nutritional content of all the types are relatively similar, their effect on blood sugar is not.  The least processed oats, like groats or steel-cut, take longer to digest and therefore have a lower glycemic index than rolled or instant oats.

  • Oat Groats: The whole oat kernels that have been cleaned with only the inedible hulls removed.  Groats contain the intact germ, endosperm, and bran.
  • Steel-cut or Irish: Oat groats that have been cut into two or three smaller pieces using a steel blade.  The larger the pieces, the longer they will take to cook.
  • Scottish Oats: Oat groats that have been stone-ground into a meal creating a porridge-like texture when cooked.
  • Rolled or Old fashioned: Oat groats that have been steamed, rolled and flattened into flakes, and then dried to remove moisture so they are shelf-stable.
  • Quick or Instant: Oat groats that are steamed for a longer period and rolled into thinner pieces so that they can absorb water easily and cook very quickly.  Be aware that many brands of instant oats come sweetened or flavored, so be sure to check the ingredients for no added sugar.

Reasons to Eat Oats

1. Heart Disease

Beta-glucan, the primary soluble fiber in oats, has been shown to slow digestion, increase satiety, and suppress appetite.  Beta-glucan can bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestine and transport them through the digestive tract and eventually out of the body.  A scientific study found that eating 3 grams of beta-glucan soluble fiber daily from whole oats decreased blood cholesterol levels by 12 points.  Whole grain oats also contain antioxidants that help reduce chronic inflammation that are associated with cardiovascular disease.

2. Diabetes

Beta-glucan fiber can help prevent sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin levels after a meal, and may benefit gut health as the fiber is broken down and fermented by intestinal bacteria.  Though a carbohydrate-rich food, minimally processed whole grain oats can be incorporated in a diabetic diet.  The glycemic load of less processed oats like steel-cut is low to medium, while highly processed instant oats have a high glycemic load.

3. Digestive Health

Fiber contributes to regularity and the prevention of constipation.  Cereal fibers, as found in wheat bran and oat bran, are considered more effective than fiber from fruits and vegetables.  The breakdown and fermentation of beta-glucan oat fiber has also been reported to increase the diversity of gut microbiota.  This may improve certain digestive issues such as diarrhea and constipation.

Ways to Enjoy Oats

  • Oatmeal: A breakfast favorite.  Cooked oats pair well with fruit, nuts, and seeds.  Generally, less-processed oats such as steel-cut oats take 25 -30 minutes to cook, whereas instant oats take 1-2 minutes.
  • Oat Flour: These are oats that have been ground to a flour-like consistency.  Oat flour lacks gluten, and gluten adds structure, moisture, and volume to a baked product.  Without gluten, cookies would crumble and breads would become dense and lack volume.  However, oat flour can add chewiness to cookies and a boost of nutrients to breads.  Substitute 25-30% of flour in a recipe with oat flour for best results.
  • Oat Risotto: Oats are also delicious in savory dishes.  An example is replacing rice in risotto with whole oat groats or steel-cut oats.  Typically, the oats are first toasted in hot oil with aromatics like shallots or diced onion.  Then stock and/or water are added, 1 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition, until the oats are cooked (about 25 minutes).
  • Oat Bran: Oat bran, which contains the most fiber in a groat, is also removed and eaten as a cereal or added to recipes to boost fiber content.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of oat bran to any hot or cold cereal.

Health Benefits of Oranges


Long recognized as a potent source of vitamin C, oranges are considered by most to be tasty, juicy, and all too familiar.  The discoveries being made about the power of oranges to support heart health and prevent cancer, stroke, diabetes and other chronic ailments are bringing them and other citrus fruits into the limelight as crucial components of a healthy diet.

Oranges originated in Asia thousands of years ago and have become one of the most popular fruits the world over.  Christopher Columbus brought orange seeds to the Caribbean Islands in the 15th century, and Spanish explorers then brought oranges to Florida in the next century.  About 200 years later, Spanish missionaries brought oranges to California.  Florida and California remain the primary producers of oranges in the United States.

Portable fruits, they are easy to eat and crucial to good health.  They are easy to put in children’s lunch boxes and bags, and they are the perfect mid-day snack when you are craving something sweet.  Oranges are also great flavor boosters when cooked with chicken or lean turkey breast.

Oranges are classified into two general categories: sweet and bitter.  The sweet varieties are the most commonly consumed and popular varieties include valencia, jaffa, navel, and blood oranges.  The blood orange is a hybrid species that is smaller in size and marked by red hues running throughout its flesh.

Bitter oranges are often used to make jam or marmalade, and their zest is used as the flavoring for liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

Reasons To Eat Oranges

1. Oranges protect against cancer

Oranges contain a phytonutrient called limonene.  Limonene stimulates our antioxidant detoxification enzyme system, helping to stop cancer before it begins.  Oranges contain significant amounts of limonene in the peel and smaller quantities in the pulp.  Limonene has been proven to help fight a number of varieties of cancer including that of the lung, skin, breast, stomach, and colon.

