By Vicki Means
If you want to stay healthy, you have to keep your digestive system running efficiently.
At first this statement sounds a little overly dramatic. But think about it: Everything you ingest enters your bloodstream through the digestive system, which also carries away a lot of your body’s total toxic load. So poor digestive function isn’t merely a case of abdominal upset; it can keep you from enjoying peak well-being.
No wonder proper intestinal care is so important. Oat fiber can play a key role in keeping the intestinal tract active and healthy.
What You Need to Know About Oat Fiber
Oat fiber is an insoluble fiber derived from the hull, or the protective seed coating, of the oat kernel. It contains a high percentage of non-starch polysaccharides, which form small fibers in the digestive tract. That makes it a rich source of dietary fiber, most of which is insoluble.
When making oat fiber, manufacturers grind the non-digestible oat hull to create a low-carb substitute for flour in baked goods and other recipes. Oat fiber can absorb up to seven times its weight in water, helping to bulk up different recipes, including baked goods and meat-based dishes.
Oat fiber is neither the same as oatmeal nor is it the same as rolled or instant oats, oat bran, oat flour or oat groats. It is a separate product.
Oat Fiber vs. Other Types of Fiber
When comparing sources of fiber, it’s tough to know which option will provide the health benefits you want and need.
Some of the best sources of fiber include whole grains, brown rice, nuts, certain fruits and vegetables, and various types of beans and legumes. Oat fiber falls into the whole grains category since it is made from the hull of the oat. What makes oat fiber especially interesting is that it does not break down within the body’s digestive tract. As a result, it can support healthy elimination.
You may wonder how oat fiber differs from oat bran, another source of fiber.
The bran of the oat kernel is made of approximately 65% insoluble and 35% soluble fiber. Both types of fiber are important to health and digestion: Soluble fiber turns into a gel by attracting water during the digestive process, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool to help food pass through the intestines and stomach more efficiently.
Oat bran has more carbohydrate than oat fiber, so it shouldn’t be considered a substitute. The two products are made differently, have very different textures and provide their own unique benefits.
The last five feet or so of the gastrointestinal tract consists of the large intestine, or colon, where water, any remaining nutrients and substances called electrolytes are absorbed. The colon also hosts gut flora, the friendly (probiotic) microbes that aid in digestion, create certain vitamins and help defend the body against harmful microbial agents.
Problems ensue when movement through the colon stalls. Fortunately, nature supplies a solution to this pervasive problem.
“The health of the colon is largely determined by the amount of dietary fiber a person consumes,” say naturopathic doctors Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, authors of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria). “Without enough fiber, waste material tends to accumulate.”
People have long used oat bran to boost their fiber intake. Unlike bran, though, oat fiber contains practically no starch, making it a useful low-carbohydrate alternative.
Using Oat Fiber
Unlike bran’s rougher, denser texture, oat fiber has a fine, powdery consistency that allows it to be used in a number of ways.
Since oat fiber has a different texture and makeup than other oat products, you can’t substitute it with anything one-for-one when baking or cooking. You can use oat flour as a possible substitute, but keep in mind that it will alter the carb level of what you’re preparing and may change the texture.
When using oat fiber in baked goods as a flour alternative, it is usually combined with other types of flour, such as coconut or oat flour, as it doesn’t provide any nutrients or carbs on its own. It also absorbs liquids. So, if you’re substituting something in its place, you may need to adjust the liquid content as well.
While home chefs value the plain variety as a healthy baking ingredient, chewable oat fiber wafers with flavorings such as honey provide fiber’s many benefits in a convenient, portable form. (Because detoxification agents should themselves not contain toxins, look for products that use organic oat bran.)