~ Porridge contains predominantly slow digesting carbohydrate, fibre, an underappreciated amount of protein, and a small amount of fat
~ Research has shown that a combination of increasing fibre intake, and reducing the sugar content of the diet, as can be achieved when oats are eaten as part of a balanced diet, lowers bad cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
~ Porridge is a great breakfast option for days you are active, if you are training intensely and/or have a significant requirement for high carbohydrate foods
A versatile food
Almost everyone has eaten porridge or oats at some point, or if not, someone has probably advised you to do so. Oats, (also known as avena sativa) are a species of cereal grain grown primarily for human and animal consumption. Compared to other cereals, oats go through a relatively low level of processing to make them edible as a food. Oats are a very versatile food product used for making flour, cookies, bread, desserts and even brewing beer, but are most well-known as a breakfast staple in the form of porridge, muesli and granola. So what are the virtues of oats that make them the so called “breakfast of champions”?
The nutritional value of oats
Oats primarily consist of complex carbohydrates, but also contain an often underappreciated amount of protein, and a small amount of fat. Oats are also a good source of fibre, which is vitally important for optimal digestion, but unfortunately is often deficient in many Western diets. The combination of high fibre and complex, slow-digesting carbohydrates in oats result in a slow release of sugar into the blood after a meal, and thereby, provides a sustained supply of energy to the body. This is the ideal response to a breakfast as it will ultimately leave you full and satisfied well into the morning. In contrast, the majority of processed cereals on the market are high in added sugars (they taste great!), and low in fibre due to the heavy processing. This nutrient profile and rapid digestion can lead to peaks and dips in blood sugar (the dreaded “sugar crash”), which result in poor energy levels, concentration lapses and often snacking on convenience foods. Research has shown that a combination of increasing cereal fibre intake, and reducing the sugar content of the diet, as can be achieved when oats are eaten as part of a balanced diet, lowers bad cholesterol, reduces blood pressure, reduces the risk of diabetes and supports fat loss – all good news!
Should you eat porridge for breakfast every day?
There is no doubt that if you choose to eat a cereal-based breakfast, a no added sugar, oat-based variety is the one to choose. This is particularly the case if you are training intensely and/or have a significant requirement for high carbohydrate foods e.g. manual labour. However, if the gym and structured exercise is not for you, but you are still aiming to reduce body-fat, eating large portions of oats (or any carbohydrate-rich food in general) is not ideal as this can limit the body’s ability to preferentially use fat as a fuel source for energy. Another important consideration is that people often add large amounts of honey, jam or sugar to their porridge to sweeten the taste. So, in fact I would say that rather than there being anything specifically bad about oats, the quantity and nature of what is added is a important point. Just like having a pastry with a cup of green tea kind of defeats the purpose, adding large amounts of sugar, sweeteners and other treats to a large bowl of oats compromises the nutritional value of the meal.
Our advice is to vary your breakfast options throughout the week. For example, on days that you don’t train or spend a lot of time sitting, try a protein-based breakfast combined with a good source of healthy, essential fats such as omelette of eggs, spinach, tomato and smoked salmon. On days when you are exercising have small portions (4 tablespoons) of jumbo oats combined with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, blueberries, a tablespoon of milled flaxseed, and topped with whole, natural yoghurt. This combination will satisfy most appetites, and offers a much more rounded nutrition profile than having simply a large bowl of oats with water or milk, and a large serving of honey to sweeten.