If you don’t own a blog, you probably don’t know some of the information we get on the backend. For instance, I can see search terms that have brought people to this blog. One search term that I see frequently is “are oats inflammatory?” I guess that the search “are oats inflammatory?” is bringing people to my anti-inflammatory instant oats post, which is one of my top recipes.
I see this search or a similar search come up so often I thought I would answer the question from an RD’s perspective.
Are Oats Inflammatory?
The answer is: it depends.
What does it depend on? Your unique physiology.
For some people, yes, they might be. For other people, they may be anti-inflammatory. How is that possible?
Food Sensitivities to Oats/Grains/Gluten
I’ve written umpteen posts about food sensitivities, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead, I’ll keep it simple. If you have a food sensitivity to either oats or grains/gluten, you may not tolerate oats well. Your body may heighten the immune system response causing low-grade chronic inflammation. In that case, yes, oats are inflammatory. You may need to avoid oats temporarily while we heal the immune system or permanently if you are someone that doesn’t do well with grains. Also, keep in mind that oats are often cross-contaminated with gluten, so it’s entirely possible that sensitivity to oats could potentially actually be a sensitivity to gluten if you are not eating certified gluten-free oats.
Many diets, such as the paleo diet, exclude oats and grains claiming they contain too many “anti-nutrients.” They use the term “anti-nutrients” to refer to substances that may decrease absorption of other nutrients or cause gut irritation. Oatmeal contains:
- Avenin – a gluten-like protein
- phytic acid
- gluten contamination
If you’re sensitive to gluten, avenin, or lectins then oats may not be an excellent choice for you, they may do more harm then good (see point above). You may need to avoid them until we repair your GI tract and calm down the immune systems hyper response to what should be benign foods. Phytic acid isn’t a concern of mine, but if you buy sprouted oats or soak them yourself, you will reduce the content of phytic acid significantly.
Oats are a high carb food that we like to stack with more carbs in the form of fruit, dried fruit, syrups (maple, honey, etc.), and sugar (brown sugar, coconut sugar, etc.) In this case, oats aren’t necessarily the problem. The problem is a meal with too many carbs and sugar, not enough protein, and healthy fat. Any meal like that will ultimately cause inflammation because it contributes to weight gain and blood sugar swings. If you are eating oats for breakfast, make sure you balance that meal by adding protein powder and healthy fats like nut butter. Or eat a couple of eggs on the side of it, whatever works for you!
Oats As An Anti-Inflammatory Food
Provided neither situation above applies, then yes, oats, like all plant foods, oats do contain some anti-inflammatory properties.
Oats contain avenanthramides a compound that other cereal grains do not contain. It’s an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects when consumed. Research has looked at the impact of this compound on reducing inflammation and improving function in the blood vessels, which can lower blood pressure. In the Avenanthramides may have an anti-cancer effect in the colon, potentially decreasing the risk of developing colon cancer. Oatmeal bath anyone? Avenanthramides also exhibit an anti-itching effect.
Oats contain a unique soluble fiber known as beta-glucan. This type of fiber helps excrete cholesterol-rich bile and protects from the build-up of cholesterol. Oxidized bad cholesterol is inflammatory, and the first step in many types of heart disease.
Final Thoughts: Are Oats Inflammatory or Anti-Inflammatory?
Like so much in nutrition, the answer depends on your unique physiology and state of health. Different physiology, genetics, and health statuses demand different nutrition strategies. If you currently have GI inflammation, a known sensitivity to grains or gluten, lectin sensitivity, or insulin resistance then you might think about avoiding them. If you don’t have any of those issues then enjoy all the benefits of oatmeal, including the inflammation-fighting ones!
Looking for ways to incorporate oats? See these posts: