Friday, October 16, 2009


It is by now well established that oats serve the purpose of reducing cholesterol levels in people having hypercholesterolemia as it contains high concentration of soluble fiber, beta glucans. To day even normal healthy consumers are developing the habit of consuming oats regularly in their daily diet, though its full impact is still uncertain. Like any other cereal, oats contains proteins (15-17%), carbohydrates (59-70%), fat (4-9%), dietary fiber (5-13%) and other nutrients. But for the presence of soluble dietary fiber, beta glucan (2-6%), oats would have remained still a horse feed, as it was during the nineteenth century. It was during eighties of the last millennium, oats attained celebrity status as a healthy supplementary food in daily diets and Quaker company of the US, the oats giant lent its marketing muscle to make it a formidable product.

Though the health claims were being made for many years, oats started commanding attention only relatively in recent years thanks to recognition by the FDA of USA, conditionally allowing certain health claims on labels of packets containing oats or products based on it. 3 gm of soluble fiber like beta glucans in conjunction with a diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and fat may reduce risk of heart disease as per FDA guidelines. In order to permit such claims to be printed on labels, each serving must contain a minimum of 0.75 gm of soluble fiber. Therefore a serving size should have about 25 gm of oats in it to make the health claim. Being a temperate zone crop, oats production and regular consumption in the diet are mainly in countries like Russia, Canada, USA, Poland, Finland and others but it became universally accepted only as a health food. There is more or less a consensus that oats can reduce serum cholesterol levels significantly in those with high cholesterol levels during the first few days, say about 30 days but its impact on long term consumption is uncertain, though it does not cause any harm.

Any product boasting of health advantages can be expected to be priced high and oats is no exception.As a horse feed it would not have fetched even a fraction of the price it commands to day and why it should cost almost 3-4 times the price of wheat, can be attributed to market opportunities. Not to be satisfied with such high prices, health food industry is constantly striving to add further "value" to the already high cost and the Bircher Muesli recipe of Maximilian Bercher-Benner of Switzerland evolved in 1900 has come handy and to day there are hundreds of products being marketed under the Muesli banner at costs almost double that of simple rolled oats. Muesli basically refers to a preparation from oats, developed to make it tastier and more nutritious and a typical recipe is based on rolled oats, soaked in water to make it soft and mixed lemon juice, cream or condensed milk and apple topped with hazelnut or almond powder.

To day there are many ingredients that have found their way to Muesli formulations. These include wheat, rye, malts, sugar, whey solids, honey, corn syrup, invert syrup, nuts, pieces of fruits such as banana, mango, grapes, berries, apple, peach and many others, coconut gratings, chocolate, soy lecithin and any thing and every thing which are edible and tasty. No doubt, Muesli is more nutritionally balanced and healthy, compared to just oats but the cost has to come down if its benefit has to percolate down to more consumers who, at present, cannot afford it.


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