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. (Disclaimer: Scotland has lots of great traditional food, but modern Scots often don’t eat it and heart disease rates are really high.)
The reason eating oats regularly is such is a good idea is that it’s 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 which can carry the health claim that they can lower the risk of heart disease.
So make sure to get your oats!
How Can Oatmeal Help Lower High Blood Pressure?
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. 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 worsen the other. But 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 is great for diabetics but it also helps keep blood pressure down, as high or unstable blood sugar levels can lead to high blood pressure.
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 which helps protect against hardening of the arteries. Oats are also high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and zinc, B vitamins, vitamin E, all of which are important for maintaining healthy blood pressure.
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.
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) or 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. Try dried or fresh fruits (berries are great for blood pressure and are delicious in porridge), nuts and seeds, and even some spices. In Vermont they used to add nutmeg, cinnamon and sometimes ground ginger. Experiment!
Muesli is a good for a stimulating morning start, especially in the summer with fresh fruits and yoghurt. It’s also good to take out and about with you 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, oatcakes, cookies and muffins, flapjacks and muesli bars, pastry, in burgers, and even as a thickener in soups and stews.
So, go out there and get your wild (or packaged) oats…
For more on the benefits of oats for blood pressure, check out our book:
Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally – The Complete 9 Step Guide
It’s packed with tasty tips on changing your diet to lower your blood pressure naturally, as well as guidance on exercise and relaxation for reducing your blood pressure – plus more delicious recipe ideas for oat-based meals!
Click on the link above for more details and a free sample.