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Unique Substance in Oats Goes For the Heart

oats and heart health

We have been told to eat oats and oatmeal because they are rich in fiber and can help lower cholesterol. Now we find out that oats also contain a unique substance that makes this food even better for the heart than we thought.

Oats seem like such a simple, bland food, hardly worth lots of attention. Yet they have long been recognized as a healthful addition to the diet, particularly because of their high content of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which helps reduce levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Read more about the health benefits of oats

Although beta-glutan has received much of the credit for the health benefits associated with oats, the grain also contains numerous vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients important for health. One cup of plain cooked oatmeal contains an impressive 6 grams of protein as well as significant levels of iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and thiamine, among others.

The discovery that avenanthramides have positive heart features adds a new dimension to the health benefits of oats. In fact, the team of scientists who made the announcement about avenanthramides at the 247th Annual Conference of the American Chemical Society meeting noted that the substance possesses antioxidant, anti-itch, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties.

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According to Dr. Shengmin Sang of the Center for Excellence in Post-Harvest Technologies at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the session’s presiding co-officer, avenanthramides in oats “may provide additional cardio-protective benefits.” In particular, the researchers noted that

  • The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics of avenanthramides seem to help protect against atherosclerosis
  • Avenanthramides interfere with the production of substances (cytokines) that are involved with the formation of fatty streaks, which are the first visible (without magnification) signs of atherosclerosis in the arteries
  • Avenanthramides seem to suppress the development of atherosclerosis

The presence of avenanthramides is not a new finding, but their heart-healthy benefits are. More than two dozen avenanthramides have been found in oat seed.

Other benefits of oats
Be sure to include oats and oatmeal on your menu for several other healthful reasons.

  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer. Avenanthramides once again are credited with helping reduce the risk of colon cancer, along with the high fiber content of oats, by reducing proliferation of colon cancer cells
  • Celiac disease option. Most (but not all) people who have celiac disease can eat oats without experiencing problems. The protein in oats called avenin can be problematic for some individuals with celiac, however.
  • Immune system booster. The beta-glucan in oats is credited with enhancing immune system function by stimulating the activity of white blood cells to fight pathogens.
  • Skin treatment. A combination of ground oatmeal and enough water to make a paste can help treat acne and sunburn. The avenanthramides are at work here, too, providing anti-inflammatory and anti-itch benefits.

Oats offer health benefits beyond those related to its fiber and nutrient content. To take advantage of the unique substance in oats that support the heart, be sure to include whole oats in the form of oatmeal and whole oat breads in your diet and beware of oat products that contain sugar and artificial ingredients.

American Chemical Society
Note: Quaker Oats Company and PepsiCo had a role in this research.

Image: Flickr/osseous