by Elif Selvili • Photography by Kate Lesueur
Part of oatmeal’s claim to fame is its ability to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. In light of this, many dutifully health-conscious people tolerate their morning bowls of mush with the excitement of a good patient taking a daily dose of medicine. It’s also true that oatmeal is noted for being the measuring stick with which to gauge all blandness. Well, we think oatmeal deserves a second chance at the table.
Let’s first consider the history of oats and how they’re used. Ancient, wild versions of today’s oats trace their roots back several millennia to the fertile lands in the Near East. The cultivated versions of the wild grass started showing up as recently (relatively speaking) as the Bronze Age in Europe.
Today, oats are consumed rolled, crushed or ground into flour. Rolled oats often have the bran removed and have gone through processing to make them cook faster. Groats, better known as steel-cut oats, are the inner portion of the whole grain cut into smaller pieces. Oat flour, although excellent for people with celiac disease, doesn’t perform well as a sole ingredient in breads, but works well as a thickener.
Oats have more soluble fiber than most other grains, and one of them, beta-glucan, is responsible for lowering LDL by bonding to cholesterol and preventing its absorption into the bloodstream. They also have a surprising amount of protein—particularly in the steel-cut form. Besides providing lots of fiber to create a feeling of fullness, oats also deliver a hefty amount of magnesium, iron and B-6. And oats are the perfect low-glycemic-index, pre-workout food to provide slow, sustained energy and plenty of protein to build muscles and improve endurance.
Start the oatmeal makeover by choosing the steel-cut variety rather than the more common rolled, then jazz up the bowl by introducing other ancient grains and seeds to the mix, along with sweet dried fruit, toothsome nuts and fragrant spices. Quinoa, millet, amaranth, flax seeds and chia seeds add an astounding array of vitamins, amino acids and minerals to the already nutritious oats. If we had to pick only the most prominent feature of each grain or seed, the list would still be impressive: quinoa for complete protein, millet for high omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, amaranth for lysine, flax seeds for lignans and chia seeds for protein. Adding a variety of nuts provides texture, flavor and protein, while dried fruit brings in sweetness and additional fiber without resorting to refined sugar. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves add flavor with few calories while also contributing antioxidants.
For those of us who don’t have the luxury of extra time in the morning, cook a large pot of oats—either toasted and boiled for a nuttier flavor, or just boiled for simple goodness—and reheat smaller portions later in the week. Cooked oatmeal will keep in the refrigerator for at least four to five days.