Vitamin C, abundantly available in oranges, also plays a role in fighting cancer.  One study of Swiss men found that those who died of any type of cancer had vitamin C concentrations about 10 percent lower than those who died from other causes.

2. Oranges lower cholesterol

One cup of orange segments contain four grams of fiber, most of which is soluble fiber.  Since they are full of soluble fiber, oranges help lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol in your gut and preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream.  This reduces risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

3. Oranges strengthen immunity

Scientific studies show the abundance of polyphenols in oranges protects against viral infections.  The vitamin C in oranges also protects cells in your body by neutralizing free radicals.  Free radicals cause chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

4. Oranges lower stroke risk

Oranges are rich in vitamin C, and several scientific studies found a high blood concentration of vitamin C is associated with a lower stroke risk.  In one large study published in 2008, University of Cambridge researchers measured vitamin C levels in roughly 20,000 people and followed them for over a decade.  The participants were divided into four groups based on vitamin C levels.  The researchers found that those with the highest concentrations of the vitamin in their blood had a 42 percent lower stroke risk than those with the lowest concentrations.

5. Oranges regulate blood sugar levels

The orange has a glycemic index of 40.  Anything under 55 is considered low.  Therefore oranges will not spike your blood sugar and cause problems with insulin and weight gain as long as you do not eat too many at one time.

6. Oranges support heart health

Oranges are full of potassium, an electrolyte mineral responsible for helping the heart function well.  When potassium levels get too low, you may develop an abnormal heart rhythm known as an arrhythmia.

7. Oranges regulate high blood pressure

The flavonoid hesperidin found in oranges helps regulate high blood pressure.  Oranges also contain potassium and magnesium which help maintain blood pressure.

8. Oranges protect your vision

Oranges are rich in carotenoid compounds which are converted to vitamin A and help prevent macular degeneration as we age.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Warm your day: Oranges added to oatmeal is a great way to start your day.
  • Spice up your fruit salad: Be sure to include oranges in your next fruit salad.  Mix orange slices, mango chunks, and strawberries to your fruits salad with a sprinkle of chili powder.
  • Vibrant salad:  Add orange slices, strawberries, and walnuts onto a bed of your favorite field greens for a salad that is sure to please.
  • 100 percent juice: Just squeeze fresh oranges and enjoy.  Keep in mind that the whole fruit is more nutritious than the juice, because it contains more fiber.
  • Slice it or just peel and eat: Whatever your favorite way to eat an orange is, just take a bite into this delicious citrus fruit.
  • Use the peel: Orange peel is both flavorful and healthy.  If your recipe calls for orange zest, be sure to use organically grown oranges since conventionally grown fruits have pesticide residue on their skin and may also be artificially colored.

Spotlight on Coffee

Coffee beans closeup
Coffee beans closeup

We used to hear that coffee was a guilty pleasure at best and a health evil at worst.  However researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that coffee can be good for you.  Their research findings show that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee daily are less likely to die from a range of diseases, from diabetes to heart disease.   They found that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee helped.  Their main message is that regular consumption, about three to five cups a day, is associated with lower total mortality (premature death) and mortality from several causes, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and suicide.

The Scientific Studies

The Harvard School of Public Health looked at surveys of more than 200,000 doctors and nurses who regularly updated researchers on their eating and other lifestyle habits and details about their health for about 30 years.  They found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die over the decades than non-drinkers.   The effects were even stronger for non-smokers who drank coffee.  It turned out that non-smokers who regularly drank three to five cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent lower risk of mortality.  The researchers caution that people should be aware of the amount of added sugar to coffee drinks which can be a problem.  They also point out that a cup is a small 8-ounce cup of black, or almost black coffee.  Not a 32-ounce mocha frappuccino.

The researchers also looked beyond total mortality and looked at specific causes of death.  They found that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee daily have lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological disease (such as Parkinson’s) and suicide.  It is important to note that the study does not prove cause and effect between drinking coffee and living longer.  Rather, it points to an association.

Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet, and the researchers think that the antioxidants work together to provide some of the health benefits.  They also conclude that since the benefits are seen in both regular and decaf coffee, that points to caffeine not being responsible for the benefits.  The researchers are not advocating coffee as a strategy for prevention of chronic diseases because other factors in the diet have a bigger effect.  The main message is that people who enjoy drinking coffee should not worry that it may be harmful to their health.  Coffee may actually be beneficial to their health when consumed in moderate amounts.

The findings were published in November, 2015 in the journal Circulation.

The Health Benefits

Moderate consumption of coffee:

  1. Helps you live longer.
  2. Lowers risk of depression.
  3. Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.
  5. Lowers risk of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.
  6. Lowers risk of suicide.

Does Coffee Raise Blood Pressure?

According to the researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, people who are not used to caffeine will experience a substantial increase in blood pressure when they start consuming caffeinated beverages like coffee.  However within a week of caffeine consumption, that effect is less pronounced.  After several weeks of continued caffeine consumption, however, a small increase in blood pressure remains.  They suggest that people who have hypertension switch from caffeinated coffee to decaffeinated coffee, to see if it has a beneficial effect.

