by Mwangi Wamaina
Salutations, friends. Illinois is a land towered by maple trees, basswood, hickory, oak, dogwood, ash, and the ever-constant evergreens1; it is a land where tree squirrels climb, Eastern cottontail rabbits jump, coyotes scout for deer, muskrats salivate for vegetables, elk calmly stroll, opossums forage for food, and nine-banded armadillos quietly go about their daily tasks2; it is a land with verdant forests and plains, bathed with rivers and marsh, and patrolled by hills and sandstone cliffs3. In this land grows an important food for human health, which we will focus on today, which are oats. From 2019-2021, 60,000 acres of oats were planted and 15,000 acres were harvested in the land of Illinois. In the same time period, our northern neighbors in Wisconsin planted 175,000 acres of oats and harvested 61,000 acres. Oats were also grown in twenty-one other U.S. states then.4 Oats, which consist of thirteen species and subspecies, can be grown at different times, “with kinds and varieties adapted either to fall Planting and midsummer harvest or spring planting and late summer harvest.”5 Oats have been used for many years, such as in the days of the ancient Egyptians, who used them to treat dermatological pathologies.6 One of the important nutrients contained in oats is fiber. One of those fibers is called Beta-glucan. “Beta-glucan can bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestine and transport them through the digestive tract and eventually out of the body”.7 Bile is a substance produced by the body’s liver that is based off of cholesterol and then gets stored in another organ called the gallbladder. Bile acids get sent to the body’s intestines. This is important for helping to lower the cholesterol a person has in his or her body.8,9 Why do we want to lower cholesterol? If a person has too much cholesterol in his or her body’s blood vessels, this can make it harder for blood, which travels inside blood vessels, to move through the vessels. Think of blood vessels like highways, blood as truck drivers delivering supplies, and too much cholesterol like lane closures due to construction. Slower traffic due to lane closures can make it harder for truck drivers to deliver supplies on time. Similarly, too much cholesterol can make it harder for blood, which carries important nutrients like oxygen, to travel in the body. When this happens in arteries, which are large blood vessels that generally deliver blood to the rest of the body from the heart, that can lead to problems, like atherosclerosis (clogging of arteries), coronary artery disease, and heart attacks. This is partly why oats have been associated with being good for heart health. Oats also have nutrients such as thiamine, iron, and calcium10. Keep in mind, though, that pesticides have been used in cultivation of oats and thus there could be health risks. In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program (PDP) analyzed 695 samples and noted “9 different residues for 9 distinct pesticides in the oat samples”11.
Oats can typically be found in stores in the areas where boxed cereal is found. If looking at a container of oats in the store and trying to figure out the quantity of food available from it, keep in mind that 1 tablespoon is made up of roughly 5 g of rolled oats. The price of oats, as with many other things, has increased over several decades. As of January 14, 2022, the price of oats per bushel was $6.09.12 (A bushel of oats equals a weight of 34 pounds.)13 Oats can be used to make different foods, such as oatmeal by boiling water and then adding oats and salt. Oats can also be used to make soup, granola, Bircher-muesli, cereal bars, and coconut balls, as well as also able to be used in some instances as an alternative to meat in food preparation, such as alternative hamburgers.14 Oats are also used as an alternative to milk and thus you might notice “oatmilk” in milk sections or oat-based yogurts in yogurt sections. If you eat oats, keep it up, and if not, it’s time to start!
- Mammals – Wildlife Illinois
- Natural Division Overview – Illinois Wildlife Action Plan
- Small Grains 2021 Summary 09/30/2021 (cornell.edu)
- Oats (purdue.edu)
- Oats | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health .
- Secretion of Bile and the Role of Bile Acids In Digestion (colostate.edu)
- Digestion, Absorption, and Transport of Carbohydrates | Marks’ Basic Medical Biochemistry: A Clinical Approach, 5e | Medical Education | Health Library (uic.edu)
- Pamplona-Roger, George D. Encyclopedia of Foods and their Healing Power, vol. 2, pg. 36. Editorial Safeliz, S.L., June 2004.
- PDP Annual Summary (usda.gov) , Appendix D.
- Oats Prices – 45 Year Historical Chart | MacroTrends
- Pamplona-Roger, George D., Malaxetxebarria, Esther. Encyclopedia of Foods: Healthy Recipes. Editorial Safeliz, S.L., June 2004.