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A toast to oats

Choosing breakfast cereal is getting harder by the day. Supermarket shelves are chock-a-block often with cartons of fortified cereals in several permutation-combinations of grains and textures, with or without sugar, all set to woo the shopper.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 01, 2009 00:25 IST
Sanchita Sharma

Choosing breakfast cereal is getting harder by the day. Supermarket shelves are chock-a-block often with cartons of fortified cereals in several permutation-combinations of grains and textures, with or without sugar, all set to woo the shopper. And the promises include weight loss, brain gain, immunity boost, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure among others.

Few studies in India have verified these claims. Which is what makes Dr Shashank Joshi’s study on eating 50 gms (eight tablespoons) of oats everyday for people with type-2 or adult-onset diabetes a treat for many Indians.

People with diabetes were asked to eat eight tablespoons of oats everyday for a year and then the impact of this diet was measured using scientific tests. What gave the study a true Indian flavour was that the people in the one-year intervention trial were given a bowl of oats in its indigenous form, not as the tasteless bowl of breakfast oatmeal seemingly favoured by Western palates.

“We gave patients standardised indigenous recipes incorporating oats and asked them to eat it in any form at any time of the day. Since the trials was done in Mumbai, we introduced popular recipes from Western India like oat poha, upma, khakra, bhakri, cheela, soup, muthia, kanji and dosa,” said Dr Joshi, a senior endocrinologist at Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital.

The impact on diabetes management was striking. Eating just eight tablespoons of oats was found to decrease post-prandial blood sugar — a test used to measure blood glucose levels two hours after a meal — by 10-15 per cent in people with type-2 or adult-onset diabetes. “Using traditional recipes increased compliance as patients found it easier to include it in their meal plans. Some were even allowed to lower doses of diabetes-control medication,” said Dr Joshi.

Oats and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including those essential for the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.

According to the American Dietetic Association, oatmeal, oat bran and whole oat products are among the best sources of soluble fibre, which helps reduce total cholesterol as well as LDL (low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol). “Oats help control blood sugar, reduce the risks of colon, breast, and prostate cancers; and improve digestion,” said nutritionist Rekha Sharma, director of clinical nutrition, Diabetes Foundation India.

Oats have a specific type of fibre known as beta-glucan, which has consistently shown beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. “The benefits of soluble fibre are many, so it is essential to make its food sources such as oats, wholegrain, legumes, beans and some fruits like apples a part of our daily diet,” said Dr Sharma.