Healthy nutrition: oatmeal: medicine in a porridge (

Berries are the healthiest fruit addition to oatmeal dishes.

Berries are the healthiest fruit addition to oatmeal dishes.

Photo: imago/alexbai31

Oatmeal? paste? At the latest with this association, the grain is made for most people. Yes, there is porridge, the English and Scottish version of a poor man’s daily meal, to be refined with butter, cream and sweets. Many ready-made muesli mixes contain oatmeal, but other sweet and crunchy things have often prevailed. Oatmeal has often been misunderstood, as a look at history shows.

There have been indications of the use of the grain (botanically Avena sativa) from the sweet grass family for more than 6,000 years, for example in Poland and the northern Black Sea region. For a long time, oats were probably considered a type of weed that was brought to Central Europe with other types of grain from the Near East. Its ability to thrive in relatively poor conditions made it interesting in northern Europe. After the introduction of the potato in the early 17th century, oats ceased to be the main crop in this country. After all, until 1939 it still ranked third in the list of the most commonly grown types of cereals after wheat and corn. Today it is mainly used as animal feed in industrialized nations.

The requirements of the grain are not high: it thrives in a moderate climate and gets along with most soils. The plant does not have spikes, but rather panicles, it is 60 to 150 centimeters tall. The roots, which are up to two meters deep, draw nutrients from the deeper layers of the soil. Oats are not very susceptible to diseases and pests. It is even considered a “health fruit” because it is not a host to many pathogens that cause disease in cereals.

However, it hardly stands out as a bread grain: Grains contain very little gluten. However, processed forms such as flakes, semolina or flour do make it to the table. In addition, oats are on the rise as a regional superfood, mainly due to the demand for oat drinks as a substitute for milk. Cultivated areas in Germany grew slightly between 2019 and 2021, but oats still rank only sixth among the featured cereals. According to last year’s harvest forecasts, the largest producers in the EU were Poland, Spain and Finland.

So what makes oats so digestible that it’s the only grain ever named medicinal plant of the year? At just under six percent, the carbohydrate content is slightly lower than that of wheat. However, oats contain complex carbohydrates, such as starch or polysaccharides. Its sugar building blocks are only absorbed with a delay. The blood sugar level rises more slowly, the feeling of satiety lasts longer. That’s part of the touted effect of a morning meal of oatmeal. In addition, starch contains a high proportion of amylose and amylopectin, whose special adhesive properties break down when heated. At the end, the typical viscous character emerges, which ensures good digestion. Dietary fibers could also contribute to reducing the risk of colon cancer: their soluble part breaks down into short-chain fatty acids. These form a viscous protective barrier for the intestinal mucosa in which harmful substances bind.

Beta-glucan is one of the dietary fibers in oats. This special component, soluble in water, is only found in such a high concentration in oats; it is also found in barley, bacteria and fungi. As already described, beta-glucan binds to body fluids. The resulting jelly-like substance slows down the breakdown of nutrients in the small intestine. Beta-glucan presumably also promotes the excretion of bile acids. The body uses cholesterol to form new bile acids, which lowers its level in the blood.

The universal scholar Hildegard von Bingen already knew in the 12th century that oat meals have positive effects for the healthy and the sick. Many later healers recommended the grain, among other things for regular bowel movements, against diarrhea or stomach problems. From today’s perspective, the introduction of oatmeal days to treat diabetes, now known as type 2 diabetes, is particularly interesting. German diabetologist Carl von Noorden found that supplementing oatmeal soup for two diabetic patients with gastrointestinal problems also reduced their excretion of sugar in the urine. In 1902 von Noorden presented his results at a conference in Karlsbad. Almost 20 years later, insulin was introduced in the treatment of diabetes and the previously recommended oatmeal days were forgotten.

This changed again in the late 1990s, also because the effect of oat components on glucose metabolism was recognized. For its part, insulin-dependent diabetics are recommended to take two days of oats per month. The need for insulin can thus be reduced by a third. These effects were proven, among other things, in a study from the University of Heidelberg in 2008. Here, the two-day cure reduced insulin requirements by an average of 42 percent. The subjects’ blood sugar levels were reduced by between 25 and 40 percent, this effect lasting for four weeks. In addition, the level of the hormone adiponectin increased by 43 percent – it increases the insulin sensitivity of cells and thus improves the effect of insulin. This in turn reduces the risk of vascular damage.

In this sense, oatmeal days are already part of the standard dietary recommendations of many diabetologists. One of them is Winfried Keuthage from Münster, who also trains nutritionists at the university there. Keuthage has recently written a guide to the oat cure that summarizes the findings and provides recipes for 75 oat variations. The author also offers two versions for oatmeal days: the strict version only allows herbs and spices to be added to all three meals, each containing 75 grams of oatmeal, plus water or broth. A moderate day of oatmeal opens up more ways to spice up your porridge: be it with greens, berries, or nuts.

There are hardly any limits for those who simply want to include more oats in their diet. As a breakfast classic, it can be prepared with boiling water or boiled briefly, depending on the type of flakes. Soaking overnight is another option. Oatmeal can also be used abundantly, for example, in empanadas, in a pizza base, or in stuffed peppers.

Winfried Keuthage: The Oatmeal Cure for
healthy metabolism.
Trias Verlag Stuttgart 2022. 142 pages, €17.99.

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