Pity the oat (Avena sativa): Superman in Clark Kent's garb, a nutritional powerhouse transformed in our culture of convenience into a non-nourishing flake used as a conduit for sugar and artificial preservatives. In this age of health problems linked to diet, the unassuming oat can be our best friend. And oatmeal is the easiest way to go.
To pack a nutritional punch, we want to make oats that are closest to their form in nature. The sight test works: Can I tell this is an oat? When this seed is stripped of its parts via rolling or pulverizing, nutrients disappear. Minimally processed oats, which leave them mostly intact, contain natural micronutrients, such as selenium, manganese, and magnesium, which are beneficial for achieving optimal wellness.
The minimally processed oat is a slow digesting carbohydrate, because of its soluble fiber content. Inside our stomachs, water mixes with this fiber to create a gel-like substance that delays the time food goes from the stomach to the small intestine. This increases satiety and tamps down the urge to eat more. Since the small intestine is an absorptive organ, the delay also prevents a sharp spike in blood sugar and keeps the pancreas from going into overdrive. Sugars and simple carbohydrates – the kind found in many processed cereals and breads – break up and pass through the digestive tract quickly, causing blood sugar spikes. In the short term, this creates energy crashes and overeating. Long-term consequences can include the host of Western dietary ailments, including diabetes and obesity.
When I work with clients or give talks, I emphasize food as our most important medicine. In our speeded up culture, if we were to choose only one area in which we should embrace slowness, I suggest returning to the kitchen for mealtimes. I make sure to mention that the added minutes at the stove will seem like nothing compared to time spent in the doctor’s waiting room! To start incrementally, I begin with breakfast. In days of yore – before late night snacking became big business – breakfast was our most important meal. For creating a peaceful start to the day for our digestive system, it still is.
Cooking oats takes some preparation. To deactivate oats’ phytates, which can block the absorption of the important micronutrients, soak them overnight in water or a fermentable medium like yogurt or vinegar. In addition to complex carbohydrates, a complete breakfast will include healthy proteins and fats. Oats provide some protein, but a handful of walnuts added post-cooking will turn this into a well-rounded dish.
Between the few moments to prepare the overnight soak and morning cooking time, about a half hour will be spent making the recipe below. For multi-taskers, this is enough time to iron an outfit, get the dog in the backyard, send e-mail, or read a few articles on MindBodyGreen.
Oatmeal in Balance