A Brief History of Oats — And How You Should Eat Them

First published at www.johnberardi.com, Sept 5 2003.

Despite their widespread praise by nutritionists and bodybuilders alike, oats have a humble origin. They were the last of the major cereal grains to be domesticated, around 3,000 years ago in Europe, and apparently originated as weeds that grew within cultivated fields of various other crops.

Part of the reason why people were slow to embrace oats is because they go rancid very quickly, due to the presence of natural fats and a fat dissolving enzyme present in the grain. As a result, they have to be processed immediately after harvesting. The fats in oats are relatively healthy, with a lipid breakdown of 21% saturated, 37% monounsaturated, and 43% polyunsaturated.

Greeks and Romans considered oats to be nothing more than a diseased version of wheat. Oats were a lowly horse food for the Romans, who scoffed at the "oat-eating barbarians", or those pesky Germanic tribes who eventually toppled the West Roman Empire. Come to think of it, the Romans were never able to conquer the Scots. Big oat eaters, those Scots. Oats 2, Romans 0.

Even today, less than 5% of the oats now grown commercially are for human consumption. The chief value of oats remains as a pasturage and hay crop, especially for horses. Thousands of years and several empires later, most people still haven’t caught-on.

Oats, What’s So Good About Them?

Oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain. Soluble fiber is the kind that dissolves in water, so the body turns it into a kind of thick, viscous gel, which moves very slowly through your body. One of the benefits is that your stomach stays fuller longer, providing satiety. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose into the body, which means you're going to avoid those nasty sugar highs and lows. Last but not least, it inhibits the re-absorption of bile into the system, forcing your liver to get its cholesterol fix from your blood. This serves to lower your blood-serum cholesterol. See what the Romans were missing?

Oats also have anti-inflammatory properties, and have been clinically shown to help heal dry, itchy skin. Oats are also highly absorptive, hypoallergenic, and help to soften skin, if you’re into that kind of thing. They have the best amino acid balance of all the cereal grains, and thus can be used as water-binding agents in skin care products. Oat grains and straw appear in shampoos, dusting powders, moisturizers, cleansing bars, breast implants, and astronaut suits. OK, maybe those last two are figments of my imagination.

Varieties of Oats

From least to most processed:

Oat groats, or whole oats: These are minimally processed, only by removing the outer hull. They are very nutritious, but need to be cooked and/or soaked for a long period of time to so you don’t break your teeth on them.

Oat bran: This is the outer casing that is removed from the groats. The bran is particularly high in soluble fiber. Oat bran is very versatile, and can be used with groats or alone, and as an addition to baking recipes, or even raw in shakes.

Steel-cut oats, or Irish oats: These are groats that have been chopped into small pieces. They have a firmer texture than rolled oats, and people in the know often prefer them for hot oatmeal cereals and muesli. A tip on purchasing steel-cut oats: some of the name brand varieties are prohibitively expensive, so search for them in bulk, where you can fill an entire tub of protein powder (empty it first!) for $5 US.

Rolled oats, or old-fashioned oats: These are oat groats that are steamed and flattened with huge rollers so that they cook quicker, in about 5 to 15 minutes.

Quick oats: These are groats that have been cut into several pieces before being steamed and rolled into thinner flakes, thus reducing the cooking time to 3-5 minutes. While they cook quicker, any oat aficionado will tell you that they lack the hearty texture and nutty flavor of the less-processed varieties.

Instant oats: These are made by chopping groats into tiny pieces, precooking them, drying them, then smashing them with a big roller. They need only be mixed with a hot liquid. They usually have flavorings and salt added. All of this processing removes all traces of the original texture and rich flavor of the groats.

Oat flour: Oat flour is made from groats that have been ground into a powder, and contains no gluten so it does not rise like wheat flour. It can also be made at home by grinding rolled oats into a powder in a blender.


Enough rambling-on about fallen empires and baby-soft skin, it’s time for the lowdown on how to cook these little miracle grains. I’m always baffled when I hear people say how much they despise oats. Maybe they’re not so good if you use the quick oats, plain, cooked in the microwave, with dishwater, while being whipped by giant fish heads. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t impressed with the taste of my blueberry oatmeal. And I’ve introduced it to a lot of people. Roommates, parents, friends, friends of friends, girlfriends, roommate’s girlfriends, family and friends of girlfriends; nary an unsatisfied consumer, yet.

By the way, all of these recipes are compatible with John Berardi’s dietary advice outlined in his Massive Eating and Don’t Diet plans. In other words, protein is included with every meal, and large amounts of carbs and fat are avoided in the same meal. In case you weren’t paying attention earlier, the oat is a grain, thus making it a carbohydrate source. So all of the following recipes are for P+C meals.

