It is pretty common knowledge that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Yet unexplainably, even in the health field, heart disease is associated more with men. A scary statistic states that 1 in 2 women will die from heart disease compared to 1 in 25 women who will die from breast cancer. Rates are even higher in the African American community. Therefore, this message is especially written for all women and men living in the United States or any other higher income country.
In honor of February- The Heart Health Month- I am going over a few ways that you can make an extra special contribution to your heart health- with a special focus on oats!
TIP #1: Eat more soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has shown to reduce cholesterol, help keep blood sugar levels steadier, and keep your appetite under control. Sources: oatmeal, oat cereal, lentils, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, beans, dried peas, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
- Oats, oatmeal, and oat bran has a special type of fiber called beta-glucan, which for decades has proven beneficial to lower total cholesterol. Consuming ~3 grams of soluble fiber in 1 cup of cooked oatmeal has shown to lower cholesterol by 8-23%. This is so important! - since a 1% drop is equated to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. Oats also have antioxidant properties called avenanthramides and selenium that have shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Oats 101: All oats start as oat groats. Steel cut (Irish) oats are the least processed. Stone ground (Scottish) oats are exactly like steel cut except smaller. Steel cut take about 45 minutes to cook and Scottish oats about half. Old-fashioned rolled oats have been steamed and rolled prior to consumption and can be eaten out of the package or cooked for oatmeal in about 10 minutes. Quick-cooking oats are just cut into thinner flakes and cook faster. Instant oats are the most heavily processed and usually have added salt and sugar.
- So, which should you buy? Steel cut, stone-ground, and old-fashioned are all made from whole grains and they all pretty much have the same nutrition breakdown. Quick-cooking also has the same nutritional properties as the above, but the glycemic index is higher, which spikes your blood sugar at a faster rate. I would limit quick-cooking and avoid most instant oats.
- Buying Tip: Buy smaller quantities of oats at a time since this grain is slightly higher in fat content (~5 grams per cup) and therefore can go rancid more quickly.
TIP#2: Limit foods high in saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol has minimal effects on the amount of cholesterol in your blood, therefore focusing on saturated fat intake is highly effective. Sources: butter, cheese, full-fat dairy, fatty meats, fried foods, and peanuts (nuts with the highest amount of saturated fat!)
TIP#3: Limit your salt intake by avoiding canned foods, fast food, and cooking more at home. Recommendations are usually <2400 mg/ day, even though recommendations may be lower - down to 1500 mg per day- depending on your health history, weight, and other lifestyle behaviors.
Other recommendations include: being in a healthy weight range (BMI ~18.5- 25), doing more exercise, not smoking!, eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and relaxing. Check out the detailed program entitled “28 Days to a Healthier Heart” by the CDC for more ideas.
Another way to enjoy the benefits of oats is by baking. I have to admit the below recipe is healthier, but definitely not the healthiest. Use in moderation, enjoy, and share!
“Spicy” Oatmeal Coconut Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
- 1 ½ cups of old-fashioned rolled oats
- ½ cup of whole wheat flour
- 4 oz of unsalted butter
- ½ cup of sugar
- ¼ cup of brown or turbinado sugar
- 1 large egg
- ¼ cup of raisins, golden or other
- ¼ cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (crushed)
- ¼ tsp of baking soda
- a pinch of sea salt
- ¼ tsp of cinnamon
- ¼ tsp of ground cloves
- a pinch of ground ginger
- ½ tsp of vanilla extract
- Preheat over to 350 F.
- Line tray with parchment paper.
- Sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt); set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer, cream the butter and sugars, on medium speed, until light in color (3-5 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy (1-2 minutes).
- Mix in the oats until just combined.
- Add dry ingredients in thirds.
- Sprinkle in the raisins and coconut until just combined.
- Make cookies about the size of 1 heaping tsp leaving between 2" between the cookies for spreading. Lightly tap each cookie with the spoon. Irregular shapes are welcomed!
- Bake the cookies for ~8-10 minutes. Finished cookie should be golden brown. Let cool before serving.
Recipe revised from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook.
References: Oats. WHFoods. The top 10 causes of death. WHO. Are Steel Cut Oats Healthier? Nutrition Diva. CVD and other chronic conditions in women. AHRQ