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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

All About Oats!

This week's blog post is written by Illinois State University dietetic intern and graduate student, Erin Fejes!

Have you ever wondered why oats have become such a popular food item in recent years? From overnight oats to homemade granola, oats seem to be in many recipes these days. Read on to learn all about oats and why you should add them to your diet, too!

Types of oats are categorized by how much they're processed and the processing technique used. Raw oats have just been harvested and still contain the kernels, hulls, and stalks. These oats must be further processed before they can be consumed. Whole oat groats are the least processed oats you will find in a store. Oat groats are simply the kernel of the oat that has been separated from the hull and stalk. Steel cut oats are oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces with a sharp metal blade. Old fashioned rolled oats are oat groats that are steamed and then rolled into flakes, while quick or instant rolled oats have been steamed longer and rolled thinner than their old fashioned counterpart. Finally, commercial oat flour is usually made from finely ground oat groats, but oat flour can also be made at home by pulsing rolled oats in a food processor! While there are many different types of oats, the nutritional value remains very similar between them with one exception: fiber. Oats that take longer to cook generally contain more fiber – steel cut oats have 5 grams of fiber in ¼ cup, which is twice the amount that can be found in the same volume of rolled oats.

The most commonly grown oat variety is Avena sativa L. This cereal grain is grown in moist, cool climates. Russia, Canada, and the U.S. are some of the largest oat-producing countries in the world. While oats were originally used as animal feed, human consumption of oats has been rapidly growing over the past few decades, potentially due to recent studies that have uncovered just how nutritious oats can be!

Oats are high in dietary fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and micronutrients such as vitamin E, folates, zinc, and iron. The soluble dietary fiber in oats helps to lower total cholesterol as well as LDL (the "bad") cholesterol. Oats may also lower blood glucose levels after a meal, and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, chronic inflammation of arteries, cancer, and atherosclerosis.

Another note: sometimes oats are processed in the same facilities as grains that contain gluten. While oats themselves do not contain gluten, cross-contamination can occur. Those who are highly sensitive to gluten should look for "guaranteed gluten free oats" to avoid any reaction.

Check out the recipe below to learn how to make homemade granola bars that are perfect for all of your on-the-go summer activities!

Easy Homemade Granola Bars (Printable PDF)

2 ½ cups old fashioned rolled oats

½ cup unsalted whole almonds, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons trans-fat free margarine

¼ cup honey

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 Tablespoons chia seeds or flaxseeds

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper. Combine the oats and roughly chopped almonds to a small baking sheet; bake 7-10 minutes until lightly toasted. Transfer to a large bowl. While the oats are toasting, combine the margarine, honey, brown sugar, peanut butter, vanilla extract, chia or flax seeds and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until margarine melts and the sugar completely dissolves, making sure to stir occasionally. Pour the margarine mixture over the toasted oats and almonds. Mix well. Let cool for 15 minutes then add the mini chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Transfer the oat mixture to prepared pan. Using a rubber spatula firmly press the mixture into the pan until the mixture is in a uniform layer. Transfer the entire pan to the refrigerator and chill for 2 hours. After the granola has cooled completely, gently lift it out of the pan using the parchment paper as handles and cut it into 10 bars. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to eat.

Yield: 10 servings

Nutrition Facts(per serving):240 calories, 11 grams fat, 110 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrate, 4 gram fiber, 6 grams protein