Blueberry Oatmeal

Here it is, the breakfast that fulfills your every nutritional want and desire. A little warning: once you go steel-cut, there’s no going back. This recipe makes a large bowl of oatmeal, which I usually eat during Massive Eating phases. You can reduce the ingredients if you want fewer carbs and overall k/cals during dieting phases.


1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1/3 cup oat bran
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1.5 scoops chocolate whey protein powder
Water, as directed
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of cinnamon (big dash)
Dash of Splenda (big dash)


Add steel cut oats into 3 to 4 cups of water at night before you go to bed. Bring to a boil, simmer a couple of minutes, then remove from heat, cover the pot, and hit the hay. The longer you simmer and/or the more water you use, the larger the bowl of oatmeal, as the oats tend to soak up water like a sponge.

In the AM, bring the oats to a simmer once again on medium-low heat, adding the salt, cinnamon, and raw oat bran. Continue stirring and simmering for 5 minutes, or until you get the desired thickness (you may have to simmer for longer to boil-off some of the water). Turn off the heat, then add the frozen blueberries and some Splenda.

Stir until the blueberries are melted, thus cooling the oatmeal and allowing the protein powder to be added. The consistency should be fairly thick, especially after the oat bran has been added and cooked a bit. You might need to add some water in the AM, depending on how much was boiled-off the night before.

Macronutrient Profile:

k/cal: 699
Fat (g): 13 (2.5s, 4.7m, 4.6p)
Carbs: 111 (20 fiber)
Protein: 54

Strawberry-Banana Oatmeal

Given that you will probably never tire of the blueberry oatmeal, you might be tempted to neglect this recipe. But give it a try; variety is good!


1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1/3 cup oat bran
3/4 cup frozen or fresh strawberries
1 medium banana, sliced
1.5 scoops strawberry or vanilla whey protein powder
Water, as directed
¼ teaspoon salt
Dash of cinnamon (big dash)


In the evening, prepare the oats in the same manner as the Blueberry Oatmeal recipe. Again in the morning, bring the oats to a simmer and add the banana, salt, cinnamon, and oat bran. Keep stirring and simmer until you have the desired consistency (10 minutes or so), remove from heat, and stir-in the strawberries and protein powder.

Macronutrient Profile:

k/cal: 696
Fat (g): 11 (2.3s, 3.9m, 3.7p)
Carbs: 116 (19 fiber)
Protein: 50

Baked Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

If you’re in the mood for a hearty meal to feed that insatiable P+C demon inside of you, this one might just appease the beast.


3 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup oat bran
1 large apple, chopped (I prefer Macintosh)
4 scoops vanilla or strawberry protein powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
4 cups water
1 tsp vanilla extract


Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. In a separate container combine water and vanilla. Combine all ingredients, stirring gently. Pour into 8" x 8" baking dish, coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the oatmeal is tender. Over baking will result in dry oatmeal.

If you really want to make it special, put it in a bowl and pour a little milk over it. The two go hand in hand.

Makes 4 servings

Macronutrient Profile, per serving:

k/cal: 520
Fat (g): 9 (2s, 3m, 4p)
Carbs: 85 (15 fiber)
Protein: 35

Apple Cobbler Protein Bars

I took great pains to create a P+C protein bar that is not as dry and chewy as Fido’s rubber bone. These bars provide a multi-layer gooey goodness that appeases even the most finicky of eaters. Just leave out the “protein bars” in the title if you’re feeding them to a disbeliever.

1 cup oat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
6 scoops strawberry or vanilla whey protein powder
2/3 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 jumbo egg white
1 cup oat bran
1 cup granulated Splenda
1 cup applesauce, unsweetened
2 tbsp honey
1 large apple, chopped
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 tbsp olive oil


Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Combine these in a large bowl: oat flour, whole wheat flour, salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and most of the Splenda, leaving a couple of tablespoons for later. Stir these dry ingredients together.

Put the yogurt, egg white, vanilla extract, and olive oil in a blender, and turn it on low. Add the protein powder 1 scoop at a time, until thoroughly blended. Pour this mixture into the bowl, and stir together until it has the consistency of dough.

Coat a 8X12 inch baking pan with cooking spray, then pour the mixture into the pan, flattening it up to the edges.

Next, mix the applesauce, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, chopped apple, and honey together, and pour over the top of the dough mixture in the pan, spreading evenly.

Sprinkle the oat bran over the top, until thoroughly and evenly covered, then sprinkle the remaining Splenda over the top.

