WebMD Feature Archive
The new low-cholesterol diet: Oats and oat bran
Is there magic in oats?
Oats have a lot going for them. Not only is it a great way to start the day, but research suggests they can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels without lowering your good HDL cholesterol. The same goes for oat bran, which is in some cereals, bread, cakes, pastries and other products.
How do oats help?
Oats are full of soluble fibre, which research suggests has an impact on LDL levels. Experts aren't exactly sure how, but they have some ideas. When you digest fibre, it becomes gooey. Researchers think that when it's in your intestines, it sticks to cholesterol and stops it being absorbed. So instead of cholesterol getting into your system, and your arteries, you simply get rid of it as waste.
What's the evidence?
There's plenty of evidence that eating oats helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
In the UK, an extensive review of the benefits of eating oats was carried out by public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton and published in the British Food Journal in 2008. The British Cardiovascular Society reported the research in which the author analysed 21 studies and found that regular consumption of oats can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels by nearly one-fifth. Dr Ruxton was quoted saying, “What this review shows is that a wide range of oat-containing products such as breakfast cereals, bread, cereal bars and oatcakes have the capacity to lower blood cholesterol”.
Some studies have shown that oats, when combined with certain other foods, can have a big impact on cholesterol levels. In a 2005 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers tested cholesterol-lowering drugs against some foods in a group of 34 adults with high cholesterol. Oat products were among the chosen foods. The results were striking. The diet lowered cholesterol levels about as well as cholesterol medicines.
Getting oats into your diet
It's fairly simple to build oats into your meal plan. Start with the obvious: enjoy porridge in the morning.
“Oats make a filling, healthy breakfast”, says dietitian Ruth Frechman. She suggests that you add bananas or walnuts. If you're not keen on porridge, perhaps try a cold cereal that's made from oat bran.
But oats aren't only for breakfast. Ground oats can be added to any food, like soups and casseroles. You can also add it to many baking recipes. For instance, try swapping one-third of the flour in recipes with fine or medium oats.
Remember that not everything with “oatmeal” in the name will be good for you. For instance some oat biscuits might contain very little oats but lots of fat and sugar, so always read the label to see how much soluble fibre the product contains.
How much do you need?
Most adults should get at least 25g of fibre a day. On average most people in the UK eat only about 12g of fibre a day. So you should aim to double or triple your intake by consciously adding soluble fibre to foods.
There are 2g of soluble fibre in 85g (3oz) of oats. It may be a bit much for breakfast, so just add in oats or oat bran to dishes at other times of the day.