Oats, the “doctor” that monitors our health

21/05/2019

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Oats are a very ancient and well-known cereal, but over the centuries they have developed an undeserved bad reputation. Since ancient Roman times, this food was considered less important than other grains in the Mediterranean basin and was almost exclusively used as animal feed, so much so that in different parts of Italy the term “biada” indicates oat hay for horses.

However, oats are regularly eaten in many other parts of the world and are the basis of numerous recipes such as the famous porridge, which is prepared in almost all countries of Northern Europe, Germany, as well as Africa and the Americas. They are widespread throughout the world due to the fact that the plant has a good yield and the varieties selected over time, unlike the historical ones, are almost immune to attacks by insects and pests.

From a nutritional point of view, oats are distinguished by their high fibre content, also because they require less processing than other cereals: more than 10%. Like all cereals, oats are mostly composed of carbohydrates and proteins, but also contain a significant percentage of fats, especial mono- and polyunsaturated fats such as linoleic acid, oleic acid and palmitic acid. They are rich in mineral salts (calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus) and also in B vitamins. Oat gluten is different from that of other grains and therefore the flour has difficulty rising, but at the same time it is well tolerated by those suffering from celiac disease.

The interest in oats has increased during recent years because of the many proven health benefits derived from the regular consumption of this grain. Many scientific studies, particularly by Anglo-Saxons, have shown that oats are useful in the dietary control of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
This is because the fibres of this cereal are rich in β-glucan, which is very gluey and resistant to digestion and consequently helps to control the absorption of sugars in the intestine, decreasing the glycaemic peak after meals as well as the insulin response. In addition, β-glucan helps to reduce cholesterol by acting on both serum blood levels and by inhibiting its synthesis in the liver.

In addition to its importance as a food, oats are also becoming increasingly important from an ecological point of view: they are an excellent biofuel. The use of cereals for combustion and heating is not new because they are very caloric substances and, in fact, some facilities already use corn for biofuel purposes. Maize, however, is low in cellulose so it must be mixed with wood pellets for burning. Oats are the only cereal that contain more than 10% of cellulose which makes them a perfect, ready-to-use, natural fuel.