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Oats - History, Health Benefits and Uses

Updated on April 11, 2013

As far as healthy food choices go, oats take a lot of beating.

The Scots have known it for years. Oats are good for you. Many traditional Scottish recipes had oats as a staple item, because it was cheap and grew in abundance in Scotland, where the cooler wetter summers proved ideal growing conditions for the oat plant, avena sativa.

Like all cereals, oat is a member of the grass family, and is believed to have originated in Central Europe and S E Asia where it grew wild and was considered a weed. It is thought to have been in domestic use for at least 1000 years BC and successful inbreeding has produced the a.sativa plant in wide use today.

However, there are believed to be up to 30 different species of oat in cultivation, the most recent, avena insularis Ladiz, being discovered in 1998.

Other varieties around the world were originally discovered in China, and oats are now grown commercially in US, Canada, Australia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland, Finland, Germany and France.

oat plant
oat plant

Historically, oats were used primarily to feed horses.

In the summer it was called a forage crop, and was cut down in autumn to provide food for the horses throughout the winter.

The timing of many ancient battles depended entirely on the cropping or availability of oats, as the use of healthy and well-fed horses was of paramount importance when fighting enemies. Before the development of the motor car, horses were much more abundant than today, and so the importance of the farm's oat crop cannot be understated.

Many farms have drastically reduced their oat-growing activities since the 1940s, when the emergence of the farm tractor negated the farmer's need for horses to plough fields and generally assist with all the heavy farm work.

The oat plant consists of a long stem and after flowering in early summer, edible seed-heads develop. In centuries past, this grass was cut down at the flowering stage for horse feed, because once it had gone to seed it became a difficult plant to contain, because the seed heads become wind-borne and self-seed all over the place.The oat seed is also viable for a long time.

Many cultures considered the oat plant to be an invasive weed. Although it prefers summers that are cool and wet, it has a tendency to grow equally well in warm dry climates and in very poor soils.

oat plants growing
oat plants growing

It is unknown exactly when oats were first cultivated in Scotland, but it was possibly at a time in Scottish history when the people were very poor.

History books describe a normal early Scottish diet to consist of nothing more than oats, fish and separated milk.

The Scots developed a deep love for oats, and it shows in their traditional recipes handed down through the generations.

Porridge, oatcakes, fish fried in oatmeal and many other particularly Scottish recipes have the humble oat at the centre.

Oats are extremely nutritious, containing more protein and unsaturated fat than any other cereal grain and for many years right up and including the present day, Scottish soldiers are considered to be tougher and stronger than their English counterparts, thanks to a daily diet of oats.

Nutritional Value per 100g of Oats

  • Energy 1,628kJ (389kcal)
  • Carbohydrates 66g
  • Protein 20%
  • Unsaturated fats 5 - 9%
  • Dietary fibre 11g
  • Pantothenic acid (B5) 1.3mg (26%)
  • Folate 14%
  • Iron 5mg (40%)
  • Magnesium 177mg (48%)
  • Soluble Fibre 4g

Uses for Oats

Oats nowadays are normally grown in large fields, and in the autumn are harvester by machine.

A combine harvester can not only cut the seed heads off, they can cut the stalks and separate the two parts while turning the lower half into bails of hay for winter bedding for cattle and horses.

The seeds are taken to a granary where the hulls (outer shells) and groats (the oat seeds) are separated.

groats are then crushed and made into rolled oats or oatmeal.

Once they are completely dry they can be stored in huge vats for an indefinite time for use as animal feed, or for the cosmetic industry, or with further refinement, ground down into oat flour or oat bran.

The hulls have uses in the petrochemical industry, to make nylon, and as a preservative for many foodstuffs like instant coffee, margarine, potato crisps and nuts.

Health Benefits of Oats

  • Lowers cholesterol and so reduces risk of heart disease
  • Metabolises slowly in body, leaving you feeling fuller for longer
  • Contains soluble fibre which slows down the rate of starch digestion
  • Can be taken as part of a gluten-free diet for sufferers of coeliac disease
  • They are a good source of iron, calcium, vitamin B1 and many trace elements essential for health

Taken every day as part of your diet: -

  1. your digestive system will improve
  2. you will find yourself with more energy
  3. perhaps even lose weight (that all depends on what else you eat throughout the day)
  4. your hair texture will improve
  5. your cancer-fighting abilities will improve and
  6. your risk of heart disease reduce.
  7. They are also said to help you feel warmer in cold climates.

Pretty amazing benefits for so humble a grain, long-since considered to be the poor relation among cereals.

How to Choose Oats

When shopping in your local supermarket you may find a wide array of dried oats available for consumption, from rolled oats through to oat flakes.

