Scientific name: Avena sativa L.1

Oat varieties: Oat groats, steel-cut oats, Irish oats, Scottish oats, rolled oats, old-fashioned oats, quick-cooking oats, instant oats2 

Description: Oats are a gluten-free cereal grain made from the edible seeds of oat grass.3 The grass grows well in cool weather and should be planted six to ten weeks prior to a frost.4 The plants can grow up to four feet tall4 and are harvested using a machine called a combine that removes the oats from the stems of the plant.5

Oats are available in various forms, depending on how they are processed. 

  • Oat groats are the rawest form of the grain2 – the whole kernel with the inedible husk removed6 – and therefore take the longest to cook. They have a chewy texture and a nutty taste.
  • Oat bran is the outer layer of the oat groat6 and has the highest fiber content of the grain.3 The bran can be removed and eaten alone as a cereal or added to recipes to increase fiber content.3
  • Steel-cut or Irish oats are groats that have been sliced into small pieces that look similar to grains of rice.2 They cook faster than groats and are chewier than standard old-fashioned oats because they absorb less water.2
  • Scottish oats are groats that have been ground rather than sliced and have a creamier texture when cooked.2 They are also good to use in baking.
  • Rolled or old-fashioned oats are what most people think of when discussing oats. To make them, groats are steamed and then rolled out, flattened, and dried.2,3 They can be cooked with water or milk to make oatmeal, soaked in milk or yogurt to make overnight oats, or baked into recipes such as cookies, muffins, and granola bars.  
  • Quick-cooking or instant oats are rolled thinner and sliced finer than old-fashioned oats,2 so they cook faster and produce creamier oatmeal. Instant oats are often pre-cooked and sold pre-packaged with added flavors and ingredients.2

Oats can also be ground into a flour that can be used for gluten-free baking,7 and oat milk has gained popularity in recent years as a dairy-free milk alternative.8

Oats are high in fiber and protein,9 which helps to increase satiety, and beta glucan,10 a soluble dietary fiber found in oats, is good for lowering cholesterol and blood glucose levels and promoting intestinal health.11  

Nutrients: Oats are a good source of fiber, protein, magnesium, copper, thiamine and zinc.11 FoodData Central,12 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s food and nutrient database, indicates that one half-cup serving of raw oats (40 grams) contains the following nutrients: 

  • 151 calories
  • 5.3 grams (g) protein
  • 2.6 g fat (0.4 g saturated fat)
  • 27.1 g total carbohydrates
  • 4.0 g dietary fiber
  • 0.4 g sugar
  • 2.4 milligrams (mg) sodium 
  • 0 mg cholesterol

A half-cup serving of raw oats also contains a significant amount of the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 1.29 mg manganese (56.1% Daily Value)
  • 0.16 mg copper (17.8% DV)
  • 0.184 mg thiamin (15.3% DV)
  • 1.45 mg zinc (13.2% DV)
  • 55 mg magnesium (13.1% DV)
  • 164 mg phosphorus (13.1% DV)
  • 1.7 mg iron (9.4% DV)

All types of oats have relatively similar nutritional profiles, but because less-processed oat groats and steel-cut oats take longer to digest, they have a lower glycemic index (a measure of how quickly a food makes blood sugar rise)13 than rolled or instant oats.3 

Geographic origin: Oats likely originated in the Middle East and/or surrounding Mediterranean regions as early as 2000 BC.14 The Ancient Greeks and Romans knew they were edible, but they were primarily consumed by animals and peasants.15 The Romans brought oats to Britain, where a cool, wet climate helped the grain to thrive, and it began to spread to other parts of the world.15 

Until the early 1900s, Americans mainly used oats as animal feed.15 In 1888, seven large oat millers in America formed the American Cereal Company, which is now Quaker Oats, and rebranded oatmeal for human consumption.15 The introduction and rise of local mills and grocery stores helped it gain popularity as a breakfast food.15 

Now, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Russia is the leading producer of oats worldwide, followed by Canada, Australia, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, Finland, China, and the United States.16   

History of use as medicine: The nutritional benefits of beta-glucan, a form of soluble dietary fiber first found in lichens and mushrooms, were studied in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly for their immune functions and anti-cancer properties.17,18 While it is unclear when beta glucans were first identified in oats, their heart-health benefits were discovered in 1981, when a study showed that beta-glucan from oat bran had a cholesterol-lowering effect.19 

More studies published throughout the ‘80s supported the evidence that oat bran consumption was linked to lower cholesterol levels, and oat bran-based foods such as oat bran cereal and oat bran muffins gained popularity at American breakfast tables.20 Over time, the focus shifted away from oat bran to oats as a whole, and in 1997, in response to a request by the Quaker Oats company, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first food-specific (as opposed to nutrient-specific) health claim for oat products.21 Products containing a significant amount of oat bran or rolled oats could then include a claim on the label stating that they might reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet. The authorized claim has since been amended to state that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and that include at least 3 grams of beta-glucan soluble fiber per day may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. 

