A bowl of oatmeal provides more than a tasty breakfast or snack; it also provides a good dose of fiber, indigestible plant components that nonetheless confer health benefits when eaten. The fiber in oatmeal consists of a few different types, each with its own characteristics. One type of fiber in oatmeal has been linked to specific cardiovascular benefits, making oatmeal a great choice for a heart-healthy morning meal.
Oatmeal comes from the oat plant, a hardy grass that has been harvested as food since at least 2,000 BC. Most of the oats grown today come from Russia, Finland, Poland and the United States. The oat groats, the seeds of the oat plant, can be crushed, rolled or cut and then cooked with water or milk to make oatmeal. Oatmeal is considered a healthy whole grain and contains high levels of protein and fiber. Oatmeal also contains phytochemicals, such as flavonoids, that act as antioxidants in the body.
The total fiber content in a half-cup of cooked oatmeal is about 2 g. The fiber in oatmeal is evenly divided between soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber includes a type called beta-glucan, which is an indigestible sugar that lowers cholesterol; other soluble fiber variants in oatmeal include starch, araban and xylan gums. The insoluble fiber in oatmeal aids digestion.
Importance of Fiber
The beta-glucan fiber in oatmeal lowers blood cholesterol, which can help prevent heart disease. Beta-glucan works by binding bile acids and cholesterol in the digestive tract, which forces the liver to clear cholesterol from the bloodstream. Beta-glucan might also play a role in lowering blood pressure and modulating blood sugar levels. The insoluble fiber in oatmeal helps digestion proceed more efficiently by bulking up stool and preventing constipation. The recommended dose of all types of fiber is 20 to 35 g per day, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
The combination of soluble and insoluble fiber makes oatmeal a healthy addition to your daily diet. Choose varieties of oatmeal that are free of added sugars and artificial flavors. If you plan to add more fiber-rich foods to your diet, including oatmeal, you should build up your total fiber intake slowly. Try to consume a variety of foods containing different types of fiber so that you get a good mix of soluble and insoluble types.