The oat industry has done a good job of casting a halo over oats and oatmeal, even lobbying the FDA to allow a “heart healthy” claim because of its ability, via the beta glucan fiber content, to reduce total and LDL cholesterol (which is true). They have been so effective that, despite the huge health and weight loss successes in people following the Wheat Belly lifestyle who reject all grains including oats, people still ask “You mean oatmeal is not okay?” Conventional sources of dietary advice often say things like “There’s no gluten in oats, so oats are healthy.” Even generally respected sources of information can make patently absurd declarations about oats, like this University of Chicago FAQ response suggesting that, because there is no gluten in oats, they must therefore be healthy. So let’s focus on oats and oatmeal.
The biggest problem with oats is the high content of the super-carbohydrate, amylopectin A, responsible for raising blood sugars sky-high after consumption. The glycemic index, or GI, of oats is 55, thereby falling in the medium range of GI. Recall that glycemic index is a wildly misleading concept: high-GI-foods like whole wheat bread and table sugar raise blood sugar to very high levels; medium-GI foods also raise blood sugar to very high levels, just not as high as high-GI foods. Consume a bowl of organic, stone-ground oatmeal, for instance, without added sugar, and a blood sugar of 150-180 mg/dl in a non-diabetic person 30-60 minutes after consumption would be typical. In someone with type 2 diabetes, a blood sugar of 200-350 would be typical. This should come as no surprise when you realize that one cup dry plain oatmeal that is slow-cooked will yield 46 net carbs, more than enough to send blood sugar through the roof. Of course, add some milk, berries, sliced banana, or sugar and the carb count can easily approach 70,80, or 90 grams. Blood sugar levels this high after consuming oatmeal are more than sufficient to contribute to insulin resistance, cause fat deposition and weight gain, and glycate the proteins of the body, the irreversible process that leads to cataracts, heart disease, eroding joint cartilage and arthritis, skin thinning and aging, and dementia. This is why diets such as paleo, ketogenic, and my Wheat Belly and Undoctored programs all agree: no oats.
As if that weren’t enough, there are other problems with human consumption of oats that includes:
- Oat consumption has been associated with type 1 diabetes in children–While the evidence is observational, it is consistent with higher quality evidence with the gliadin protein of wheat and the zein of corn as provocateurs of this lifelong disease. The effect is likely due to the closely related avenin protein of oats, similar in structure and amino acid content to the proteins of its other grain brethren. And if avenin, similar to gliadin and zein, can initiate type 1 diabetes autoimmune destruction of pancreatic cells, what other autoimmune conditions can oats provoke?
- Fungal contamination of oat products is common, occasionally at potentially toxic levels, as detected in this Consumer Lab analysis. While the fungi themselves are not the source of the problem, the mycotoxins they produce can exert neurotoxic, carcinogenic, liver toxic, and other effects.
- Some people with celiac disease will wage an abnormal immune response against the oat counterpart to wheat gliadin, avenin. Once again, this is not about whether or not oats are gluten-free; it’s about the avenin protein that resembles gluten/gliadin.
- Oats, like wheat, contains phytates that bind positively-charged minerals, such as calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium, making them unavailable for absorption and adding to deficiencies.
- Consistent with other foods that are not meant to be part of the human diet, oats provoke a variety of allergies including atopic dermatitis in children when oat-containing creams and other products are applied.
Oats are admittedly not as offensive to human health as wheat. But oats are not without their own considerable problems. Conventional celiac discussions continue to debate the overly-simplistic issue of whether or not oat products contain gluten, while the structural similarity of avenin with wheat gliadin is largely overlooked. The role of oats in a gluten-free diet therefore remains a matter of debate. But, just as with wheat and other gluten-containing grains, conventional thinking about oats begins and ends at its gluten-like properties, not considering the substantial issues discussed above.
In the Wheat Belly lifestyle, we reject the idea that humans were meant to consume the product of the seeds of grasses, “grains,” regardless of whether they are refined or whole, as the unhealthy components are truly little different, despite the repeated and over-the-top claims made by the grain industry and agencies that took the bait of the misleading findings and flawed logic of epidemiology. It’s actually kind of a shame, because there are some healthy components in oats, such as beta glucan. But the whole is a combination of good with the bad and there is simply no way to make oats a part of your life without paying a health price.