Benefits of eating oats for high blood pressure
Oats – a History of Health
It’s not often a good idea to take a leaf out the book of the Scots when it comes to diet, but eating oats regularly is one of those rare exceptions.
Eating oats regularly is proven to lower your cholesterol, and in turn reduce the risk of heart disease. This is one of the best understood food-health links, and also the first to be endorsed by both American and European food safety authorities: oat products are the only source of dietary fibre allowed to make the health claim that they can lower the risk of heart disease.
Regular oat consumption can also help lower your blood pressure through its cholesterol-lowering effects, and also via a range of other processes. So make sure to get your oats!
Oats lower cholesterol
Yes – as well as being naturally free from cholesterol, eating oats actually lowers your cholesterol levels.
This is because oats are high in a water-soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which soaks up the LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol in your digestive system. This prevents the cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream, and, in turn, causes the liver to extract more cholesterol from your blood.
In one study, published in the American Medical Association Journal, oats lowered cholesterol as much as cholesterol-lowering drugs like statin.
Lowering your cholesterol also lowers your risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease, and this in turn can help lower your blood pressure.
Basically, the more (LDL) cholesterol you have in your blood, the more it gets deposited on the walls of your arteries, hardening them. The heart then has to work harder to pump blood through, and this increases your blood pressure. High blood pressure in turn can damage the walls of your arteries, making it easier for cholesterol to be deposited – so high cholesterol and high blood pressure each affect the other, and lowering one will generally help lower the other. And eating oats will help both!
Oats help stabilize blood sugar levels
Oats contain complex carbohydrates which are digested and absorbed more slowly than simple carbs. In addition, the beta-glucan in oats is a soluble fibre which breaks down into a gel and coats other food particles in the stomach, slowing down their rate of digestion and absorption by the body too.
Slower digestion and absorption mean that the energy from food (in the form of sugar) is released into the blood slowly and steadily. This minimises the increase in blood sugar that occurs after eating, and help to stabilise the level of sugar in your blood.
This is great for diabetics but it also helps keep blood pressure down.
When your blood sugar level rises, insulin is released to enable cells to use or store the sugar. However, high levels of insulin can lead to increased blood pressure (over-exposure to insulin causes insulin resistance which impairs your ability to store magnesium, and low levels of magnesium leads to constriction of the blood vessels and thus higher blood pressure).
Eating oats helps keep insulin levels normal by keeping blood sugar stable (and because the fibre, minerals and antioxidants in oats help improve your sensitivity to insulin).
*Oats for stamina and performance*
As well as being good for your blood pressure, oats are a great food to get you going, and keep you going.
Oats are easy to digest – easier than wheat, for example – and so don’t slow you down too much while you’re digesting, yet are still very filling. Because they are absorbed slowly in the body, energy is released from them for quite a while. Athletes in training often eat oats for breakfast and studies suggest it gives them more stamina than other breakfast cereals.
Oats help keep blood pressure lower with minerals and antioxidants
Oats contain a type of antioxidant called avenathramides which help protect against atherosclerosis, and a type called tocotrienols which also help lower blood cholesterol.
Oats are also high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E, all of which are important for maintaining healthy blood pressure.
100g of oats contains: 390 kcal / 1630 kJ
11g fibre (5g beta-glucan, 6g insoluble fibre)
6g fat (only 1.2g saturated, 0 cholesterol)
Why oats is better for blood pressure than other grains and cereals
Eating any whole grain cereal in the morning is good for you and your blood pressure – and definitely better than eating ready-made processed cereals which are less nutritious and usually high in sugars too. However, oats have advantages over other grains and cereals that make them more effective in limiting and lowering your blood pressure.
Barley is the only other grain high in beta-glucans, so this is the next best grain to eat regularly. It has similar effects to oats in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, helping stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels, and keeping you going longer.
Oats and wheat gluten intolerances
Oats are perfect for those with intolerances to wheat or other grains, as they contain different kinds of protein to other grains.
Pure oats are gluten-free so small amounts of oats (up to 3/4 cup dry oats a day) are considered safe, and even beneficial, for people with gluten intolerances or coeliac disease (just make sure they are no cross-contaminated with other grains during the milling process – check the packaging; and consult your doctor since a minority of coeliacs are sensitive to a protein in oats, avenin, which is similar to gluten).
More benefits from eating oats everyday
- the beta-glucan in oats supports the immune system and appears to enhance the ability to heal from infection
- regular oat consumption is linked to decreased risk of developing hormone-related cancers, such as breast cancer
- oats are good for your intestine and bowels – oats are high in insoluble fibre as well as soluble fibre, and this helps keep things moving through your gut, keeping your bowels working healthily; and also probably reduce carcinogens in your intestine
- oats can help you control your weight – because the soluble fibre slows the digestion, you feel full longer and don’t need to eat so often – research with kids suggests eating oats regularly reduces their risk of becoming obese
- oats are good for physical stamina – eating oats about an hour before moderate exercise helps support your performance
- oats contain essential fatty acids, linked with good health and longevity; and contain the best mixture of amino acids (components of protein) of any grain
- non-dietary benefits: a cup of fine oatmeal added to a warm bath soothes the skin, easing discomfort from sunburn, dry skin, eczema etc; and you can use oatmeal as a facial scrub too.
Best Ways To eat Oats
The oats that we eat are the oat ‘groats’ or seeds inside the husk. However, you see different types of oats being sold, which can be a bit confusing. The main differences are the size of the pieces they are cut into, and how much they are then further processed.