Current Uses and Scientific Literature Review: Oats contain various compounds that have been shown to improve health conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes.22 

Note: Before reviewing the literature, it is important to note that many peer-reviewed studies may be biased because of industry-funded research to promote product sales, and a conflict of interest is not always disclosed (see information from biologist and nutritionist Marion Nestle on sponsored research here). In this article, we have done our best to include as many non-industry-funded studies as possible. Industry-funded studies and/or those authored by industry employees are labeled as such with an asterisk (*). As discussed in the Food as Medicine Report (on page 158, specifically), there is a need for more government funding for food as medicine initiatives. 


Oats contain beta-glucan (a type of soluble fiber) and avenanthramides (an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound), both of which have demonstrated anti-cancer effects in lab and animal studies.

  • Oats and Lung Cancer (in vitro): Trabalzini et al (2022)23 studied the effects of avenanthramides24 – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in oats – on lung cancer cells. They determined that the avenanthramides inhibited the growth of the lung cancer cells by acting on a specific oncogene (a mutated gene with cancer-causing potential)25 called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). 
  • Fermented Oats and Liver Cancer (in vitro and animal study): Zhang et al (2021)26 examined how extracts of fermented oats would impact liver cancer cells in vitro and in a mouse model. In a lab setting, the fermented oat extract blocked cell growth and promoted cell death among the cancer cells without harming normal cells. In mice, the extract also inhibited tumor growth without any adverse effects on the animals. 
  • Avenanthramides and Colon Cancer (in vitro): Wu et al (2018)27 studied the effects of avenanthramides from commercial oat products on colon cancer cells and concluded that the compounds inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells. An earlier study from Guo et al (2010)28 also concluded that avenanthramides were toxic to colon cancer cells and did not have any effect on normal colon cells. 
  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Lung Cancer (in vitro): Choromanska et al (2017)29 investigated the anti-cancer properties of beta-glucan30 and discovered that beta-glucan from oats caused harmful oxidative stress and limited tumor growth in drug-resistant lung cancer cells and did not damage normal, healthy cells. 

Cardiovascular Health

Oats have been deemed a heart-healthy food for decades, particularly since receiving the first food-specific health claim from the FDA in 1997.21 Many scientific studies have demonstrated the positive effects of oats on cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 

