What are oats?

Oats (Avena sativa) are a whole grain and commonly eaten for breakfast as porridge (also known as oatmeal) or in baked treats like flapjacks. Oats are available whole, rolled or instant.


• Whole oats are the most intact form and take longer to cook, they are available as ‘jumbo’ oats which are slightly thicker

• Rolled oats are whole grains that have been lightly roasted, steamed and rolled flat, this breaks down the outer husk

• Instant oats are rolled so they are thinner, cook faster and make a smoother porridge

All of these varieties are whole grains but the degree of processing influences the speed they cook. Oats are also available as a flour, which is often used in baked goods or as a thickening agent, and is simply oats ground into a fine powder. Oat bran is the outer layer of the oat: it is not a wholegrain but it does contain fibre including soluble fibre. You can add oat bran to a bowl of cereal or baked goods to increase the fibre contribution.

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The health benefits of oats may include:

1. Improve diet quality

2. Help manage cholesterol

3. Help balance blood sugar levels

4. May support gut health

5. Contain plant compounds with protective properties

6. May help with weight management

7. May minimise belly fat

8. May modulate immune function

9. May support digestive function

10. May help to fight against cancer

Discover our full range of health benefit guides including the top healthiest cereals and the healthiest grains. Check out some of our favourite healthy porridge recipes, from our healthy porridge bowl to our baked banana porridge.

Woman pouring oats into bowl

Nutritional profile of porridge (oatmeal)

An average sized bowl (150g), made with whole cow’s milk, provides:

• 168 Kcal / 708 KJ
• 7.3g protein
• 7.0g fat
• 19.9g carbohydrate
• 1.4g fibre
• 196mg calcium
• 1.2mg zinc

Don’t forget what you add in terms of toppings or flavourings may significantly impact the nutritional contribution of your porridge.

Bowl of porridge topped with blueberries

Top 10 health benefits of oats

1. Improve diet quality

Oats are highly nutritious: not only do they provide important micronutrients like zinc, copper, selenium and B vitamins, they are also rich in valuable plant compounds, peptides, lipids and fibre, including a special type of fibre called beta-glucan. Adding them to the diet improves diet quality and offers numerous health benefits.

2. Help manage cholesterol levels

Oats contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels if you consume 3g or more of it each day. It does this by binding with the cholesterol in your digestive tract, aiding its elimination from the body. A 40g serving of oats supplies 2g beta-glucan.

3. Help balance blood sugar levels

Beta-glucan is also beneficial in helping us manage our blood sugar levels, with studies suggesting it helps to lower levels of blood glucose after a meal and improves our sensitivity to the blood sugar-managing hormone, insulin.

4. May support gut health

Oats are rich in prebiotic fibres, which stimulate the growth and activity of our beneficial gut bacteria, while inhibiting the growth of less desirable strains of bacteria. Prebiotic fibres are important for promoting a beneficial gut environment, maintaining proper gut function and for minimising inflammation.

5. Contain plant compounds with protective properties

Whole oats are a good source of protective compounds called polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties. One variety of these, avenanthramides, may help lower blood pressure by promoting the production of nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow.

Healthy porridge bowl topped with fresh and dried fruit

6. May help with weight management

Oats are a source of complex carbohydrate, this means they provide slow-releasing energy that doesn’t cause spikes to your blood sugar levels. In addition, the soluble fibre in oats helps improve our sense of fullness, reducing our appetite and potentially helping us resist environmental cues to eat.

7. May minimise belly fat

Including sources of soluble fibre, such as oats, in your regular diet may help reduce levels of abdominal fat, typically referred to as belly fat. It’s this type of fat that may become a risk to health, increasing our chances of developing conditions such as type II diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer.

8. May modulate immune function

Oats contain several nutrients that are involved in the functioning of our immune system. These include fibre, nutrients such as zinc, iron, copper and selenium, as well as plant compounds and proteins.

9. May support digestive function

Studies suggest that oat bran may help support digestive transit and reduce constipation in older adults, reducing the need for laxatives.

10. May help the fight against cancer

Certain components in oats, including peptides, fibre and plant compounds, may offer support in the prevention of certain cancers, including colon cancer.

Are oats gluten free?

Oats don’t themselves contain gluten but most commercial brands are processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye and barley. Cross-contamination may also occur if the oats are grown too close to wheat crops. If you are coeliac or gluten intolerant, always check labels to ensure the product is labelled ‘gluten free’, this will ensure that the oats have been produced without risk of contamination.

Oats do contain a protein called avenin, which although similar in structure to gluten, appears to be well tolerated by most – although not all – gluten-sensitive people.

Are oats safe for everyone?

Oats are safe for most people, although if you are not used to fibre in your diet you should introduce them gradually to avoid bloating and discomfort. If you have a condition which extends the length of time it takes to digest your food, you should exercise caution because oats may not be an appropriate dietary inclusion for you. If you have coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity check labels to confirm it is gluten free.

Is porridge good for weight loss?

Potentially yes – oats can be a useful addition to a weight loss diet. This is because the soluble fibre triggers fullness messages which suppress appetite.

Overall, are oats good for you?

Oats offer multiple benefits to health; adding them to your diet helps to improve diet quality, reduce cholesterol, manage blood sugar and weight as well as support the digestive system and the health of the gut.

If you have concerns or questions regarding the suitability of oats, speak to your GP or a registered dietician for guidance.

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Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in personalised nutrition and nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including Good Food.


All health content on goodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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