The Oat: A Tribute

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There you are, looking out the window at a cold winter morning. The air has a chill you can’t shake. Enter my best winter breakfast friend: oatmeal. Pour the grains in a bowl, add liquid, pop in the microwave, sprinkle with a favorite topping. In a few minutes, you have a warm, chewy mouthful of comforting oatmeal. Goodbye chilly, hello cozy!

As we leave National Oatmeal Month in January and enter into American Heart Month in February, I wanted pay tribute to one of my favorite foods. Not only are oats versatile (and gluten-free 1), comforting, and delicious, this grain also packs a nutritious punch. And, it can play an important role in heart health, provide a fantastic vitamin and mineral profile, and keep you surprisingly full.

Tweet this: Oatmeal: Goodbye chilly, hello cozy!

What are oats?


Oats are a part of the grain food group (more on this at Setting the Table). And, whether you are eating steel cut, old fashioned, or instant oats, all are considered a whole grain.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a compilation of recommendations issued every five years by the USDA and HHS, recommend that the average adult eat 6-8 ounces of grains. And, the guidelines advise that at least half the grains we consume be whole grains. FYI: one ounce of grains is equivalent to a ½ cup of cooked oatmeal.

What makes oatmeal a whole grain?

Oatmeal is made up of the oat grain. Grains are seeds of plants like wheat, oat, barley, and corn that are broken down to make various breads, cereals, and pastas. When your food label touts the word “whole” grain, it is referring to the composition of the individual seed of the plant. Whole grain breads, for example, use the entire seed, grind it into flour, add other ingredients, and bake.

Check out this picture of a grain:

A whole grain has three general parts: the outer part of the seed, called the bran, contains fiber and many different nutrients, including B vitamins. The inner, larger part of the seed is called the endosperm. This is where a lot of the energy is stored in the seed. Another feature of the inner part of the whole grain is called the germ, which contains other nutrients like vitamin E. In whole grain foods, all three parts of the seed are are included–giving you lots of nutrients and energy. 2

A refined grain (a non-whole grain product) like white bread, only consists of one part of the seed: the endosperm. Refined grains therefore only contain the energy and few nutrients that are contained in the endosperm. When you eat just this part of the grain, you are missing out on the fiber and other nutrients that are naturally occurring in whole grains. Some food companies add vitamins and minerals to white bread and call the product “enriched.” However, even with these added nutrients, the food is not a whole grain.

What does Oatmeal do for my body?

Whole grains, like oatmeal, are an important component of all diets. Oatmeal provides protein, fiber, and energy.

Oatmeal contains some of the essential amino acids that make up proteins. Oats, when you eat nuts, beans, and veggies throughout the day, can create a complete protein that makes you feel full. For more information about protein, see my post on plant-based foods.

Whole grain also provides us with fiber. Oatmeal has two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber does two great things. One, if you eat the right amount, it may help lower cholesterol —a wonderful reminder as we kick off American Heart Month in February! Two, soluble fiber is broken down slowly when it is digested, and therefore is converted to energy in the bloodstream at a more regulated pace. This helps those of us who are concerned about the sugar levels in our blood. Insoluable fiber is also beneficial in two ways. First, it softens and bulks up our poop. Second, insoluable fiber takes up a lot of room in our stomachs, and therefore makes us feel fuller for longer . This may prevent us from eating too much (a happy fact for those of us working on ourNew Years Resolutions).

Lastly, grains provide our bodies with readily accessible energy. Like all foods we consume, if we eat too many grains, the energy provided by the grains will be stored as fat. Therefore, it is important to eat mostly whole grains, and stick with the recommended number of servings of grains we eat each day.

Make Oatmeal More Fun and Delicious

Now that you know all the yummy benefits of oatmeal, check out these fantastic ways to eat it!

In a Bowl…

20 Whole Grain Hot Cereals, from CarolineKaufman.com

5-Minute Oatmeal Breakfast Custard, from TeaspoonOfSpice.com

On a Plate…

Oat Recipes, from QuakerOats.com

Oatmeal Cottage Cheese Pancakes, from CarolineKaufman.com

In your Hand…

No-Sugar-Added Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Cookies, from EatWellWithJanel.com

Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Bread, from TeaspoonOfSpice.com

What is your favorite topping for oatmeal?

Tell us by commenting below!

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  1. While oats are naturally gluten free, be sure to check the label. Some are packaged in factories that don’t separate oats from other gluten-ful grains
  2. Wardlaw, GM and JS Hampl. Perspectives in Nutrition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
  • thefluter

    I love cooking steel-cut oats in the crock pot overnight. It’s a little more work before going to bed, but it offers a warm and filling breakfast for morning!

    • Me too! I love slow cooker oats with almond milk, cinnamon, and a handful of dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, and apricots). Then, when I scoop it into my bowl in the morning, a sprinkle of walnuts does the trick! What’s your recipe for the night before?

      • thefluter

        I like adding brown sugar or maple syrup, plus a dash of vanilla, then blueberries added in the morning. Or cinnamon and apples. So good!

  • Thank you so much for including my roundup on 20 Whole Grain Hot Cereals! 🙂

    • It’s a great resource! I can’t wait to try the pumpkin vanilla oatmeal.

  • Janel

    Thanks for sharing my oatmeal love 🙂

    • Thanks for the great recipes! I love that your breakfast oatmeal cookie is sugar-free. Yum!

  • Valerie

    Can’t say enough good things about oatmeal. Any fruit that is sitting around gets tossed in along with either peanut butter or peanut butter powder to help keep me feeling fuller longer. Sometimes left over oatmeal gets added to a smoothie!

    • What great ideas, Valerie. How much do add to your smoothies? Do you add rolled or cooked oats?