Oat Bran

If you're looking for a comfort food with plenty of health benefits, look no further than oat bran.  While a steaming bowl of creamy oat bran can certainly warm you up on a cold winter's morning, it's the nutrient profile of oat bran that really makes it shine. Not only is it a source of B vitamins, it's an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering soluble fibre.

Oat Bran

Nutrition Notes

Whole grains, including oats, contain three layers - the endosperm, the germ and the bran.  The endosperm is the starchy portion of the grain; the germ is the nutrient dense inner layer; the outer bran layer contains all the fibre.  To refine grains, manufacturers remove the bran and germ layers, thereby reducing the grain's final nutrient and fibre content.

Oat bran has long been touted for its soluble fibre.  About one-half of the fibre in oat bran is soluble fibre, the type that lowers LDL (bad) blood cholesterol.  Soluble fibre is a soft fibre that absorbs water as it moves through the digestive tract.  In addition to helping lower cholesterol, it also keeps blood glucose levels in check. Technically, oat bran is not a whole grain (since it's actually only one part of the oat grain). But because of its exceptionally high fibre content, it can be considered a whole grain.

A landmark study published in 1963 was the first to document the cholesterol-lowering effects of oat bran.  Since then, there's been no shortage of research to support the many health benefits of a diet rich in soluble fibre, including oat bran.

A notable study published in the Western Journal of Medicine in the late 1980's found that study participants who ate two oat bran muffins a day for 28 days experienced a 5.3% decrease in total serum cholesterol, and an 8.7% decrease in LDL cholesterol, compared to no change in participants consuming wheat muffins.

Recent research has attributed many of the health benefits of oat bran to a soluble fibre compound called beta-glucan.  In 1997 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the health claim that "a diet high in soluble fiber from whole oats and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease".  It was determined that at least 3 grams of beta-glucan from oat products should be consumed on a daily basis to achieve a notable decrease in cholesterol levels.  One-half cup (125 m l) of cooked oat bran of oat bran provides 3 grams of beta-glucan.

A food guide serving of cooked oat bran is 3/4 cup (175 ml).  Here's how oat bran stacks up in terms of its nutrient content:

(Per 3/4-cup of cooked oat bran)

Calories 66 kcal 
Protein 5.3 g 
Fat 1.4 g 
Carbohydrate 18.8 g 
Fibre 4.3 g 
Sodium 2 mg 
Calcium 16 mg 

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

0.26 mg 
Vitamin B2  0.06 mg 

Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b

Varieties

Oat bran is made from the outer shell of the oat kernel and is available as a finely ground meal.   You can buy pure oat bran to cook as a hot cereal or use in baking. You'll also find oat bran as added ingredient in commercial cereals, muffins and breads.  Oat bran adds a distinctive nutty flavour and texture. 

Buying

Oat bran is available in the cereal or baking section of major grocery stores and natural food stores. 

Since oat bran contains a little naturally-occurring fat it is susceptible to going rancid. Look for products in well-sealed containers.  If you're buying in bulk, buy from a store that has a high product turnover, and be sure the product is free from any moisture (visible as clumps) and has a faint nutty smell.

Storing

Due to its susceptibility to going rancid, store oat bran in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place.  To prolong the shelf life of oat bran, store it in the freezer in a tightly sealed container.  You can cook with oat bran directly out of the freezer in recipes or on its own - no thawing required.

Preparing

Oat bran can easily be made into a hot creamy cereal by cooking two parts liquid (milk, soymilk or water) to one part oat bran.  Bring the liquid to a boil, add oat bran and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the oat bran absorbs the liquid.  Top cooked oat bran with fresh fruit and spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg for a tasty and satisfying morning meal.

Eating

Oat bran can be added to dishes, such as cold cereal, without being cooked.  It is also an excellent addition to baked goods including muffins, cookies, loaves and crisps.

To enhance oat bran's nutty flavour, try toasting it on a baking sheet at 375°F for 5 or 7 minutes until lightly brown before using.

Healthy ways to enjoy

Breakfast

  • For hot oat bran cereal, combine 1 part oat bran with 2 parts liquid (milk or fortified soy milk) and cook over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Toss with fresh or dried fruit and drizzle with honey for a wholesome breakfast.
  • Add 1/4 cup (50 ml) of oat bran to your favourite morning cereal.
  • Stir in a few tablespoons of oat bran into a pancake or waffle batter.

Lunch

  • Choose whole grain bread topped with oat bran for a healthy sandwich. Or buy whole grain oat bran bread.
  • Sprinkle oat bran on yogurt mixed with fresh berries for a tasty calcium rich addition to your meal.

Dinner

  • For a crunchy texture without added fat, bread chicken breasts or a fillet of fish in egg white and then coat with oat bran.  Bake in the oven until cooked through and slightly crispy.
  • Add 1/3 cup (75 ml) of oat bran to your favourite meat loaf recipe.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons (25 ml) on top for a crunchy topping.

Snacks

  • Add a tablespoon or two of toasted oat bran to a smoothie for a boost of fibre. 
  • Replace some of the rolled oats in your favourite fruit crisp topping with oat bran.

More Information

Nutra Sanus - http://www.nutrasanus.com/oat-bran.html

Health Check - http://www.healthcheck.org/en/nutritional-information/fibre-facts.html

Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bran

Did you know?

  • Preliminary studies suggest that beta-glucan, a type of soluble fibre in oats, may have immune-boosting properties.
  • It's suspected that oats are a descendent of ancient grains like wheat and barley.  Evidence of oats date back to 2000 BC from Egyptian remains.
  • Oats are a staple of the Scottish traditional diet - in fact, there's even a variety of oats names after them.  Scottish oats are steamed, steel cut oats that are ground into a fine meal.