Understanding oats

The oat aisle of the grocery store is surprisingly large. Not only do you have multiple brands to choose from, but there are many different types of oats.

To help you out, I’ve created a quick review of the classic oat to help you better navigate the grocery store and choose the oats best for you.

Nutrition Overview

Oats have been a staple for centuries and appear to be a grain that has escaped the “carbohydrate boycotting” that is so common in diet culture. It is a nutrient rich food that provides you with fibre, protein, vitamin B12, iron and zinc.

Types of Oats

Steel Cut Oats are closest to the original grain and contain the entire oat kernel sliced into smaller pieces to help with cooking. Because these are the least processed of the oats, they also contain the highest concentration of nutrients. They will have a very chewy texture and will take the longest to cook at anywhere between 20-40 minutes.

Rolled Oats are sometimes called Old Fashioned Oats. They are slightly more processed as the outside hull of the oat is removed. This does result in a lower nutrient content compared to steel cut, but they still remain very nutritious and are a great choice (my personal favourite). The cooking time is also faster taking 10-20 minutes.

Quick Cooking Oats are rolled oats that have been cut before being steamed & flattened to help speed up the cooking process. They can be helpful when you need to make oats quickly, or are often used in baking.

Instant Oats are usually what you find in the packets. They are the most processed of all the oats, as they have been cut, pre-cooked, dried, steamed and then flattened. While the packets are convenient because they have been significantly processed they have lost a good chunk of nutrition. As well, the flavoured packets usually contain quite a bit of added sugars. I would recommend trying to include the above oats over instant for a more nutritious and satisfying meal.

Other Oat Products

Oat Flour is made from grinding up rolled up. You can do this yourself in a blender or food processor. To add to a recipe, substitute up to 30% oat flour for all purpose. It will contain the same nutrients all rolled oats and can be a great addition to your baking.

Oat Bran is made from the outer later of the oat kernel known as the bran. This very rich in fibre and can also be a great addition to your baking.

How to Use Oats

My favourite way to eat oats is in a good old fashioned porridge. Now oats for breakfast may not initially spark your food desires but the beauty of oats is that they are a great base. Once you start dressing them up, you might find porridge becomes a staple.

They are also a great addition to baking. You will find a million recipes that incorporate oats including muffins, cookies, energy bites and homemade bars. As mentioned above, you can also sneak in this nutritious powerhouse in the form of oat flour or oat bran.

Manuka honey vs. the bees

Liquid Gold. Manuka honey is a hot item right now. And with all food trends, it’s important to step back before jumping on board. Three good questions to ask yourself are: Do I enjoy the taste? Are the proposed health benefits true? What is the impact on the environment? Because yes, food and the environment intersect.

Manuka honey tastes like honey, which means it’s delicious, but why is it considered superior? It’s comes from bees in New Zealand that pollenate the Manuka bush. This specific plant allows the honey to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Some research has shown this to be beneficial in wound healing, sore throats, and help to promote good oral health. Sounds cool, right?

But what is the actual impact on your health? Minimal. Fortunately we have the miracles of modern medicine to help with wound healing and I would never encourage anyone to apply honey to their own wounds (interestingly, some wound dressings do contain honey but let’s leave that to our experts in wound care). Oral care? Brush and floss regularly and you will be fine. Let’s not forget the cost. I’m talking $30 – $50 dollars for a small jar.

Now to the environmental impact. An increased demand for specific foods may help boost economies but often these local farmers end up being exploited in the name of profit. In the case of Manuka honey, the bees are actually dying. Manuka is expensive. People want in on this multiple million dollar industry. Bees are being poisoned and stolen for profit. Why? Destroy your neighbours hives, then your honey will be bought.

Additionally, Manuka honey is grown in New Zealand meaning it’s needs to be shipped thousands of kilometres before ending up in your cupboard, if you live in North America. We have beautiful local honey at our fingertips. Let’s support our local bee keepers!

Bottom line: The health benefits are not worth the cost and not worth the negative impact on the environment and the bees.

Coconut Oil: It’s not poison, but it’s definitely not a miracle food either

A quick google search of coconut oil will lead you down two paths at the moment:

(1) Harvard professors calling it pure poison

(2) Wellness blogs praising it as the cure to nearly everything

So what’s the deal? Should you throw your container of coconut oil in the garbage or continue to slather it on every food you eat?

The Proposed Hype

The preacher of coconut oil will likely highlight the following:

  • It’s has medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are ~amazing for our health~
  • It has saturated fat, but that is good for us now
  • It increases our good cholesterol (HDL-C)
  • It has a high antioxidant content

So let’s break this down.

The Evidence

Starting with MCTs, small research studies are showing some benefits in it’s use for weight loss and Alzheimer’s. It is proposed that it may be due to the unique way in which your body uses them. They bypass the traditional way fats are absorbed, leading to a quicker uptake by the body and can act as readily available source of energy. This may help in weight loss, as your body may use it for energy versus storing as fat. In Alzheimer’s, the proposed theory is that the brain will utilize the MCTs as an energy source, instead of the typical glucose, which may have a protective effect.

While that all sounds great, there is some problems with this claim. My main concern is that coconut oil does not equal MCTs. Sure, coconut oil contain some MCTs but it is not an 100% source. The above studies are looking at use of an 100% MCT oil supplement. We cannot assume that using coconut oil will translate to the same benefits. Additionally, there is much debate in the nutrition world as to what the actual percentage of MCTs found in coconut oil is, with some arguing it to be quite low.

But if there is a possible benefit of using it, why not?

This has to do with its saturated fat content. Let me get this clear  – I am not against saturated fat in your diet, but let’s review a little nutrition history to get a better understanding of what this all means.

Back in the day of power suits and scrunchies, saturated fat was thought to be the devil incarnate resulting in the low-fat diet trend (“Non-fat Yogurt” Seinfeld episode, anyone?). More recent research has actually shown it may not be as harmful as once thought. What was found was that if you replaced saturated fat with sugar*, you saw an increased cardiovascular risk. But what often gets skipped over is that it also found that choosing unsaturated fats (olive oil) over saturated fats (coconut oil) significantly improved cardiovascular health.  So the harm comes in when you start using coconut oil as your main source of cooking oil. This is likely doing your body more bad then good. Speaking to effect on our cholesterol, coconut oil does raise our good cholesterol, but also our bad ones. 

Now let’s not forget about the antioxidant claims. Unfortunately, these claims are not backed by evidence at this time. A recent study looked to analyze the antioxidant content of coconut oil and found squat. Sadly, no antioxidants in coconut oil. 

Bottom Line

Coconut oil may have some moderate health benefits but it is not a superfood and should not be the main fat source in your diet. I would recommend reaching for extra virgin olive oil first, as this is an oil proven to be a good source of antioxidants and contains those unsaturated fats your heart loves. 

Will you find coconut oil in my pantry? Most definitely. It has a wonderful flavor and is a good oil to cook with especially when using higher heats. When purchasing, aim to grab a cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. This type is less processed and has not been exposed to high heats that can be damaging to the overall nutrition content of fats.

Finally, what also always needs to be remembered is that individual foods have little impact on our health. It is the sum of our dietary habits that matter. A person who eats coconut oil as a main fat source, but has a diet that consists mostly of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits and legumes is making healthier choices than a diet that has olive oil as it’s main cooking oil but contains high amounts of meat, simple sugars and processed foods.

So keep that coconut oil in your diet, just don’t think it’s the the magical ingredient to a healthy lifestyle.

*sugar does not equal carbohydrates FYI.