‘Whole oats’ still have the oat bran layer, and it’s this that contains most of the good stuff. Some oats are processed to remove the bran layer, and sometimes to partially cook the oats too.
Go for whole oats where possible, as they’re not only more nutritious, but also more effective in lowering blood pressure. Whole oats come in various forms and sizes. Smaller oats are faster to cook because they absorb water faster. But avoid instant oatmeal as it’s the least nutritious.
All these forms of oats can be eaten cooked, as in porridge, or uncooked, as in muesli. You can also eat oat bran, or barley bran.
Types of oats
Rolled oats (oat flakes) are the oats most commonly sold as porridge, and used in muesli and granola. These are oat groats which are flattened/rolled into oat flakes and steamed and lightly toasted. You can get thick rolled whole oats, or thinner rolled oats which have been cut into smaller pieces before rolling.
Steel-cut oats are oat groats cut into finer pieces without being rolled. These take a bit longer to cook but are lovely and chewy.
Usually rolled oats or oat flakes or steel-cut oats have not undergone any further processing and still have some of the bran layer of the oats – so are still ‘whole oats’.
Quick oats or quick-cooking oats are just rolled oats which have been cut into smaller pieces and sometimes steamed for longer, which softens them and makes them quicker to cook, although they often retain some of the bran layer.
‘Oatmeal’ is sometimes used to describe oats or porridge in general. However, technically speaking, oatmeal is ground oats – oats that have been milled into finer pieces – pinhead, coarse, medium, fine. The bran layer has usually been removed, although not always, and often they are then processed by light baking or pressure-cooking.
Instant oatmeal is pre-cooked, then dried, often with sweeteners and flavours added. Some of the nutrients are lost so if you want easy cooking oats, then get smaller rolled oats, as these will cook faster but are usually processed less.
How much oats?
Both the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) allow certain oat products to carry the health claim that they reduce cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart disease, if they can provide 3g per day of beta-glucans/soluble fibre.
100g oats contains about 5g of beta-glucan, so for your minimal 3g a day, you need at least 60g oats per day – over 2 ounces – or about 2/3 of a cup.
Aim for a cup – so, say, a bowl of oats each morning, and an oat-based snack later in the day.
A bowl of oats
Breakfast is the best time to get your oats – you’ll start the day with stable blood sugar levels, and a steady supply of energy.
Or have some later in the day instead. A bowl of oats about an hour before moderate exercise keeps you going well.
PORRIDGE is great in the winter to warm you up and keep you toasty. Make it with water, or milk, or a mix of the two.
For extra smoothness, you can soak it overnight in cold water, with a little sea salt (Scottish style), and maple syrup (Vermont style) then cook in the morning. For extra flavour and texture, add other ingredients, either while it’s cooking or once it’s served.
Dried fruits: Add while the porridge cooks if you want it to swell and soften, or afterwards if you prefer it more chewy.
Fresh fruits: Add during or after cooking. Remember, berries are great for blood pressure so add a handful of your favourite.
Nuts and seeds: Delicious with porridge and also great for blood pressure – especially walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts, and flax, pumpkin and (unsalted) sunflower seeds. Seeds are particularly good sprinkled on top – even better if lightly toasted first.
Spices: In Scotland, folk often add a little salt – not enough to get a salty taste, but to balance sweeter flavours added. In Vermont they used to add nutmeg, cinnamon and sometimes ground ginger. Experiment!
A little sweetness: You can also drizzle honey or maple syrup over your porridge before eating, or spoon on a little jam.
MUESLI is a good stimulating morning start, especially in the summer with fresh fruits and yoghurt. Also good to take out and have a handful now and again for energy on the go.
If you’re buying muesli, check the label and make sure there’s not too much added sugar. Granola can be good too, but is often very high in sugar.Health food shops often have their own muesli mixes which you can buy in bulk, and which are simpler ingredients. Or make your own – buy oat flakes, barley flakes, and your favourite dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Try different combinations and see what you like.
Other ways to eat oats
Following the Scots, you can eat/use oats in other baked and cooked foods.
Bread: Oat flour* bread is good; flaked oats are a lovely topping on any bread.
Oatcakes: Another Scottish traditional food, oatcakes are great vehicles for spreads and cheeses, and also good replacements for bread with soups and stews. Widely available in the UK, but you can also get them in North America in shops which sell imported goods. Or make your own – all you need is oatmeal, butter, baking powder, a little sea salt, and water.
Cookies / muffins: You can make them with oat flour* or oatmeal or mix flaked oats with regular flour. You can also use oats in muffins and scones. Add berries or dark chocolate chips for decadence that’s good for blood pressure.
Flapjacks / granola bars / muesli bars: Flapjack here is not the US pancake but Scottish flapjack – rolled oats mixed with melted butter, golden cane syrup, and sugar. High in fat and sugar, so not something to eat regularly, but if you’re off out for a long walk, the oats keep you going well. A healthier alternative is a granola or muesli bar. You could also find a recipe to make your own, to avoid unnecessary sugars and additives.
Soups and stews: Use oat powder* as a thickener in any soup or stew.
Pies and quiches: Use oats or oat bran to make crusty crunchy pastry.
Burgers: Use oatmeal to ‘bread’ chicken or fish, or in burgers, meatloaf etc.
Smoothies: You can even add oats to smoothies for extra fibre and protein.
(*Oat powder/oat flour: You can chop oat flakes into a coarse powder in a food processor, using a steel blade.)
So, go out there and get your wild oats…