Oats (Avena sativa) are famous worldwide and linked to many health benefits.
They’re versatile and can be enjoyed cooked or raw in various recipes.
This article explains whether eating raw oats is healthy.
What are raw oats?
Oats are a widely consumed whole grain.
Since your body cannot digest the kernels, they must be processed, which includes:
- Separating the hull from the oat groats
- Heat and moisture treatment
- Sizing and categorization
- Flaking or milling
The final products are oat bran, oat flour, or oat flakes (also known as rolled oats).
A popular breakfast favorite, oat flakes can be enjoyed cooked or raw.
This means that you can either boil them when preparing oatmeal or porridge or enjoy them cold by adding raw oats to shakes.
That said, raw oats are technically cooked due to the heating process that all oat kernels undergo to make them digestible.
Summary: Raw oats are rolled oat flakes heated during processing but not boiled in recipes like oatmeal or porridge.
Raw oats are highly nutritious
While oats are most famous for their fiber and plant-based protein content, they pack various other nutrients.
A 1-cup (81-gram) serving of raw oats contains:
- Calories: 307
- Carbs: 55 grams
- Fiber: 8 grams
- Protein: 11 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Magnesium: 27% of the daily value
- Selenium: 43% of the daily value
- Phosphorus: 27% of the daily value
- Potassium: 6% of the daily value
- Zinc: 27% of the daily value
Aside from being rich in nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and phosphorus, oats are packed with soluble fiber, a beneficial dietary fiber that forms a gel-like substance when digested.
The main variety of soluble fiber in oats is beta-glucan, which is responsible for most of the grain’s health benefits.
Oats are also rich in highly absorbable plant protein and provide more of this nutrient than many other grains.
Protein structures in oats are similar to those of legumes, which are considered highly nutritional.
Summary: Oats offer more soluble fiber and high-quality protein than other grains, as well as many vitamins and minerals.
Health benefits of oats
Because oats are packed with many health-promoting compounds, they provide various health benefits.
Oats may help lower cholesterol levels
Oats are rich in the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in multiple studies.
Beta-glucan acts by forming a gel in your small intestine. This gel restricts the absorption of dietary cholesterol and interferes with the reabsorption of bile salts, which play an essential role in the metabolism of fats.
Research has determined that daily doses of at least 3 grams of oat beta-glucan can reduce blood cholesterol levels by 5–10%.
Moreover, a test-tube study discovered that raw oats release around 26% of their beta-glucan content during digestion, compared with only 9% for cooked oats. Thus, they may affect fat metabolism and cholesterol levels to a greater extent.
Oats may promote blood sugar control
Blood sugar control is vital for health and especially important for people with type 2 diabetes or those with difficulties producing or responding to insulin. This hormone regulates blood sugar levels.
Beta-glucan has been shown to help control blood sugar due to its ability to form a gel-like substance in your digestive system.
The viscosity slows the rate at which your stomach empties its contents and digests carbs, which is associated with lower blood sugar levels after a meal and stabilized insulin production.
A review of 10 studies in people with type 2 diabetes found that daily intake of foods containing at least 4 grams of beta-glucan per 30 grams of carbs for 12 weeks reduced blood sugar levels by 46%, compared with the control group.
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Oats may benefit heart health
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease, one of the most common conditions and a leading cause of death worldwide.
Soluble fibers like beta-glucans in oats have been associated with blood-pressure-lowering effects.
One 12-week study in 110 people with untreated high blood pressure found that consuming 8 grams of soluble fiber from oats per day reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers of a reading), compared with the control group.
Similarly, in a 6-week study of 18 people with elevated blood pressure levels, those consuming 5.5 grams of beta-glucan per day experienced a 7.5 and 5.5 mm Hg reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respectively with a control group.
In a 4-week study of 88 people taking medication for high blood pressure, 73% of those consuming 3.25 grams of soluble fiber from oats daily could either stop or reduce their medication, compared with 42% of participants in the control group.
Oats are healthy for your gut
Another health effect attributed to oats is their ability to support a healthy bowel by increasing fecal bulk.
This effect is due to the insoluble fiber in oats, which, unlike soluble fiber, is not water-soluble and thus doesn’t form a gel-like substance.
The bacteria in your intestines don’t ferment insoluble fiber to the same extent as they ferment soluble fiber, which increases your stool size.
It’s estimated that oats increase stool weight by 3.4 grams per gram of dietary fiber consumed.
Research has also revealed that daily intake of oat fiber may be a valuable and low-cost approach to treating constipation, which affects about 20% of the general population.
One study on people with constipation found that 59% of participants who consumed oat fiber from oat bran could stop taking laxatives.
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Raw oats naturally contain oat bran, though you can also buy it.
Oats may promote weight loss
A higher intake of whole-grain cereals like oats is linked to a lower risk of weight gain and obesity.
This may be partly because soluble fibers can help you feel fuller for longer.
Increased feelings of fullness are linked to reduced food intake, as they help suppress appetite.
Two studies determined that eating oats increased feelings of fullness and suppressed the desire to eat over four hours, compared with ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. These effects were attributed to the beta-glucan content of the oats.
Thus, raw oats may help you maintain or lose weight.
Summary: Raw oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that may lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Eating raw oats may also relieve constipation and promote weight loss.
Possible downsides of eating raw oats
Though raw oats are safe to eat, it’s recommended to soak them in water, juice, milk, or a nondairy milk alternative to avoid unwanted side effects.
Eating dry raw oats could lead them to build up in your stomach or intestines, resulting in indigestion or constipation.
Moreover, raw oats contain the antinutrient phytic acid, which binds to minerals like iron and zinc, making it difficult for your body to absorb them. This could lead to mineral deficiencies over time but it isn’t usually a problem if you eat a well-balanced diet.
Plus, soaking raw oats in water reduces phytic acid’s effect on mineral absorption. Soak your oats for at least 12 hours to get the most benefit.
Summary: The phytic acid in raw oats inhibits mineral absorption. Soaking raw oats reduces their phytic acid content. It also makes it easier for your body to digest them and helps prevent constipation.
How to add raw oats to your diet
Raw oats are an incredibly versatile ingredient.
You can add them as a topping to your favorite yogurt or blend them into a smoothie.
One easy and nutritious way to enjoy raw oats is to make overnight oats by letting them soak in the refrigerator in water or milk.
This allows them to absorb the liquid, making them easily digestible in the morning.
To prepare overnight oats, you’ll need the following:
- 1 cup (83 grams) of raw oats
- 1 cup (240 ml) of water, yogurt, or a dairy or nondairy milk of your choice
- 1 teaspoon of chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon of your preferred sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, sugar, or a sugar substitute
- 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, such as banana or apple slices
Mix all the ingredients in a lidded container to prevent the oats from drying, and leave them in the refrigerator overnight.
If you want, add more fresh fruit and nuts or seeds in the morning.
Summary: Raw oats can be enjoyed in many ways. Still, remember to let them soak for a while before eating them to improve digestibility.
Raw oats are nutritious and safe to eat.
They’re high in the soluble fiber beta-glucan, so they may aid weight loss and improve your blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and heart and gut health.
They’re also easy to add to your diet. Just remember to soak them first to enhance digestibility and nutrient absorption.