Friday, January 21, 2011

Steel cut oats with flax seed and fruit: the ultimate healthy breakfast?

After 65 years I learn to love porridge without brown sugar.

Steel cut oats and lots of fruit. Berry good!

It has taken me 65 years before I accidentally discovered how to enjoy porridge without dumping a load of brown sugar on it.

Growing up the son of a Scot with very English grandparents on the maternal side, porridge for breakfast most mornings was almost inescapable. I think they were quick cooking rolled oats, not quite the same as traditional Scottish oatmeal.

The Scots never put sugar on their oatmeal, inexplicably preferring a little sprinkling of salt. The English seemed to have a sweeter tooth. My mother, with her English rearing, could never quite understand people who preferred their tea, coffee, or porridge without sugar. So we had dark, brown sugar on our porridge every morning.

When I was 15, I boarded with my Scottish aunt and uncle in Vancouver. There was never any sugar on the table when porridge was served for breakfast, but it was there on the rare occasions when corn flakes were served. Sugar on oatmeal was unheard of when she was a girl in Edinburgh, but in that era—certainly in the Gray family—corn flakes were also unheard of. So putting sugar on corn flakes violated no bone-deep Scottish custom. I dearly loved my Aunt, but I could never learn to love her porridge.

It is 65 years later and we have switched from rolled oats to steel cut oats for the porridge we eat most mornings. We add ground flax seeds to our porridge. Our measuring spoons reside in a large can of coffee grounds because making coffee is what they are most often used for.  Thus one morning I stood in front of large pot of boiling water preparing to cook steel cut oats and ground flax seeds, a coffee can in one hand and measuring spoons in the other. The next thing I noticed was that boiling water had suddenly become very dark. Call me absentminded.

Nothing daunted, I continued making coffee-favoured porridge. “Not bad,” was Joan’s verdict. Cooked with Sultana raisins, it was at least palatable without brown sugar.

Our son Gordon, however, says that eating coffee grounds is not good for you.  A 1992 article in the trade journal Tea and Coffee disagrees.  It claims that decaffeinated coffee grounds can be “Just as edible as raw soy beans, lentils, chick peas or other seeds,” and very nutritious. And if everyone in North America ate their coffee grounds, a million tons of waste that’s dumped every year could be turned into food. Strange as it might seem, people are still not eating their coffee grounds.

Gordon suggested we cook our oats in apple juice.  As it happened, we had just kicked our apple juice habit, because fruit juices have no fibre, too much sugar, and not enough nutrition. Why not use whole apples, especially my favourite Granny Smith apples, with their full, sharp, tart flavour?

A little more experimenting, and we now have steel cut oats cooked with apples and raisins, served with a topping of more berries, no brown sugar, and coffee grounds strictly optional—perhaps best for those most concerned to minimize waste.

Recipe for steel cut oats with flax,  apples and raisins.
1 cup steel cut oats.
1/2 cup fresh ground flax seed.
1 cup cup sultana raisins
2 large Granny Smith apple.
6 cups of water.
Peel and core the apple, and purée in blender or food processor. Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add apple, raisins, oats and flax seeds, being careful to pour in the oats and flax slowly while stirring.  After about 5 minutes, when the porridge begins to thicken, reduce heat and summer for another 30 minutes. I like to cook this in an open pot. Add more water if needed. The longer oats are cooked, the more water they absorb, and the larger the bulk of oatmeal. Serve with skimmed milk and top with more berries. We prefer President’s Choice packaged blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries.   The favour is sharper if the berries are just partially thawed. Berry good!

Makes eight servings—four breakfasts for Joan and me. Keep leftover in a closed container in the refrigerator. The leftover will absorb more of the water and become a little solid with a greater volume. Place desired amount of leftover porridge in a pot, add water, breakup with a fork, heat, and eat. If you cook enough oats you can mimic an old nursery rhyme: “Peas porridge hot, Peas porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, Nine days old.”

Avoid that unhealthy sugar rush
Steel cut oats—tiny brown pellets—are loaded with nutrition and fibre. Beta-glucan, a type of fibre found in oats, has been shown to reduce high levels of LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol that can clog your arteries. And antioxidant compounds unique to oats help prevent free radicals from damaging HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol that is important in keeping your arteries unclogged. (See Oats,” World’s Healthiest Foods). Steel cut oats offer greater health benefits than instant oatmeal, quick oats, or regular oats.

Joan used to complain that porridge soon left her feeling hungry. That’s the “empty calories” syndrome—an unhealthy sugar rush, followed by an unhealthy insulin rush, followed by a feeling of hunger. The brown sugar was probably the main culprit, but the type of oatmeal is also a factor. Steel cut oats help fight the empty calories syndrome because they take longer to digest than the other oatmeals.

The sugar rush is measured by the Glycemic Index, which, on a scale of 1 to 100, measures the speed at which your body converts carbohydrates  into glucose in you blood stream. Generally the lower the GI, the better. Instant oatmeal rates a very high 82 GI; quick oats, 64;  regular oatmeal, 58; steel cut oats, 51. (The New Glucose Revolution: Shoppers Guide to GI Values. Cambridge, M.A. Da Capo Press, 2010).   Also, instant, quick and regular rolled oats have been steamed, cooked, pressed with a roller and dried, resulting in some nutritional loss..

Ground flax seed:
good for whatever ails you?
  Anyone who hasn’t been urged to help protect his heart by consuming more omega 3 fatty acids lives on another planet. Salmon is commonly recommended, but it might not be best to put all your omega in a fish basket: plants are said to provide a source of Omega 3 that’s more stable. Ground flax seed—the richest source of ALA Omega 3 fats and lignans, an antioxidant, and very high in dietary fibre—is said to be effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It has also been claimed to help combat cancers, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things. It is probably the plant seed most widely recommended by doctors.

An apple a day
The blueberries, raisins and apple provide the sugar for this oatmeal but they avoid the bad sugar big rush you can get from piling on refined sugar. The sugar in these fruits is digested slowly, resulting in low GI ratings: 53 for wild blueberries, 38 for apples, and 64 for raisins.
    •Blueberries are said to be among the very best of all fruits and vegetables for antioxidants that help prevent heart trouble, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer (see report on blueberries). They are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium; a very good source of dietary fibre and vitamins C and K, as well as a good source of manganese.
    •An apple a day might really help keep the doctor away. “An increase intake of apples has been correlated with a decreased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and incidence of thrombotic stroke,” reports a study, Why Apples are Healthful, from the Oregon State University. That might be because the antioxidant flavonids widely found in fruit are more easily absorbed into the blood stream when they come from apples.
     •Raisins are the richest source of sugar in this oatmeal, but they’re much healthier than the table sugar they replace. They have almost no saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium; are a good source of dietary fibre, and a very good source of iron.
TAGS. Oats. Apples. Raisimn. Blueberries. Flax seeds. Coffee.


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