MOST people pay little attention to the flakes in their morning muesli, but those oats are a true “superfood”. They can lower blood-sugar and cholesterol levels and protect gut flora as well, thereby helping to prevent cancer.

Oats are also very filling, keeping hunger at bay long after breakfast. And they can be used to make hearty dishes and baked goods.

“What’s particularly important in oats is a special kind of dietary fibre: beta-glucans,” says Johannes Gottfried Mayer, head of the research group on monastic medicine at the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute for History of Medicine. “Beta-glucans prevent a large rise in blood-sugar levels, which is especially beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.”

Studies have shown that insulin-dependent diabetics can reduce their insulin requirement by a third with a predominantly oat-based diet on just two days a month. The effects of an “oat day” last two to three weeks, Mayer says.

His personal tip: “I find that oats taste best if you get yourself a groat cutter and always prepare them fresh. This gives them a completely different aroma.”

The grain has other health benefits as well. For instance, the 4.5 grams of beta-glucans in 100 grams of oats protect the mucous membrane that lines the digestive tract, notes Silke Restemeyer, a spokesperson for the German Nutrition Society.

“What’s more, beta-glucans are thought to bind to bile acids and thereby increase their excretion, making the body draw on cholesterol to produce more bile acid,” she says. This lowers cholesterol levels.

Along with dietary fibre, oats are rich in B vitamins, adds German nutritionist Inga Pfannebecker, who has written a book about the benefits – and variations – of oat and porridge breakfasts.

Oats are also a good source of energy – comparable to rice. “They have 332 calories per 100 grams,” Restemeyer says, pointing out that the carbohydrates in oats are long-chained.

“This means they’re broken down more slowly than simple sugars,” causing blood-sugar levels to rise more gradually. As a result, you feel sated longer and don’t have such an abrupt drop-off in energy later.–

Despite their many health benefits, oats should be eaten in moderation, Pfannebecker advises. “Grain in general is relatively high in calories, so you shouldn’t overdo it.”

She says an ideal portion of oatmeal consists of 40 to 50 grams, which contain roughly 150 to 180 calories. Pfannebecker recommends eating oats with foods containing protein, such as milk, curd cheese or yoghurt. This is even more filling.

“To aid the absorption of the iron contained in oats,” she says, “you should eat them in combination with vitamin C – with fresh fruit or juice, for example.” – dpa