Oatmeal is made of hulled oat grains – groats – that have either been milled (ground), steel-cut, or rolled. Ground oats are also called "white oats". Steel-cut oats are known as "coarse oatmeal" or "Irish oatmeal" or "pinhead oats". Rolled oats can be either thick or thin, and may be "old-fashioned", "quick" or "instant". The term "oatmeal" is also used in the U.S., Australia, and parts of Canada as another word for an oat porridge made from either the ground, steel-cut, or rolled oats.
The oat grains are dehusked by impact, then heated and cooled to stabilize the oat groats – the seed inside the husk. The process of heating produces a nutty flavor. These oat groats may be milled to produce fine, medium or coarse oatmeal. Steel-cut oats may be small and contain broken groats from the dehusking process (these bits may be steamed and flattened to produce smaller rolled oats).
Rolled oats are steamed and flattened whole oat groats. Old-fashioned oats can be thick and take a while to boil to make porridge. Quick-cooking rolled oats (quick oats) are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled, not to be confused with commercially prepared instant oatmeal that is precooked and dried, often with a sweetener, such as sugar, and flavorings, and often artificial ingredients added.
I recommend oatmeal for breakfast for most of my clients because eating warm, cooked food that has been prepared with a spice is a good option for many reasons.
When we speak about food from the Ayurvedic perspective, we assess its elemental constituents as either ether, air, fire, water or earth or some combination. These components are the elements that comprise all of nature, including ourselves, as in our doshic make up (see previous Ayurvedic Health Coach Column Blog Post).
Oatmeal is primarily composed of the earth element, and when cooked with water into a porridge or cereal, it has the qualities of earth and water that are heavy, moist and slightly sweet, and are most balancing for the natures of vata and pitta dosha, though most doshas can eat it, varying the preparation methods.
To strengthen our digestive capacity cook the oatmeal with some spice such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger or turmeric and black pepper. First sauté the spices in ghee, then add the oats and coat them, giving them a nuttier flavor, followed by adding water and simmer a few minutes. The variation of adding a splash of milk, is especially balancing for vata and pitta doshas, and bring to a boil before serving.
In Ayurveda we cook with spices, not only because they taste good, and are pleasing to our senses, they also have a health benefit. The spices when cooked in ghee are carried into our tissues and have the effect of stimulating our body to produce more digestive enzymes. When we produce our own enzymes, we strengthen our agni or digestive fire, which strengthens our digestive capacity and ability to attain more nourishment from our food. The increase in digestive fire, which is the same as saying an increase in digestive enzymes also reduces ama, or the accumulation of toxins. When we don’t properly produce digestive enzymes, it is like a wind blowing on our camp fire, and cooking or digestion becomes partial and the undigested portion becomes ama, or toxic, sticky substances that lodge in the body causing disturbances. The disturbances that they produce will depend upon the person's Ayurvedic constitution and their diet and lifestyle choices.
Oatmeal is easy to digest making it a good breakfast decision since in the morning our digestive fire is not as high as it is at noon time, when we can eat our biggest meal for lunch. We need to have some food in the morning to break our night time fast, to give us energy, keep us grounded and for high burners like pitta types, to regulate their digestive fire from getting too hot which causes inflammation and irritation.
In Ayurveda we usually don’t eat foods uncooked, as they are not as digestible and don’t contain the spices that tell our bodies to make digestive enzymes, thereby muesli is not favored as it's difficult to digest, especially in the morning when digestive capacity is low.
Anyone can eat oatmeal and we can prepare it according to our dosha and condition.
When prepared with milk, cinnamon or cardamom and a pinch of raw sugar, being warm, heavy, moist and sweet is very comforting and balancing for people that are vata dosha predominant.
For pitta predominant people, preparing with milk, turmeric and black pepper helps cleanse the blood and reduce heat and inflammation, or with milk, rosewater and a pinch of raw sugar in the summer for a more cooling effect.
For kapha predominant people, prepare a dryer version, cooked with a smaller amount of water and more spices like cinnamon, cardamom and ginger, creating a hot, dry and lighter version will be more balancing.
Other variations can include adding chopped apples, pears, dates, or coconut while cooking. Pick one and keep breakfast simple as previously mentioned, digestive capacity is lower at this time of the day, and mixing and matching too many things will not digest properly. Also improper food combinations at any time of day or meal can decrease agni and increase ama. Fruits are usually eaten separately except for the ones listed, which will complement oats. Apples or coconut are good for pitta in that they reduce heat and inflammation, where as dates and coconut are heavy, moist and sweet providing more nourishment for vata, pears and apples are lighter and better choices for kapha.
A 3.5 ounce serving of cooked oatmeal by itself has 71 calories, 1.7 grams of fiber, vitamins and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous and potassium, making it a nutritious and purposeful bowl full of yummy goodness.
The Cleveland Clinic says that “If you eat one and one-half cups of oatmeal each day, you can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8 percent. It contains soluble and insoluble fiber, two types that your body needs. Insoluble fiber, which is also found in the skins of many fruits, helps keep us regular. Soluble fiber, which is also found in beans, oranges and pears, helps prevent disease and lower cholesterol. Getting both types of fiber is a big win for your body, and there’s another benefit: fiber can also aid weight loss. It helps you feel full and satisfied”.
Because oatmeal has a low glycemic index, it can help maintain glucose levels. This can be beneficial for people with diabetes, who especially need to manage their blood sugar levels.
Non-contaminated, pure oats are gluten-free. They are safe for most people with gluten-intolerance. The main problem with oats and gluten-free eating* is contamination. Most commercial oats are processed in facilities that also process wheat, barley, and rye.
Get the most bang for your buck with organic bulk oats or order some the next time you go out for breakfast and enjoy a simple, warm, delicious and health promoting breakfast every day!
*Often food intolerance is due to the industrial pesticides like glyphosate in round up, as well as improper food combining and food choices eaten at the wrong time of the day. Intolerance of small amounts of organic gluten without a celiac disease diagnosis, is often a sign of either weak agni or too much ama and we can work with that. Most digestive imbalances are often corrected with Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle modifications, and occasional, transitional herbal supplementation, according to your dosha and condition.