Bake for 15 minutes at 350-degrees F, and then switch to broil for 3-4 minutes, just until top is slightly browned. Be careful not to overcook.

Makes 12 bars.

Macronutrient Profile (each serving)

K/cal: 183
Fat: 3 g (1s, 1m, 1p)
Carbs: 27g (4 fiber)
Protein: 16 g

Cranberry Oat Brownies

These are simple, quick, and delicious, combining nutritious ingredients that all compliment one another.

1 ½ cups rolled oats, ground into a powder in a food processor
1 cup whole wheat flour
5 scoops chocolate protein powder
1 cup granulated Splenda
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/3 cup applesauce
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, mixing briefly. Add the yogurt, applesauce, and oil to a food processor, and mix on low.

Add the protein powder into this mixture, while blending, one scoop at a time, until thoroughly blended.

Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, add the honey, and stir together until everything is mixed well.

Pour the dough into a 8X12 inch cooking dish, and bake at 350-degrees F for 10-12 minutes (don’t cook it too long or it will lose it’s chewy texture and moisture).

Makes 8 brownies.

Macronutrient Profile, per brownie:
k/cal: 253
Fat (g): 4 (0.8s, 2.2m, 0.9p)
Carbs: 37 (4 fiber)
Protein: 18

Cranberry-Orange Whole Grain Loaf

If you want to surprise your family with a tasty side dish at Thanksgiving, throw one of these on the table. Or make a loaf any other time of the year to fulfill those macronutrient requirements.

1.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
4 scoops strawberry or vanilla whey protein powder (for the love of God, don’t use chocolate, ech!)
0.5 cups water
Juice from 1 orange
Grated peel from 1 orange (don’t go overboard on the peel, or it gets bitter)
½ cup applesauce
½ tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp baking powder
Dash of ground nutmeg (small dash)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup dried cranberries
2 teaspoons whole flax seeds*
½ cup granulated Splenda


Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and mix with a large wooden spoon.

Add the water, applesauce, oil, vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Using a fine grater, shave the outer skin from an orange, until obtaining about 2 tablespoons of grated peel. Add the grated peel, and squeeze the orange into the mix, removing any seeds.

Divide the mixture into two loaf pans, coated with cooking spray. Cook for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.

*Whole flax seeds are not digested, unless you spend 20 minutes chewing every bite. They are added to this recipe more for texture, so don’t worry about the chewing thing. For the nutritional information, half of the given seeds were included in the macronutrient profile, which is based on the assumption that half of the seeds will pass straight through you.

Macronutrient Profile, per 1/3 loaf:

k/cal: 327
Fat (g): 5 (1s, 2m, 2p)
Carbs: 53 (7 fiber)
Protein: 22

Ginger Apricot Scones

Well, well…aren’t we fancy with our homemade scones? Don’t worry, if the guys in the gym ask you what you’re eating, you can just call them “protein pucks”.

1 cup whole-wheat flour, plus ½ cup of wheat flour, set aside
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup oat flour
6 scoops strawberry whey protein powder
¾ cup dried apricots, chopped
½ cup applesauce
2-inch cube of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
¼ cup granulated Splenda
1 ¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup nonfat dry milk powder
½ cup water
½ tbsp canola or olive oil


Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl (except the ½ cup whole wheat flour). To make the oat flour, process 1 cup of rolled oats in a blender on high, until transformed into a fine powder.

Add the applesauce and water, and mix until a soft dough is formed. Spoon-out 1/3 of the dough and place on a floured surface. Sprinkle flour over the top of the pile, and flatten into a 3/4 –inch thick circular patty. Cut the circle into four wedges (twice crosswise). Place each wedge on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray. Repeat for the remaining 3rds of the dough.

Cook for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Makes 12 scones

Macronutrient Profile, per scone:

k/cal: 189
Fat (g): 3 (0.5s, 1.5m, 1p)
Carbs: 27 (4 fiber)
Protein: 14

Savory Oatmeal Recipes

All right, there are enough recipes above to satisfy the sweet tooth of your average Krispy Kreme junkie. But don’t be fooled into thinking that oats are synonymous with the adjectives “fruity” or “sugary”. The versatility of oats is endless, and the following savory recipes will put to rest any misperceptions of some schmaltzy sucrose addict feverishly devouring a tray of oat brownies. Here are some recipes that hark back to the time of the “oat-eating barbarians”.


You won’t find many Levantines eating a sugary bowl of cereal for breakfast. Shakshuka, a seasoned mixture of tomatoes and eggs, is a common breakfast in the Eastern Mediterranean. Here is a version with the added goodness of oats.

