As those of you who follow me on social media know, some of my favorite childhood memories are those that include food. One of my first memories of my Dad is of him making oatmeal on a Saturday morning and watching cartoons with a bowl of hot oatmeal in my hands.
Now that I am older, I still find myself eating oatmeal for comfort, or as I am doing homework late at night and yes, while watching television. While CNN might have replaced my Saturday morning cartoons, my love of oatmeal has never changed.
Is there something magical about oatmeal or is it just the memory connection? I would say probably both but first let’s look at the importance of breakfast in recovery and then examine the nutritional benefits of oatmeal further.
The Importance of Breakfast in Recovery
We all have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but breakfast becomes an even more vitally important meal for people in recovery. It’s because breakfast can set the tone and temperament of your body and brain for the entire day. Too many people skip breakfast as they run out the door for work or think coffee alone is breakfast. Both are wrong, as when you wake in the morning your body is both dehydrated and your glucose reserves are low and by skipping breakfast you set your morning on a HANGRY rollercoaster that may last for the rest of the day.
Ok, now that I have hopefully convinced you to take the time to eat breakfast, what foods should you eat? Keep in mind that high-protein foods tend to wake us up and the complex carbohydrate of whole grains tends to help keep us calm and regular. A combination of the two makes for a good start to the day.
While the traditional hearty American breakfast of eggs with all the trimmings has come under attack from every corner in the last decade and with good reason (as it is high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar, thus remarkably low in nutrient value), too many of us still choose to pick up a fast food version of our American breakfast on our way to work. And if you look at the cold cereals that stock our grocery shelves as a fast alternative for breakfast, many are packed full of simple sugars and refined grains. So what should you eat?
In recovery, a breakfast of whole grains, hot or cold breakfast cereals, or whole-grain breads, muffins, waffles, or pancakes with a side of a healthy protein such as a greek yogurt, an organic hard boiled egg, or a scrambled egg is the best way to maintain energy through the day and build resilience to stress.
Many of us still have a lot of preconceived notions about what constitutes a breakfast food. Many cultures start the day with fish or beans and corn bread. A tuna salad on whole-grain toast would make an excellent breakfast, as would a whole grain english muffin with nut butter but most of us would classify this as lunch or dinner fare. So keep in mind that many recipes outside the breakfast section of your favorite cookbook would make for a super breakfast and as a result last night’s leftovers are often great morning foods options.
Oats: A Superfood for Recovery
Now let’s unravel the mysteries of oatmeal. The grain oats started from humble beginnings as a weed in the barley and wheat fields and later became the staple grain of Ireland, Scotland, and northern England.
Oat groats (the harvested “as-is” product) are cleaned, dried, and toasted to crack the inedible kernel (or hull) surrounding the oat. Hulled oat groats taste more like wheat than the oatmeal we know, and they can be used in soups or breads or cooked like buckwheat.
To make “old-fashioned” rolled oats, the hulled groat is heated and rolled. Steel-cut oats are sliced with thin blades. Quick-cooking rolled oats are heated and sliced an additional time and then prepared as rolled oats. Instant oatmeal comes from precooked oats that are dried and rolled thin.
Oat flour makes a coarse but firm crust with a slightly nutty flavor. It is a good extender for other foods, especially meats.
Oats are a whole-grain food, known scientifically as Avena sativa. Oats (also known as the common oat) are among the healthiest grains on earth and are considered by many to be a superfood. A superfood are foods that are nutritionally dense and thus good for one’s health. These foods provide a high nutritional return on their calorie investment and should become a mainstay of your recovery diet.
Oats are a wholegrain powerhouse and are rich in carbohydrates and fiber, but also higher in protein and fat than most other grains. Oats are very high in many vitamins (especially several different B vitamins) and minerals (especially manganese, magnesium, iron, potassium, copper and zinc).
Whole oats are also high in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Most notable is a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which are almost solely found in oats. Avenanthramides may help lower blood pressure levels by increasing the production of nitric oxide. This gas molecule helps dilate blood vessels and leads to better blood flow. In addition, avenanthramides have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects. Ferulic acid (another antioxidant) is also found in large amounts in oats.
