Photo: Bowl of Oatmeal with Bananas

by Sabra Leomo, RD

What if I told you that your kitchen cabinet may hold an amazing heart-healthy ingredient? If it isn’t in your cabinet already, this ingredient is easy and accessible to buy. Oats, yes oatmeal, packs a punch of heart-healthy benefits. Oatmeal may not be the most glamorous food that generates a ton of buzz but it deserves some love this February as we talk about heart health.

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization “These diseases have remained the leading causes of death globally in the last 15 years”. One major risk factor for heart disease is high cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol”.

Fortunately, these risk factors can be decreased by eating a healthy diet containing soluble fiber. Oatmeal is a good source of a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. This type of soluble fiber lowers LDL and total cholesterol by forming a gel-like solution that reduces absorption of cholesterol from the intestines. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends adults consume 10-25 grams of soluble fiber per day. A bowl of oatmeal (3/4 cup) contains 3 grams of soluble fiber and is an excellent choice to help you reach your daily soluble fiber goals.

If a bowl of cooked oatmeal every morning doesn’t make your heart pitter-patter with excitement, try these methods to incorporate more heart-healthy oats into your diet.

Smoothies - If you feel hungry or not quite satisfied after a smoothie, try adding oatmeal. Oatmeal works well as a thickener and also helps keep you full longer. You can either add uncooked oats directly to your smoothie with the other ingredients or grind the oats prior to making your smoothie. Start with ¼ cup of oatmeal and add up to ½ cup of oatmeal.

Overnight Oats - Find yourself dealing with the morning rush? Overnight oats are an easy way to prepare oatmeal that you can grab and go. There are an abundance of different flavor combinations to try so you won’t get bored with these oats. Try these Overnight Oats with Vanilla as a base to build on. For best results and texture use regular rolled oats (old fashioned) rather than quick oats and let them soak up the liquid for a full 8 hours.

Veggie Burgers - Oatmeal works well in savory recipes too! Veggie burgers and loafs are the perfect savory medium for oats. Try this hearty Vegetarian Meatloaf that utilizes oatmeal for a savory dish.

Baked Oatmeal - Here’s another breakfast option that you can make ahead. Bake a batch of oatmeal and for several days you’ll have an easy breakfast that just needs to be warmed.

Oat Flour - Making your own heart-healthy oat flour just takes a few minutes. In a food processor or blender add regular oats and blend until you have a fine powder. Make a large batch and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before use. When making your favorite recipes, just substitute 25% of the all-purpose flour with oat flour.

Cholesterol-lowering oatmeal doesn’t have to be plain and boring. Add oatmeal to your favorite recipes and show your heart some love.