Dr. Irene's Nutrition Tidbits
Monday, April 30, 2003

Volume IV, number 18:


Nutrition Tidbit of the week: Feeling your oats!


I am starting to write this newsletter at 7:45 Sunday morning.  My mouth is watering for oatmeal.  I am in Pittsburgh, PA for the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Dietetic Association. There is an 8 am “educational breakfast session” by Sandra Batholmey, Ph.D. on “The health benefits of oats”.  Now if you want to do a session on the health benefits of oats, where do you find a sponsor?  You are correct if you guessed Quaker Oats.


Since Quaker Oats was generous enough to sponsor, I was all ready for my oatmeal.  I actually brought packets of oatmeal for my room in case I didn’t have time for breakfast but when I saw the session, I marched right down.   The breakfast was nice but boy was I disappointed.  Danish, bagels, and muffins.  At least they also had fresh fruit but I want my OATMEAL! 


Do you eat oatmeal?  Is it because it is a favorite or because it is a healthy choice?   If you like oatmeal but don’t take the time to make it, the information from the session may motivate you to try harder.


Oats contain several nutrients that provide health benefits:  fiber (soluble and insoluble), carbohydrate, protein, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals and natural antioxidants.  Before I continue, a terminology clarification is in order.  Since the new DRI’s were released, soluble and insoluble fibers have been renamed viscous and non-viscous fibers.  YUCK!  Who wants to see those terms on a label????  What were they thinking?   So I am going to stick to the more familiar terms of soluble and insoluble.


Over 50 clinical studies have documented that soluble fibers may reduce serum cholesterol values.  Thus, in 1997 the FDA approved the first health claim allowed on labels.  It states:


“Soluble fiber from oats, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”


Oatmeal is best known for a soluble fiber called beta-glucan.  A meta-analysis (meaning the results of many studies were combined to look at total results) of 10 studies show that 3 grams of beta-glucan daily can decrease cholesterol of 5-6 mg/dl.  This may seem like a small amount but the 5-6 mg/dl was an average for all participants.  The individuals with very high cholesterol had much larger results.  The cholesterol-lowering effecs was present even among individuals who were already following a low-fat diet.


So how do oats lower cholesterol?    Beta-glucan forms a gel in the gut which absorbs cholesterol-rich bile.  Bile is a digestive juice your intestine normally reabsorbs back into the body in the lower gut (after it has done its job of digesting fats).  Since the bile is now stuck on the soluble fiber (now you know why they wanted to rename it viscous), it leaves the body.  This helps remove some of your natural cholesterol.  The liver now needs to make more bile so it pulls cholesterol from your blood to make it.  This helps your blood cholesterol drop.


Other factors besides soluble fiber may also be involved in the health benefits of oats.  An amino acid (building block of protein) in oats has a lysine:arginine ratio that may protect the cardiovascular system.  There are also antioxidants in oats, primarily vitamin E-like compounds and a substance, avenanthramides, unique to oats.


Oats do more than lower cholesterol.  There is research indicating it assists in maintaining a healthy blood pressure, improving satiety (your sense of feeling satisfied when you eat) and maintaining a healthy blood glucose level.  This does NOT mean someone with diabetes should eat all the oatmeal they want.  The total carbohydrate content has to be calculated into the calorie and carbohydrate allowance.  Eating too large a bowl, just as eating too much of any food containing carbohydrate, can increase blood sugar.  A half of a cup of cooked oatmeal contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates.  A packet of the sweetened oatmeal contain exceed 30 grams.


Oatmeal is a whole grain, whether it is old-fashioned, instant, or quick-cooking.  The grain is just ground finer in the varieties that cook faster.  Because it is a whole grain, it qualifies for the 1999 FDA health claim that states:


“A diet rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers”.


Whole communities have gone a little oat crazy by participating in a Quaker Oats program called “Smart Heart Challenge”.  This is a 30-day program where your blood cholesterol is checked, then you eat a low fat diet which includes 1 1/2 cups of cooked oatmeal daily.  After 30 days your cholesterol is rechecked. The average individual lowered their cholesterol from 225 to 212 in one example of 4 towns.  You cannot say the reduction is totally due to the oatmeal but who cares whether it is going down because  you’re eating oatmeal or you have improved your overall diet.    Just be glad it is going in the right direction!!!


Now a disclaimer.  Large portions of any food will cause weight gain!  The recipe below is delicious but keep in mind that you are supposed to SHARE your oats with 6 people!

What's for dinner?


Rich 'n Creamy Baked Oatmeal


1-1/2 cups 2% low-fat milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

2-1/2 cups QUAKER® OATS (quick or old fashioned), uncooked

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)


 Optional toppings: fruit & skim milk or yogurt



1.  Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray 1½-quart casserole with no-stick cooking spray.

2.  In medium bowl, combine milk, eggs, oil and vanilla; mix well. Set aside.

3.  In large bowl, combine oats, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; mix well.

4.  Add liquid ingredients; mix until well blended. Let stand about 15 minutes.

5.  Pour into prepared casserole. Bake, uncovered, 35 to 45 minutes or until center is dry and firm to the touch. Cool slightly before serving. Top with fruit and milk or yogurt, if desired.


Yield:  6 servings

Nutrition information: 1/6 of recipe:  Calories, 320; carbohydrates 54g; fat, 8g; dietary fiber, 4g; protein 8g, sodium, approximately 200mg


Source: www.quakeroats.com


Ask Dr. Irene:

Answers to your food & nutrition questions.


Question:  Sue from New York asks:
Two of my children, ages 21 and 18 suffer from depression and despite antidepressants find getting up in the morning pure torture. This needless to say has affected their performance in school. Can you please recommend any foods which can be eaten before bedtime to help them feel more alert and willing to get up in the morning? Any advice will be an absolute lifesaver. By the way I will be eternally grateful to the friend who put me on your mailing list. I genuinely enjoy getting your newsletter and look forward to it.
Thank you very much.


     Please discuss this with your doctor as many anti-depressants, such as some of the SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), can cause insomnia.  Perhaps the timing and dose can be changed.

     For most people, I would try NOT eating at bedtime if an individual is not having a restful sleep.  Many people report more dreaming (meaning they are not getting as much deep sleep) or pulling of their legs/restlessness if they eat before they go to bed.  Desserts or caffeine containing foods seem to be the worst offenders.   Other people benefit from a bedtime routine that includes a glass of warm milk .

     If this does not work, there are no magic foods to eat at bedtime to help people feel more alert and willing to get up in the morning.  If the problem is getting to sleep to begin with, perhaps a sleep clinic could evaluate the problem.


Dr. Irene