Oats are also loaded with dietary fiber (containing more than many other grains) and the high soluble fiber beta-glucan found in oats has numerous benefits as it helps reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels, promotes healthy gut bacteria and increases feelings of fullness. Beta-glucan may also promote the release of peptide YY (PYY), a hormone produced in the gut in response to eating. This satiety hormone has been shown to lead to reduced calorie intake and may decrease your risk of obesity. All good things for those of us in recovery.
Other possible health benefits of oats include reducing the risk of coronary artery disease and reducing one’s risk of colorectal cancer.
How to Incorporate Oats in Your Recovery Diet
Now that I hopefully sold you on giving oats a try, I have suggestions on how you can you add them to recovery diet.
For Breakfast, there are several options for adding oats to your diet:
1. Oatmeal: You can cook oatmeal on your stove top, in your microwave, or in a slow cooker. Here are some types:
- Instant oats: Oat groats that have been steamed and flaked.
- Rolled oats (also called regular, quick or old-fashioned oats): Oat groats that have been steamed and rolled into flakes that are thicker (and thus take longer to cook) than instant oats.
- Steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats): You get the whole oat kernel, cut up. These take about 20 minutes to cook.
- Scottish oats: These are like steel-cut oats, but instead of being cut, they are ground.
- Oat groats: This is the whole oat kernel — no cuts, flakes, or grinding. They take longer to cook than other oats. Give them 50-60 minutes to cook, after you bring the water to a boil.
Now, I am not suggesting you get up earlier to cook oatmeal before work. My morning breakfast routine takes two minutes from start to finish. I have shared my favorite recipe, “Mary’s Quick Superfood Recovery Breakfast” to help you add oats to breakfast in under two minutes at the end of this blog.
2. Granola (we have a great recipe for homemade granola in our “Food For Recovery” book and on our website, FoodForRecovery.com. But if you buy packaged granola in the supermarket, read the label to pick your healthiest option.
3. Museli is also a delicious way to add oatmeal to your diet. I love mine with greek yogurt.
4. Oatmeal Pancakes, Waffles, or Muffins.
*Be sure to add a source of protein of your choice so you have a good nutritional balance to your breakfast.
Oats aren’t just for breakfast: There are many other ways to add them to lunch, dinner, or snacks. Think baked goods, muffins, cookies, bars, or cakes, or breads. Oat groats are great in soup or breads, or cooked like buckwheat. And one of my favorite dinners is the Quaker Oatmeal Prize Winning Meatloaf recipe that uses oatmeal, it’s the recipe that many of our Mothers and Grandmothers made.
Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they are sometimes contaminated with gluten. That’s because they may be harvested and processed using the same equipment as other grains that contain gluten. If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, read the label before you purchase and only choose oat products that are certified as gluten-free.
I hope you discover the joys of oatmeal as its a great superfood to add to a recovery diet and its tasty too!
Health and Happiness,
Mary P. Cheney, HC
Mary’s Quick Superfood Recovery Breakfast
½ cup Organic Quick (not instant) Oats
1 cup Hot Water
1 cup Frozen Organic Blueberries
28 ounce Bowl
- Add ½ cup Organic Quick Oats to a deep cereal bowl. I use one that is 28 ounces to avoid a spill over of oatmeal in the microwave.
- Add 1 cup hot water to oatmeal and mix.
- If you are starting with hot water from a Keruig coffeemaker microwave on high for 1 minute. If you are using cold water, microwave on high for 1 ½ to 2 minutes.
- Remove from microwave with caution as it will be hot.
- Stir in 1 cup frozen blueberries and mix, enjoy.
Note: If you don’t like blueberries you can add any other fruit (applesauce, bananas, peaches, or pears are great), cinnamon or any other spice, nuts, seeds, pumpkin puree, and or greek yogurt to make oatmeal tastier and even more nutritious.
Note: Remember to add a side of protein of your choice for nutritional balance.
From: Food For Recovery 4th Edition: The Complete Nutritional Companion for Recovering from Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, and Eating Disorders
Copyright © 2018 by Mary P. Cheney, H.C., Joseph D. Beasley, M.D. and Susan Knightly