I find something so comforting about my evening ritual of soaking the steel cut oats with a cinnamon stick at night, knowing that I am preparing for a nourishing, wholesome, old fashioned meal in the morning.

Steel cut oats are the whole grain oat groats that has been roasted at low temperature and then steel cut into bite sized bits. Instant oats are pre-cooked, dried, rolled and pressed very thinly. This allows for quick cooking but you lose flavour and nutrient value.

Oats are gluten-free naturally. Contamination can happen when oats are grown next to wheat, barley or rye fields or when processed in factories that also process other grains. Some people however,  are still sensitive to oats.

Oats are high in dietary fibre: soluble and insoluble. The soluble fibre dissolves in water forming a gel-like substance that lowers cholesterol and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. The insoluble part was believed just to bulk up the stool, but research has shown there is so much more to it.

We used to think of food simply as a source of nutrients and energy, but we now know there are components in what we eat that can act as signalling molecules that bind to specific receptors within the body and trigger drug-like effects to regulate our metabolisms, among other things. (How not to diet, Micheal Greger MD).

Ironically, one of the food components that produces the most dramatic effects is something that initially appeared to be the most inert of dietary constituents: FIBRE. Telling people to increase their fibre may actually be one of the most effective pieces of advice for weight loss, supporting liver function and reducing the risk of various chronic conditions.

Fibre seems so boring, all it does is bulk up our stool. We can’t even digest it: Right!?

It is indigestible, so technically it is  true that we can’t digest fibre, but the bacteria in our gut can and in fact thrive on fibre. The bacteria make short-chain fatty acids with the fibre that can then be absorbed from the colon into the blood stream and circulate through the body. These can have a wide ranging effect on everything from immune function and inflammation to mental health.

In numerous population studies, consumption of whole grains has been associated with reduced risk for a range of chronic diseases. It is hard to know whether these people generally had healthier diets or whether the oat consumption itself had an effect on the reduction of chronic health conditions.

A clinical trial was conducted by Dr Peng and Dr Wang , at the Chung-Shan Medical University in Taiwan, to show that oats prevents obesity and abdominal fat distribution, and improves liver function.

They divided the subjects into 2 groups:  The control group and an Oat treated group. After 12 weeks their data showed that the consumption of oats reduced body weight, BMI, body fat and the waist to hip ratio, improved lipid profiles and  liver function.

Fibre also helps putting on the brakes. In an article published in The Lancet entitled “Food Fibre as an Obstacle to Energy Intake” summarized into the four D’s by which dietary fibre results in reduced caloric intake.

1. Dilution: of calories by expanding the volume of food

2. Distension: of the stomach through fluid absorption

3. Delay: in stomach emptying of the gelled mass

4. Dumping: of calories by blocking the absorption of other macronutrients, such as carbs and fat.

The 4th D(Dumping) triggers a fifth phenomenon known as the Ileal brake.

The Ileum is the last part of the small intestine before it empties into the colon. When undigested calories are detected that far down the intestines, our bodies put the brakes on eating more, by curbing our appetites. Activating the ileal brake can make people feel full 200 calories earlier.

The “Dietary Fibre and Weight Regulation Review” found that study subjects that consumed higher fibre diets lost more weight even when caloric intake was fixed. It literally means calories out, down the toilet, flushed away.

Bacteria in our gut feed of the fibre to produce short chain fatty acids. These fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body, that is why a single high fibre meal improve lung function in asthmatics in a matter of a few hours. These short chain fatty acids also stimulate the production of leptin. This is the hormone produced by fat cells to tell our brains to trim us down. This is a long term process. The two short term appetite suppressants are PYY and GLP-1. Eating fibre rich food increases the release of these hormones into the blood stream, where they then enter the appetite centre of the brain and turn down our cravings. The flip side of PYY and GLP-1 is Ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Ghrelin levels rise before a meal to stimulate our appetites and fall right down once we have eaten. If people have 24g of fibre the ghrelin levels are suppressed 4 hours later.

It is best to eat as nature intended, fibre supplements are not as effective as eating a high fibre diet. Psyllium husk does not ferment in the gut, so it will help keep you regular but no short chain fatty acids can be produced.

The humble bowl of oats does so much for our health, I focused on weight loss but there is so much more to it. We recommend you to start your day with a bowl of oats but remember to also include whole grains and legumes, eg beans, chickpeas and lentils, during the day with the rest of your meals.