You've probably been hearing for years that eating a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast is a healthy way to start the day — but do you know why? What is it that makes oatmeal so special, and how much of it should you eat? And does instant oatmeal count?
Here's a quick, science-based breakdown of the health benefits of that morning bowl of oatmeal.
It's a good source of B vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber.
Oats are whole grains, which means they haven't been stripped of their nutritious bran and germ. Different processing methods will affect the cooking time and texture of the cooked oatmeal, but not the nutrients of the oats themselves — so whether they are rolled, steel-cut or instant, oats are a good source of B vitamins, minerals, and soluble fiber.
It slows digestion and feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
Soluble fiber, specifically beta-glucan, is the real star of the show when it comes to the health benefits of eating oatmeal. As it goes through the digestive system, it turns into a gel that slows digestion, keeping you feeling fuller longer. It's also a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
It lowers LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
But the most significant benefit of oatmeal — again, thanks to beta-glucan — is probably its role in lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which is linked to a decreased risk for heart disease. In fact, scientific support for the cholesterol-lowering effects of beta-glucans is so widespread, the FDA allows food manufacturers to make health claims on the packaging of foods like oatmeal. A container of Quaker Oats, for example, includes this statement: As part of a heart-healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal can help reduce cholesterol.
Tip: Oatmeal isn't the only food with these benefits; other beta-glucan-containing foods include barley, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed.
So, how much oatmeal should you eat?
The experts do have some guidance on how much oatmeal you should eat to reduce your cholesterol: 3 grams of beta-glucans per day from oats is the amount that has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels. According to Today's Dietitian, you can find that amount in one-and-a-half cups of cooked oatmeal, or three packets of instant oatmeal. So, go ahead and enjoy that bowl of oatmeal in the morning!
No, it is not a magical sponge that "actually soaks up excess cholesterol and removes it from your body," as the Quaker Oats Company used to claim, but it is good for you and — perhaps more importantly — a warm bowl of oatmeal is a delicious and deeply comforting way to start the day.