A warm wake-up food, a bowl of hot oatmeal offers the added benefit of being good for you.
However, with the summer days upon us, a steaming bowl is not quite as appealing as it tends to be in the winter season. I get it.
Enter into the picture “overnight oats” for its ease of preparation, creamy cold goodness that is ready-to eat at home or can be packed in your lunch bag to be enjoyed in the office.
For those inquiring “what is overnight oats” exactly, overnight oats are a no-cook method of making oatmeal. Instead of cooking your oats with liquid on the stove or in the microwave, you mix rolled (or old-fashioned) oats with the liquid and other mix-ins and let it rest in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you have a pudding-like porridge that is perfect for an easy grab-and-go breakfast.
Choosing to keep whole oat sources — oats, oat bran and oat flour — in your diet is a very wise idea for multiple reasons. For one, the ability for oats to lower total cholesterol and the less-desirable lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood is a quality in food to appreciate in this day and age. It does so by its viscous fiber that holds on to the cholesterol from the foods we eat, and it simultaneously binds to the bile acids (cholesterol-containing compounds) produced by the pancreas during digestion. The net result is lowering the amount of cholesterol that gets absorbed into the body.
In addition, oats work their protective magic by way of their phytonutrient abilities. Like all plant foods, phytonutrients are the fellow travelers provided by foods we eat. These aren’t essential nutrients in the classical sense, but they do offer health protective benefits.
While most people think of fruits and vegetables when they hear the word phytonutrients, whole grains like oats are a potent source of these substances. The phytonutrients in oats have a significant antioxidant activity. The oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the arterial walls is a key marker that leads to the formation of hard plaques also known as atherosclerosis. Over the years, atherosclerosis forms and leads to heart attacks, strokes or peripheral vascular disease.
There are many reasons to appreciate oats in our diet, and there is more promising news. The viscous fiber from oats also offer assistance in blood sugar (blood glucose) control by blunting the rise in blood glucose following a meal. The fiber does this by slowing down the emptying of digested foods from the stomach into the small intestine where a major absorption of foods happens. This slowed consequence slows down digestion and absorption of sugars and other nutrients in the small intestine. The net benefit is better control of blood glucose in Type 2 diabetes.
Want more good news?
For the purposes of losing desirable weight, a low calorie diet rich in oats has also been found to help not only lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol but also systolic blood pressure along with weight loss. For all of these reasons, oats offer a slam dunk and “3-points” in the score book!
Oats are a whole grain. Neither the bran nor germ is removed from oats; therefore, all forms of the grain are similarly nutritious.
The following is an oat vocabulary listed in order of processing (from least to the most):
• Oat groats are oat kernels with the outer hard husks removed and then toasted. Groats are the least-processed form of oats and take the longest to prepare.
• Steel-cut or Scotch oats are unrolled oats that have been cut into two or three pieces by steel blades. Like groats, they have a chewy texture.
• Old-fashioned rolled oats are oat groats that are steamed, pressed with a roller and then dried.
• Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats that have been cut into smaller pieces than the steel-cut variety and rolled thinner. This processing means they cook quickly.
• Instant oatmeal are oats that are precooked and dried. This form can be directly mixed with hot water to make a smooth, creamy-textured cereal. No further cooking is required. Mostly available with added sugar, flavorings and sodium, so not the first go-to product for people with diabetes or wishing to control their calories.
So let’s do this! The process of making overnight oats is really one of the simplest meal preps you can do. In a jar or small bowl, all one does is whisk together the ingredients.
Let’s start with suggested food swaps for the classic vanilla overnight oats recipe:
• Make it vegan: Use plant-based milk, plant-based yogurt, and maple syrup for sweetener.
• Make it sugar-free: Drop the sweetener and add 1/2 mashed ripe banana.
• Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free oats like Bob’s Red Mill oats.
Alma Hopkins, RD, LD, MEd, is a wellness navigator at Capital Region Medical Center.