  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Blood Pressure (animal study): Raj et al (2023)31 used an oat beta-glucan extract, alone and in combination with hydrochlorothiazide medication, to treat rats with high blood pressure. After 15 weeks of treatment, male rats treated with beta-glucan alone or combined with medication had a significant reduction in blood pressure, but the same effect was not seen in female rats. The combination treatment had a positive effect on both systolic and diastolic functions of the heart (pumping blood and relaxing) in both males and females.
  • Oats and Blood Pressure (review): Liska et al (2022)32* reviewed the existing data regarding oats and their impact on blood pressure. Eighteen randomized controlled trials and three meta-analyses provided evidence that certain properties of oats were able to lower blood pressure and reduce the need for medications among adults with high blood pressure. The components of oats that showed the greatest benefits included beta-glucan, plant-based proteins, and a chemical called GABA. A review from Bouchard et al (2022)33 also found promising evidence for oats’ impact on blood pressure, however these researchers stated that more studies are needed to make definitive conclusions. 
  • Oat Supplementation and Heart Health (review): Llanaj et al (2022)34* conducted a review of 59 human interventional studies that used oats as a treatment for cardiovascular risk factors. Subjects who received an oat supplementation treatment had improvements in several health markers including cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, body mass index, weight, and waist circumference. However, the researchers note that the majority of studies included in the review had a risk of bias, which could have skewed results. 
  • Oats vs Rice for Cholesterol Reduction (interventional): Xu et al (2021)35 enrolled 210 subjects with slightly elevated cholesterol levels in a 45-day trial. Subjects consumed 80 grams of either oats or rice every day for the duration of the study. Those who ate oats had larger reductions in total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol than those who ate rice. Oat consumption was also associated with an increase in various strains of prebiotics (food for good bacteria in the gut), which suggests that the oats’ prebiotic activity may contribute to their cholesterol-lowering effects. Connolly et al (2016)36* came to similar conclusions in a study of 32 individuals who consumed either a whole-grain oat or a non-whole grain oat cereal for two six-week periods separated by a four-week wash-out period. The researchers observed a heightened prebiotic effect in the whole grain oat cereal that correlated to a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels among study participants. 
  • Dietary Fiber and Blood Pressure (interventional): Xue et al (2021)37 studied 50 participants with high blood pressure for three months. Half received 30 grams of oat bran per day (8.9 grams of dietary fiber) and half served as the control group. After three months, blood pressures were significantly lower among the oat bran group than the control group. The use of blood pressure medication was also significantly reduced, which indicates that a dietary intervention including high-fiber oats may lower the need for drug therapy among hypertensive individuals.
  • Avenanthramide, Beta-Glucan, and Blood Pressure (animal study): Raj et al (2020)38 investigated the blood pressure-lowering effects of oat avenanthramides and beta-glucan, alone or in combination, on male rats with high blood pressure. After 15 weeks of treatment, beta-glucan alone prevented an increase in blood pressure, but the avenanthramide by itself or combined with beta-glucan did not. These findings indicate that it is the beta-glucan in oats, rather than avenanthramides, that help to reduce blood pressure. 
  • Oat Fiber and Secondary Prevention (observational): Wu et al (2019)39 conducted a study of 716 coronary artery disease patients to determine the effects of oat fiber intake on the risk of future adverse cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or death). Individuals who consumed at least 3 grams per day of oat beta-glucan (n = 242) had a 38 percent lower risk of having a future cardiovascular event after approximately 26 months than those who consumed less than 3 grams of oat fiber per day. 
  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Cholesterol (review): Ho et al (2016),40* Whitehead et al (2014),41* and Othman et al (2011)42 reviewed the literature on the cholesterol-lowering effects of oat beta-glucan. These reviews all concluded that consuming at least 3 to 3.5 grams of oat beta-glucan per day can significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. The analyses did not reveal any significant differences in HDL (good) cholesterol or triglyceride (fat in the blood) levels with beta-glucan consumption.

Diabetes Management

Compounds in oats, including beta-glucan and oligopeptides, have been shown to reduce blood glucose levels and improve the body’s ability to use insulin.

  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Diabetes Markers (animal study, review, interventional): Guo et al (2023)43 studied the effects of oat beta-glucan on diabetic mice and found that it significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels and improved glucose tolerance (the body’s response to sugar) and insulin sensitivity (how well cells respond to the hormone that controls blood sugar levels). A review of human studies by Chen et al (2022)44* also revealed that consumption of oats and oat beta-glucan improved hemoglobin A1c levels and lowered fasting glucose levels among adults with type 2 diabetes. Pino et al (2021)45 studied 37 diabetic adults who consumed either 5 grams of oat beta-glucan (n = 20) or 5 grams of an insoluble fiber (n = 17) per day for 12 weeks. At the end of the study period, the oat beta-glucan group had lower levels of hemoglobin A1c, increased feelings of satiety, and improvements in gut health compared to the insoluble fiber group. 
  • Oat Extracts and Diabetic Rats (animal study): Algonaiman et al (2022)46 investigated how fermented and unfermented oat extracts would impact diabetic rats. The rats were injected with a chemical called streptozotocin to mimic symptoms and markers of type 2 diabetes. The researchers discovered that both oat extracts helped the diabetic rats bring their blood glucose, triglyceride (fats in the blood), and cholesterol levels back to normal.  
  • Oat Intake and Diabetes Risk (review): Wehrli et al (2021)47 reviewed observational studies that examined a link between oat consumption and diabetes risk. They found that eating oats appeared to be associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes but cautioned that the studies reviewed did not provide causal evidence to make any definitive conclusions.
  • Oat Oligopeptides and Diabetic Rats (animal study): Wang et al (2019)48 examined the effects of compounds called oligopeptides in oats on diabetes markers in rats. Varying amounts of oat oligopeptides were given to different diabetic rats, and the researchers found that higher doses of oligopeptides resulted in greater reductions in blood sugar levels and improvements in insulin sensitivity (a measure of the body’s ability to use insulin effectively).  
  • Oatmeal Consumption and Insulin Resistance (interventional): Fifteen patients hospitalized with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes participated in a study by Delgado et al (2018).49 During the first two out of five days in the hospital, patients received a diabetes-adapted diet (1,200 calories per day), and on the third and fourth days, patients received 100 grams of oats at every meal while staying within 1,100 to 1,200 total calories per day. On the fifth day, patients went back to the diet without oatmeal. On days 3 and 4, when patients consumed oatmeal, their insulin doses were significantly reduced compared to day 2. Although blood glucose levels did not change immediately, hemoglobin A1c levels were reduced four weeks after the intervention period, indicating a potential long-term effect of oat consumption on blood sugar levels.
  • Oats, Weight, and Diabetes (interventional): Li et al (2016)50 studied how oat consumption would impact blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and weight among 298 overweight patients with type 2 diabetes. The subjects were given one of the following: usual care (n = 60), a low-fat, high-fiber diet (n = 79), a low-fat, high-fiber diet including 50 grams of oats (n = 80), or the same diet with 100 grams of oats (n = 79). During a 30-day observation period, both of the oat-consuming groups had significant reductions in post-meal blood sugar levels and total cholesterol levels. After continuing with the same intervention protocols at home for one year, the group that consumed 100 grams of oats had the greatest amount of weight loss. 