1/3 cup steel-cut oats
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 large egg, whole
¾ cup raw egg whites
salt and pepper, to taste


Bring the oats, tomatoes, and tomato paste to a boil in 2 cups of water. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 25 minutes.

Sauté the onion and garlic in a skillet coated with cooking spray and add these to the pot when the oats have finished cooking. The consistency should be thick, but a little soupy. More water may need to be added at this point to achieve the desired consistency.

Spread the whole egg and egg whites over the surface, stirring gently to break the yolk. Cover and simmer for an additional 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve it up.

Macronutrient Profile:

k/cal: 516
Fat (g): 10 (2.3s, 3.2m, 2.5p)
Carbs: 71 (13 fiber)
Protein: 40

Oat-Chicken Salad

This recipe is light and refreshing, for those hot August days when a steaming bowl of oats is the last thing on your mind.

Chicken breast, 6 oz cooked
½ cup steel-cut oats
1 large tomato, chopped
1 large cucumber, chopped
2 scallions, diced
1/3 cup fresh mint and/or parsley, chopped
Juice from 1 fresh lemon
Dash of salt
2 large romaine leaves


I usually grill a few pounds of chicken breasts and store them in Ziploc bags in the fridge for a quick protein fix. Slice one of these chicken breasts and put aside for later.

Place the oats in a pot and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 20 minutes, then drain. When well drained and slightly cooled, mix the oats with the tomato, cucumber, scallions, mint/parsley, lemon juice and salt. Cover and refrigerate until cool.

Serve over the romaine leaves and top with the sliced chicken breast.

Macronutrient Profile:

k/cal: 700
Fat (g): 13 (2.9s, 3.9m, 3.7p)
Carbs: 77 (15 fiber)
Protein: 72

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Here is a hearty recipe that combines the goodness of oats, good quality protein, and plenty of antioxidants from the veggies and spices.

12 oz ground turkey breast (98% lean)
1 cup whole groats, or steel-cut oats
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 whole green bell peppers
1 tsp ground cumin
1 dash dried red chili pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups chicken broth, from bouillon

Preheat oven to 325-degrees F.

Sauté the oats and garlic in a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray on medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until they start to brown. Begin adding the chicken broth to the skillet ½ cup at a time, until 2 cups of broth have been absorbed. Set the oats aside in a large bowl.

In the same skillet, stir-fry the ground turkey with the onions until the turkey is cooked throughout, and then add the chopped tomatoes, cumin, ground chili pepper, and salt/pepper. Add this turkey mixture to the oats, and stir together.

Cut the top off each bell pepper and scoop out the seeds and membrane, being careful not to break the peppers. Fill each pepper with the ground turkey-oat mixture and place in a baking dish. Add the remaining 1 cup of chicken broth to the baking dish, and cover first with plastic wrap and then tin foil (the plastic wrap will not allow the tin foil to stick to the peppers). Bake the stuffed chili peppers for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Makes 2 servings.

Macronutrient Profile, per serving:

k/cal: 709
Fat (g): 11 (2.3s, 2.9m, 3.8p)
Carbs: 95 (18 fiber)
Protein: 61

Tex-Mex Chicken-Vegetable-Grain Medley

If you’re short on time and need a quick fix, this one’s easy to prepare and is tasty to boot. If you really want to decrease your cooking time, you can make the oats in bulk at the beginning of the week.

Chicken breast, grilled, 6 oz. cooked weight, cubed
Whole groats or steel-cut oats, ½ cup dry
Frozen vegetable mix (corn, peas, and carrots), ½ cup
1 stalk celery, chopped
Red bell pepper, ½ medium, chopped
2 tbsp barbecue sauce

Boil the oats in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed. When the oats are cooked, it’s very simple: just stir all of the ingredients together in a pot on medium-low heat, until everything is warm. It can also be nuked.

Macronutrient Profile:
k/cal: 770
Fat (g): 13 (2.3s, 4m, 3.5p)
Carbs: 91 (14 fiber)
Protein: 71

These recipes should provide plenty of opportunities to turn those oats into something much more than a mushy, tasteless breakfast. Now it’s time to go out and buy enough of these grains to fill all of the empty protein powder tubs that litter your house. Bon appetite!

John Williams is an archaeologist by training but his free time is occupied with eating well, training hard, and learning more about fitness and nutrition. John can be contacted at [email protected].

Article written by John K Williams

John Williams is an archaeologist by training but his free time is occupied with eating well, training hard, and learning more about fitness and nutrition.