Does Coffee Raise Cholesterol?

Turns out that people who have high cholesterol should watch how they prepare their coffee.  Coffee contains a substance called cafestol which is a potent stimulator of LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.  Cafestol is found in the oily part of coffee, which is present whether or not the coffee is decaffeinated.  When you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol gets left behind in the filter.  Other methods of coffee preparation, such as the boiled coffee common in Scandinavian countries, French press coffee, or Turkish coffee, are much higher in cafestol.  So for people who have high cholesterol levels or who want to prevent having high cholesterol levels, it is better to choose paper filtered coffee or instant coffee, since they have much lower levels of cafestol than boiled or French pressed coffee.  Espresso is somewhere in the middle;  It has less cafestol than boiled or French pressed coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Moderate consumption: Three to five cups a day seems to be the coffee intake where benefits were seen.  The benefits diminish for intakes lower than two cups a day and above six cups a day.  A cup is 8-ounces.
  • Watch the caffeine: Keep caffeine intake to less than 400 mg per day especially if you are sensitive to it.  Research has shown that consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine can interfere with sleep and create feelings of unease.  You can try decaf or half regular/half decaf coffee if you are sensitive to caffeine.  Pregnant women should also watch their caffeine intake and consult their doctor.
  • Don’t smoke: The studies found that coffee consumption did not offset the damages caused by smoking.
  • Go with paper filtered coffee: If you have high cholesterol or are watching your cholesterol levels, you may want to lower your consumption of boiled coffee beverages.
  • Go with black, or almost black: Watch what you add to coffee.  Heavy cream, caramel, sugar, and syrups all add calories to your coffee, and could increase cholesterol levels if you consume these items regularly.

Top 5 Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Fresh asparagus with radishes and fennel
Fresh asparagus with radishes and fennel

Although the Mediterranean diet reflects the ways of eating that is traditional in the countries that surround the Mediterranean, you can bring the remarkable health benefits and affordable style of eating to your own kitchen.  Your local supermarket has all the fresh and flavorful ingredients needed to follow this healthy way of eating.  The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating mainly unprocessed plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Limiting red meat to a few times a month.
  • Eating fish and poultry at least three times per week.
  • Low consumption of dairy products.
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Avoiding saturated and trans fats.

The Health Benefits

Scientists have studied the eating patterns of the Mediterranean diet for over 50 years.  To date, there is a large body of scientific evidence supporting the healthfulness of the traditional Mediterranean diet.  Here are the top 5 health benefits:

  1. Increased lifespan.  A convincing scientific study published in 2013 showed that a Mediterranean-style diet warded off premature death in addition to cardiovascular disease.  Researchers looked at the dietary habits of over 10,000 women in their 50s and 60s.   The study found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet in midlife were about 40% more likely to live into their 70s without chronic illness and with less physical and mental problems than those who ate unhealthy diets.  The healthiest women were those who ate more plant foods, whole grains and fish; ate less red and processed meats; and had limited alcohol intake.  While you probably get the most benefit by eating this way earlier in life, this study shows that starting the Mediterranean diet as late as in your 50s and 60s results in significant benefits.
  2. Decreased cardiovascular disease risk.  The Mediterranean diet has been linked to better cardiovascular health through many scientific studies.  The benefits include lower risk for people who have been diagnosed with heart disease.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2012 shows that a Mediterranean-style diet can help prevent future cardiac events (like chest pains and heart attacks) in people with heart disease.  People who ate the most vegetables, salads, and nuts lowered the risk of repeat heart trouble the most compared to those who ate the least of these heart-healthy foods.
  3. Decreased diabetes risk.  Intake of processed foods filled with fat, sugar, and refined grains has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.  Because the Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole unprocessed foods, risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced.  In 2014, researchers in Vienna, Austria reviewed data of over 122,000 adults to investigate the association between the Mediterranean diet and diabetes risk.  After analyzing data between 2007 and 20014, the scientists found that greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a 19% reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Reduced age-related cognitive decline.  Turns out that the nutrient-rich Mediterranean diet keeps your brain intact.  A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology shows that the Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, fish, and good fats like olive oil, is linked with better brain health and fewer age-related thinking problems.  In another study published in 2013, researchers in the UK looked at the possible relationship between the Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia.  They found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with slower mental decline and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  5. Reduced risk of colon cancer.  A huge study published in 2012 involving nearly 2 million people showed that increasing  your intake of high-fiber whole grains reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.  According to the study, eating 3.25 ounces of whole grains per day was associated with a 20% lower risk.  Fiber helps improve digestion and absorption of nutrients, and it helps control appetite by keeping you full for a longer period of time.  Men over 50 should get at least 30 grams of fiber, while men 50 years old and younger should get at least 38 grams.  Women over 50 should get at least 21 grams of fiber, while women 50 years old and younger should get at least 25 grams.

The vast body of scientific evidence shows the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits, and many health experts are hoping you’ll be inspired to start the journey to better health Mediterranean-style.  The Mediterranean diet is affordable and one your whole family can follow for good health.