Digestive Health

Studies indicate that eating oats can increase good bacteria in the gut, which may have benefits for digestion and other markers of health including cholesterol levels. However, the results are largely inconsistent because of variations in experimental techniques and the specific compounds assessed,51 so more research is needed to produce conclusive evidence.

  • Oats and Digestive Health (review): Valido et al (2021)52 reviewed the literature for associations between oat intake, gastrointestinal symptoms, and gut microbiota (the bacteria in the digestive tract). They determined that oat intake increased the amount of good bacteria in the gut among individuals without gastrointestinal disorders and among patients with celiac disease. Oat consumption did not appear to have any consistent positive or negative impact on gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g. nausea, diarrhea, constipation). Korczak et al (2020)53 also performed a review of human, animal, and lab studies that examined a relationship between oat intake and digestion, and found that eating at least 2.5 grams of oat beta-glucan per day can decrease the acidity of the stool, which is a marker of gastrointestinal health. However, an earlier review from Thies et al (2014)54* found a lack of evidence to support the notion that oats may be beneficial for preventing or treating inflammatory bowel disorders or colorectal cancer. 

Weight Management

Because of their high fiber and protein content, consuming oats often increases satiety and decreases appetite, which can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight. 

  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Digestion Time (interventional): Gotteland et al (2023)55 studied 14 healthy subjects who ate breakfast with oat beta-glucan on one day and without it on a separate day at least one week before or after. When they consumed the oat beta-glucan, the time it took for food to move through the digestive tract was slowed and appetite was decreased, compared to when they did not have beta-glucan. 
  • Oats and Appetite (review): Shehzad et al (2023)56 performed a literature review that revealed oat consumption and/or beta-glucan supplementation may have a positive effect on weight management through increased satiety and lower post-meal blood sugar levels. They were not, however, able to determine the exact components of oats that affect specific satiety signals in the body. 
  • Avenanthramides, Weight, and Inflammation (animal study): Zhang et al (2020)57 examined high-fat-diet-induced obese mice that were fed oat compounds called avenanthramides. The consumption of these compounds significantly reduced the mice’s weight gain compared to control mice, and also improved cholesterol levels, decreased blood glucose levels, reduced the expression of genes associated with inflammation, and regulated intestinal bacteria. The researchers concluded that the observed reduction in weight gain was likely due to the avenanthramides’ ability to minimize inflammation.
  • Long-Term Oat Intake and Weight Loss (interventional): When Li et al (2016)50 studied the effects of oat consumption on overweight diabetic adults (see above), they found that long-term consumption of 100 grams of oats per day led to more weight loss than a low-fat, high-fiber diet alone.
  • Oat Beta-Glucan and Satiety (review): Rebello et al (2016)58 conducted a review of the effects of oat beta-glucan on satiety. The majority of studies reviewed concluded that oat beta-glucan increased feelings of satiety, although the exact reasons for this association are not clear. 

Potential Negative Effects: While oat consumption is generally healthy and safe, some individuals may experience negative effects.

