Oat bran is super healthy for breakfast and snacks because it’s such a good source of dietary fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. Dietary fiber, especially the water-soluble type, helps keep blood cholesterol levels in check and may promote a smaller waistline because it keeps you feeling full for longer periods of time compared to many other foods. Oat bran is the most nutritious part of the oat kernel, but it’s not the whole grain.
Oats likely originated in Asia, although they have spread around the world to become one of the most commonly eaten grains. Whole grains, such as wheat and oats, are comprised of three layers and a fibrous covering. The germ is the innermost part, which is surrounded by a starchy layer called the endosperm. Surrounding the endosperm is the bran, which is rich in soluble fiber, minerals and some B vitamins. Finally, the bran is encased in a husk, which is mainly insoluble fiber. To make refined grains, manufacturers typically remove the germ, bran and husk, leaving just the carbohydrate-rich endosperm.
Whole grain oats begin as oat groats, which are husked, cleaned and toasted. The oat groats are then cut by steel blades into smaller pieces and sold in a variety of products including breakfast cereals and muffin mixes. In essence, whole grain oats contain all parts of the oat, including the germ, endosperm and bran, but not the external husk. Oatmeal contains varying proportions of whole grain oats and refined oats depending on the product and manufacturer, so read the labels carefully.
Oat bran also starts out as oat groats, but the bran layer of the kernel is separated from the germ and endosperm layers. Oat bran is commonly sold at grocery stores, especially those that specialize in healthy foods. It has an especially nutty flavor and is found in various cereals, muffins, cookies, granola bars and breads. About 50 percent of the fiber in oat bran is water-soluble, which is the type that lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and helps keep blood glucose levels in check. Oat bran is also a good source of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-5 and E, as well as magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. Furthermore, oat bran contains a far bit of protein, about 5 grams of it per ounce.
Oat bran contains some fat and is therefore susceptible to rancidity, so store it in an airtight container somewhere dark and cool. You can freeze it in order to prolong its lifespan, although it may lose some of its nutty flavor if you do that. Unlike whole grain oats, oat bran can be eaten without boiling or cooking. Just sprinkle it on top of breakfast cereal, fruit or yogurt. Most brands of oat bran are not gluten-free, although it can be processed to be gluten-free, so ask at your local health food store about your options.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.