Although conventional knowledge holds whole grains in high esteem, most people seem to acknowledge that wheat might not be quite the health food it’s cracked up to be. It’s also now fairly well accepted that most breakfast cereals are little more than junk food in disguise.

A breakfast of porridge oats, however, has become synonymous with a healthy diet. Promising ‘slow release energy’, ‘heart healthy’ and the like have become ingrained the conventional wisdom surrounding diet. Is there any justification for this belief however?

As we have seen in many of these diet debates, often much of what we believe regarding nutrition has no actual basis in fact! In order to try and answer the question of “Is porridge healthy”, I’m going to take look at it a little more closely.

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Energy

Porridge oats are renowned as an excellent source of slow release energy, which will keep you going throughout the day. I would have to agree, that porridge is a good source of energy. Whether this is a good thing or not however, all depends upon your individual needs.

If you are highly active, have low body fat, and/or are looking to gain weight, getting sufficient energy should be a high priority, and oats can be a cheap, convenient, relatively sustainable, and tasty way to supply it.

If however, you are largely sedentary, and are happy with your current body fat levels, or would actually like to reduce them, eating high energy foods are probably not the best solution, no matter what rate it is released at. If you were a client, I would suggest switching to another plant food with a lower energy density as a better option.

Raw Materials

Much of porridge’s good reputation has to do with its high soluble fibre content. Soluble fibre has been shown to reduce levels of bad LDL cholesterol.

While there is much controversy over the whole cholesterol debate, I think there is probably some truth in the benefits of soluble fibre, most likely due to its probiotic effect. Fibre is not an essential nutrient, however, so what about porridge as a source of raw materials?

Check out the nutrition data for porridge oats on nutritiondata.com. At first glance, porridge looks like a pretty nutritious food, with a broad range of vitamins and minerals, fairly decent protein score, and plenty of fibre.

Porridge Oats are very high in phytates, which are found in many plant foods, as they are the principal form of storage of phosphorous in plant tissues, particularly in grains, legumes and seeds. Phytates are indigestible to humans and so aren’t a dietary source of phosphorous for us.

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Phytates  chelate to other minerals in food such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, which prevents them from being absorbed via digestion. The good news is however, that soaking and fermenting can significantly reduce the pyhtate content of grains, and thereby increase the mineral and nutrient bio-availability.

Pleasure

I really like porridge, and always have done. Or do I? What I really like is porridge with dried fruit, bananas and honey… porridge with lots of extra sugar!

Plain porridge made with just oats and water? Not so much, and I’m sure that’s true for most people.

Is Porridge for You?

Whether porridge is a suitable food for you depends largely upon your goals. If your goal is weight loss, or weight maintenance and health, it is probably best to keep porridge oat consumption to a minimum.

Porridge may be filling, but if you consider that 100g of oats contains around 350-400 kcals, you could eat 3 x large 50g eggs (200-250 kcals, and around 400g of Spinach (approx 200 kcals), nearly 1/2 a kg of food for the same amount of energy.

This increased food volume, and the higher protein content will fill you up just as long, if not longer than the porridge with fewer calories, and also provide much more essential nutrition, in a more easily digestible form.

Alternatively, if eggs and spinach aren’t your thing, how about 250g Natural Full Fat Yoghurt (approx 150kcals), with 250g Fresh Strawberries (approx 75kcals). Again around 1/2kg of food but with just a little over half the calories, and packed with bio-available nutrients.

If you want the increased energy density because you are highly active and/or want to gain weight, porridge can be a good choice, if you soak the grain overnight first. Ideally, soak grain in some live dairy (think natural yoghurt or buttermilk) and some buckwheat which is high in the enzyme phytase, which helps break down phytic acid.

Once the phytates are broken down, oats are a relatively “safe starch”. They do contain a gluten-like substance, avenin, but it seems much less problematic, and it is low in fructans. Fructans are the indigestible carbohydrates in wheat which often cause digestive distress in I.B.S. sufferers and those sensitive to FODMAPS.

Combine it with some nutrient dense, low toxin foods such as Raw Organic Grass Fed Milk, Grass Fed Butter, Organic Eggs, Organic Fruits and Berries etc, and you’re onto a winner. Oats also have the advantage of being relatively cheap, and fairly sustainable, being one of the crops most naturally suited to the UK climate.

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