Functional Nutrition for Digestive Health: Oat Bran
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
I recently had the great opportunity to speak to a group of doctors about the relationship between food and physiology—between each meal and the now-notable role of the microbiota. I’m guessing they thought they were showing up for a discussion about things such as pathogens, anaerobes and strain-specificity. Whether those terms mean anything to you or not, read on! There’s good news for you that leaves those conversations in the microbial dust.
My intent in that conversation was to bring it all home—home to the gut and home to the diet. Out of theory and into practice. We often forget or dismiss the true power of food! We (as practitioners and enlightened patients alike), can get so caught up in the theoretical, the biochemical, the fascinating new discoveries in science, that we forget some of the remedies in our refrigerator and cure-alls in our cupboards.
There are ingredients we can include in our daily menus that have an impact. And each summer I go on a mission to talk about food as medicine… Not in the general sense, but in the very specific (right down to single ingredient) and very targeted (hello gut therapy) sense.
Today’s gut lovin’ ingredient is a new twist on an old favorite that may surprise you (coming from a mostly grain-free girl like me). It’s oat bran!
Using food as medicine in Functional Nutrition
Are you ready to sow your wild oats?
This may take a bit of convincing, but let me shed some light on kicking up your heels and inviting a bit of dietary frivolity. Oat bran is a digestive darling in some of the same ways as the other digestive wellness ingredients I’ve talked into (carob, psyllium husk and tigernuts). Hint: Think soluble fiber and good food for your good bugs! Yet oat bran has at least one more trick up its sleeve with a special type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan (more on that later!).
Like psyllium husk, oat bran absorbs water and swells in the digestive tract, giving you a sense of fullness and satiety. It forms a gel that slows gastric emptying which stabilizes your blood sugar, helping you steer clear of the blood sugar roller coaster ride that other breakfast choices often induce.
Oat bran increases the production of mucous in the small intestine which gives digestive enzymes and bile acids a better chance to break down your foods. It also delays the movement of the food through your system, giving your body more time to absorb their nutrients.
Oat bran’s nutritional composition
I always like to say: you’re not what you eat, but what your body can absorb. And oat bran helps you absorb more! Like tigernuts, oat bran is a prebiotic, or food for your good gut bacteria. Those well-fed good guys in your gut in turn produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which help inhibit the growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria and yeasts. There’s one more “super word” I want to attribute to this gut loving superfood. And this brings us back to those beta-glucans.
The link between immunity and digestion
Don’t run away. This is a curious place where digestion and immunity intersect. Did you know that more than 70% of your immune system is located in your gut? It’s true! That’s another reason it deserves your love and affection.
Beta-glucans are considered to be biological defense modifiers, meaning they have the ability to activate and modulate your immune system. The immune-enhancing properties of beta-glucans are due to their ability to activate immune cells (particularly the macrophages and natural killer cells) which leads to activation of T-cells, and B-cells, including select cytokines and complement proteins that you may have heard about in some of your scientific citings. I promise there’s no quiz on this. Just know that when you’re eating your morning oat bran, you’re giving both your gut and your immune system the support they need.
A favorite breakfast recipe featuring oat bran
Speaking of your morning meal, go ahead and give this cinnamon swirl oat bran a whirl! This recipe comes from Sandra Brougher, one of our lead nutritionists in the Functional Nutrition Alliance clinic and a Full Body Systems instructor.
For those who avoid gluten, be sure to get certified gluten-free oat bran. Although oats are inherently gluten-free, they can often get cross contaminated in the field or processing plant. Be on the safe side and get gluten-free oat bran from Bob’s Red Mill or a similar brand.
Cinnamon Swirl Oat Bran
No more skipping breakfast, and forget those instant oats! Say hello to your new favorite breakfast bowl. With fat, fiber, and protein, this recipe takes five minutes to prepare and will keep you going strong all morning.
Serves 1 large portion or 2 small portions.
- 2/3 cup gluten-free oat bran (Bob’s Red Mill brand)
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk (Native Forest, Arroy-D or Natural Value brands)
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 Tbsp grass-fed ghee or coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp collagen, optional but adds protein
- 2 tsp freshly ground flax
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 5-10 drops of liquid stevia (or to taste)
- pinch of sea salt
- optional toppings: fresh berries or choice, nuts, seeds, or shredded coconut
- Heat oat bran, coconut milk, water and salt on the stovetop and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Let stand for 2 minutes and then stir in the ghee, collagen, flax and cinnamon. Add stevia to taste.
- Top with fresh fruit or nuts of choice and enjoy!
Remember the principles of Functional Nutrition, we’re each unique and we all respond differently to new ingredients. When introducing gluten-free oat bran to your diet, be sure to start low and go slow. If you have a delicate GI and have any concerns, please consult your dedicated healthcare provider. Here’s to sowing your wild oats, and a breakfast that keeps you going strong during these long summer days.
Hu M, Zhang P, Wang R, et al. Three Different Types of β-Glucans Enhance Cognition: The Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Front Nutr. 2022;9:848930. Published 2022 Mar 3. doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.848930
Paudel D, Dhungana B, Caffe M, Krishnan P. A Review of Health-Beneficial Properties of Oats. Foods. 2021;10(11):2591. Published 2021 Oct 26. doi:10.3390/foods10112591
Zhang K, Dong R, Hu X, Ren C, Li Y. Oat-Based Foods: Chemical Constituents, Glycemic Index, and the Effect of Processing. Foods. 2021;10(6):1304. Published 2021 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/foods10061304
Van den Abbeele P, Kamil A, Fleige L, Chung Y, De Chavez P, Marzorati M. Different Oat Ingredients Stimulate Specific Microbial Metabolites in the Gut Microbiome of Three Human Individuals in Vitro. ACS Omega. 2018;3(10):12446-12456. doi:10.1021/acsomega.8b01360Renke G, Baesso T, Paes R, Renke A. β-Glucan “Trained Immunity” Immunomodulatory Properties Potentiate Tissue Wound Management and Accelerate Fitness Recover. Immunotargets Ther. 2022;11:67-73. Published 2022 Oct 17. doi:10.2147/ITT.S381145
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