Origins of Oats:
Oats (also known as "avena sativa") are a species of cereal grain that belong to the poaceae grass family of plants. The part of the plant that ends up in our kitchen are the seeds of the oat grass. Interestingly, oats were originally considered a weed by the Romans. It was only when people recognised the huge nutritional benefit that they become a much-loved part of our daily diets. In fact, in late medieval times, oats were the staple diet of Scottish farmers.
The Different Types of Oats:
Oats in their whole form are called ‘oat groats’, and these are then processed by either being rolled, ground or chopped into flakes to create the following:
Steel cut oats - these are sometimes called ‘Irish oats’, and they’re oats that have been chopped instead of rolled, so are the least processed. They have a chewy texture, look a bit like rice, and have the longest cooking time (sometimes 25+ minutes on the stove). (This type is used in stuffing, or the savoury Chinese breakfast dish - congee).
Rolled oats - these are sometimes referred to as ‘traditional’ ‘whole’ or ‘old-fashioned’ oats. They’re steamed then flattened with big rollers, yet they’re still firm and textured, with around a 5-10 minute cooking time on the stove. (One of the most popular types of oats - often used in cookies, granola bars, and baked goods).
Scottish oats - also known as ‘Scottish oatmeal’ - these are ground using stone mills (no rolling, cutting or steaming involved). The texture is coarser than flour, and they’re great for baking.
Instant oats - these are made by chopping oat groats into small pieces before pre-cooking, drying, then flattening them with a roller. This level of processing means they are able to soak up water more quickly, so therefore cook quicker and have a softer texture. As with all processed foods, instant oats are less nutrient-rich than rolled oats, and can often get mushy if cooked slightly too long.
The Health Benefits of Oats:
The health benefits of oats seem almost limitless! Oats are loaded with polyphenols (micronutrients found naturally in plant foods) that have anti-inflammatory effects, and can reduce the risk of disease by fighting the damage that free radicals cause in the body.
They’re also full of antioxidants - and there’s even a type of antioxidant that’s only found in oats called ‘avenanthramides’ that can protect against heart disease, and help regulate blood pressure and improve blood flow around the body (Source).
On top of this, oats are packed with soluble fibre, which is excellent for digestion. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and transforms into a thick gel-like substance that moves slowly through the body. This means slower digestion, which leaves you feeling fuller for longer, and it also helps prevent sugar spikes.
Oats also have many vitamins and minerals - including manganese, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B1, iron, selenium, magnesium, and zinc.
Studies have repeatedly shown that oats can lower blood sugar levels (and it prevents blood sugar spikes because of it’s low GI levels), and it can lower cholesterol levels too. (Source)
How To Eat Oats:
You probably have fond childhood memories of having porridge for breakfast, and at HIIT Kitchen we still think oats make an excellent breakfast or snack. They’re great in muesli/granola, as an oat milk, as an oat flour, or even in breakfast smoothies with banana, strawberries for example.
Our favourite way to have oats is ‘overnight oats’ where they’re soaked in milk/plant-based milk, and combined with seeds/fruit/nuts/protein powder. We even do our very own in-house HIIT Kitchen range of overnight protein oats. You can see a photo of our overnight oats below which includes unsweetened almond milk, bananas, oats, strawberries, whey protein, blueberries, and cacao powder.
Oats are widely praised for their anti-inflammatory, skin-healing properties and can actually help to soften skin, and soothe dry and/or itchy skin. Amazingly, they’re hypoallergenic, so are fantastic in skincare products, as well as shampoos. So next time you're buying skincare, haircare, or grooming products - look out for the oats!
We hope you enjoyed our ultimate guide to oats, if there's any other food you'd like us to spotlight in future - let us know on social.