  • Because of its high fiber content, oats can cause gas and bloating.59,60 Those who do not often consume oats should eat them in small quantities to reduce any digestive discomfort.60 People with sensitive stomachs or digestive disorders may need to avoid or limit oat consumption.60
  • Although oats help increase satiety and decrease appetite, which can be beneficial for some people, too much appetite suppression may lead to malnutrition and muscle wasting.60
  • Oats in their natural form are a gluten-free product. During processing, however, they may undergo cross-contamination with wheat and other products containing gluten. Therefore, individuals with celiac disease or extreme gluten sensitivities should be careful to consume only oat products that are certified gluten-free.59 

Cooking tips: Oats are usually purchased in a sealed bag or carton and should be stored in an airtight container (glass, metal, or plastic) in a cool place.61 It is best to consume oats within one year of purchasing.61 Unprocessed oats such as steel-cut varieties may turn rancid more quickly than processed varieties (e.g. old-fashioned or instant).62 To keep oats fresh longer, they can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.62 

When making oatmeal, cooking time will vary depending on the type of oats being used. Steel-cut oats take up to 30 minutes or more to cook63 while old-fashioned oats need only five minutes.64 It is recommended to soak steel-cut oats for at least six hours prior to cooking, which will help improve digestibility and reduce cooking time.65 

To maintain the healthfulness of oats, it is best to avoid adding too much sugar or sweetened toppings such as brown sugar, maple syrup, or chocolate chips.66 The American Heart Association recommends cooking or soaking oats in milk and adding nuts and/or fruit to make a heart-healthy breakfast.67


Baked Oatmeal and Breakfast Bars
1-Bowl Baked Oatmeal (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
Amish-Style Baked Oatmeal with Apples, Raisins, and Walnuts (Once Upon A Chef)
Baked Apple Oatmeal (EatingWell)
Baked Oatmeal Bars (Chocolate Covered Katie)
Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries and Bananas (Skinny Taste)
Blueberry Baked Oatmeal (Cookie and Kate)
Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal Cups (Ambitious Kitchen)
Oat Avocado-Berry Breakfast Bars (American Heart Association)
Lemon-Blueberry Oatmeal Bars (EatingWell)

Best Oatmeal Cookies (Bon Appetit)
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (Preppy Kitchen)
Oatmeal Cookies (Cooking Classy)
Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies (Allrecipes)
Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
Soft Oatmeal Cookies (Allrecipes)

The Best Healthy Apple Crisp (Ambitious Kitchen)
No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Squares (Cookies and Cups)
Old-Fashioned Easy Apple Crisp (The Chunky Chef)
Raspberry Jam Oat Bars (Recipe Tin Eats)
Strawberry Oatmeal Bars (Well Plated by Erin)
Triple Berry Crisp (Tastes Better from Scratch)

Granola (Food Network)
Homemade Granola (Love and Lemons)
The Very Best Granola (Cookie and Kate)

Muffins and Pancakes
Applesauce Oat Muffins (Tastes Better from Scratch)
Banana Oat Muffins (Allrecipes)
Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins (Sally’s Baking Addiction)
Easy Oatmeal Pancakes (The Kitchn)
Oat Bran Muffins (MyPlate)
Oatmeal Pancakes (Well Plated by Erin)

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal (Barefeet in the Kitchen)
Banana Oatmeal (Chocolate Covered Katie)
Blueberry Cinnamon Oatmeal (Sugar Dish Me)
Brown Sugar Cinnamon Oatmeal (Seduction in the Kitchen)
How to Make the Best Oatmeal (Cookie and Kate)
How to Make Oatmeal (Feel Good Foodie)
Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal (One Sweet Appetite)
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal (New York Times Cooking)
The Ultimate 90-Second Microwave Oatmeal (The Lemon Bowl)

Overnight Oats
Banana Bread Overnight Oats (American Heart Association)
Easy Overnight Oats (Downshiftology)
Easy Overnight Oats (Feel Good Foodie)
Peanut Butter Protein Overnight Oats (EatingWell)
Tres Leches-Inspired Overnight Oats (EatingWell)
Tropical Overnight Oatmeal (MyPlate)

Classic Meatloaf with Oatmeal (The Spruce Eats)
Easy Savory Oatmeal Bowls (The Mediterranean Dish)
Meatloaf with Oatmeal (Momsdish)
Savory Oatmeal with Cheddar and Fried Egg (Healthy Nibbles)
Savory Oatmeal with Greens and Yogurt (New York Times Cooking)

Oatmeal Smoothie (Well Plated by Erin)
Peanut Butter Oatmeal Smoothie (Chef Savvy)
Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Smoothie (Allrecipes)

Healthy 5-Ingredient Granola Bars (Minimalist Baker)
No-Bake Energy Bites (Allrecipes)
Oat Snack Cakes (MyPlate)
Soft and Chewy Granola Bars (Inspired Taste)

Learn More: 

Online medical websites

News articles

Peer-reviewed articles

* = industry-funded study

Cultivation and Processing


Treatment Overview/Multiple Conditions

Cancer Treatment

Cardiovascular Health

Diabetes Management

Digestive Health

Weight Management




Social Media 




Search Terms:


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