The general rule is the smaller the grain, the quicker it will cook, and these are possibly important points for you to consider if you are buying oats to make breakfast and are pushed by time constraints before heading out to go to work.

Standard rolled oats are an excellent choice for making oatcakes and biscuits, but can make a delicious, but smoother, porridge.

'Scotch' oats are chopped rather than rolled and they take slightly longer to cook, but are the traditional method of making porridge.

Oat flakes are the bulkiest of the rolled oats and also make an excellent porridge.

Instant porridge is powdered oats and cooks very quickly.

All oats, no mattered how they are prepared, have the same nutritional value.

Oatmeal, chopped onion, seasoning and suet mixed all together makes a great stuffing for poultry.

Rolled oats make an interesting and healthy alternative for pudding crumble mix.

I hope you've had your oats today.


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    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      That's interesting about the gluten harvesting. I didn't know that. Thanks for commenting and adding that as it'll help people make better shopping choices.

    • loves2cook profile image


      10 years ago from Portland, OR

      Great hub. Anything that anyone would need to know about oats or oatmeal is right here. I'm definitely pro oats. A while back, adding a lot more granola bars and oatmeal into my diet lowered my LDL cholesterol by at least 30 points.

      I'd also add that while oats are a gluten-free grain, they're often harvested and processed on the same equipment as wheat products, so gluten-allergic eaters need to find special varieties of gluten-free oats.

      Thanks for the hub!

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 

      10 years ago from Texas

      I agree with you, IzzyM, that oats are healthy. And they're so easy! I love hot oats with fruit or uncooked oats with smoothies.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Too true, Ethel, and they are still cheap to buy :)

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      10 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      WWell I did but in the form of museli. I tend to only eat porridge in the winter but love it. Years ago it took ages to cook but these days is usually blasted in the microwave.

      Oats are very good for heart health and weight loss.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Thanks, and that is the interesting thing about Hubpages. Because we are from all over the world, we will be familiar with different brand names for everyday products.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 

      10 years ago from Florida

      The only oats I am familiar with is the Quaker Oatmeal brand, but I am a great believer in the benefits. Merlin's recipe sounds yummy -- fattening, but yummy. Interesting hub, as usual!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Wow! Sounds lovely, thanks :)

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 

      10 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      Just in case I forget to enter the competition I shall devulge all.

      Cranachan is I suppose a Scottish equivelent of Eaton Mess.

      6 Heaped tablespoons porridge oats.

      3 tablespoons honey.

      1 1/2 pints double cream.

      150 grans fresh raspberries.

      2 teaspoons caster sugar.

      Cover a baking tray with cooking parchment. Preheat oven to 160 C.

      Mix the honey and oatmeal thoroughly, spread the mixture onto the parchment into 10 thin round shapes.

      Cook for 10 - 20 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool. These will become wafer like when cold.

      Whip the cream and sugar together add the raspberries and two of the oat wafers broken up.

      Gentle stir the mixture to create a marble effect. Spoon into a cool dish and place a oat wafer on top.


    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      I don't even know what it is! But I do look forward to reading about it :)

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 

      10 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      He He ! Hope you weren't looking forward to Cranachan....

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Remember to check the correct day for the topic Merlin! Good luck, I thik recipes are a week or two away.

      Thanks for commenting :)

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 

      10 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      Great Hub Izzy, as a Scotsman I thought I knew all about oats, now thanks to you I do !

      It has also given me inspiration to pop over and enter the latest Hub competition on Food with my Mums receipe for Cranachan.

      Need to more you'll have to go see and hopefully vote for me.

    • travelespresso profile image


      10 years ago from Somewhere in this exciting world.

      Nice hub Izzy. I like mine in muesli- toasted or untoasted is just fine!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      Thanks Katie :)

      I love Scotts too, but to be honest, any supermarket own brand does the job!

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      10 years ago from Ohio

      Great review on the healthy food choices oats, love the Scotts brand. :)

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from UK

      @DeGreek, many thanks for your kind words

      @caseworker - hmm...I was under the impression that pure oats were OK. Oats do not contain gluten but do contain avenin which *can* trigger an allergic reaction in some coeliacs. Sorry to hear you are affected. Thanks for your comment, you've made an important point that I missed including the body of the article which I hope can be read here.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      10 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      An excellent article but many coeliacs are actually allergic to oats - i myself could tolerate them when I was younger, but now, a bowl of porridge a day is the easiest way to the doctor!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      10 years ago from UK

      Now THIS is one of those hubs you write that make me curious to read every single word, down to the very end. You are in form, Kid :D


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