Fibre is officially fashionable again. Forget about carb-dodging and eating plans that vilified carbohydrates because high-fibre diets and fibre-rich foods are back. This resurgence is well founded and is in part due to our increased awareness of the importance of good gut health. From kimchi and kefir to sourdough and miso, ingredients that help maintain our microbiome (the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our gut) are the ones everyone’s talking about, and putting on their plates.
A recent review commissioned by the World Health Organisation reported numerous benefits of a fibre-rich diet, not least that the “good” (ie high-quality, minimally processed) carbs found in wholegrains. These can help protect against diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, as well as potentially reduce the risk of strokes and benefit bone health.
To put things succinctly, we should all be consuming more healthy fibre, ideally at least 30 grams per day. The question is how.
Is oat bran the answer?
Well, it’s not the only solution, of course, but oat bran is something of a standout ingredient. For the unfamiliar, this is the outer layer of the oat grain that is often removed when the oats are processed and has traditionally been used to feed livestock.
Now the thought of eating what has typically been considered animal feed might seem a bit out there. That said, the health benefits and nutritional value of the ingredient are significant enough to warrant considering doing so, particularly as we’ve whipped up some appealing recipes (below).
Health benefits of oat bran
Much like oats, oat bran contains antioxidants and high levels of beta-glucans, a powerful type of soluble fibre that is believed to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as regulate spikes in blood sugar and contribute towards good bowel health.
Soluble fibre is also thought to have weight management benefits as it promotes feelings of satiety (when a food rich in soluble fibre enters the digestive tract, it absorbs water creating a gel-like substance that results in a feeling of fullness). Significantly, while both oats and oat bran contain similar amounts of carbohydrate and fat, oat bran delivers significantly higher levels of fibre, soluble fibre and protein.
How to use and eat oat bran
As often, and in as many different ways as you can, is the answer to that one. Begin with breakfast and make your porridge, overnight oats and Bircher museli with a half oat and half oat bran mix, or stir raw bran through yoghurt or smoothie mixes. Granola made from a combination of oats and oat bran is another excellent option; savoury granola in particular is great for not just snacking on straight from the jar, but also adding to salads for extra crunch, eating with thick Greek yoghurt or labneh, and scattering over soups before serving.
A handful of oat bran will boost the nutritional credentials of bread dough, muffin mixes and pancake batter without altering the end result significantly. While encouraging children to embrace oat bran on account of its digestive health benefits might be a hard sell, you can always let home-made energy balls do the job for you.
Oat bran recipes
Oat bran, honey and nut butter balls
Put 80g porridge oats and 100g oat bran in a bowl with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 8 to 10 finely chopped dates. Mix well. Set a small saucepan with 100ml milk, 2 tablespoons honey and 3 generous tablespoons of nut butter over a medium-low heat. Stir until the nut butter has melted, pour over the oats and mix well to combine. Using damp hands, roll the mixture into small bite-sized balls. Arrange on a tray and chill them in the freezer for an hour. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for three to four days.
Smoky, cheesy savoury granola
Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking tray with baking paper. Put 100g porridge oats, 100g oat bran, 3 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds (optional), 30g sunflower or pumpkin seeds and 50g chopped nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and cashews all work well) in a large bowl. Mix and season generously with salt and black pepper.
Set a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons honey, agave or maple syrup, 6 tablespoons coconut or olive oil and 1 tsp smoked paprika over low heat, stirring until the honey dissolves. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly. Pour over the oat mix, then add a well-whisked egg white. Stir it in well.
Tip the mixture on to the baking tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove, sprinkle over 35g finely grated Parmesan and return to the oven for a further 15 to 20 minutes, or until the oats are crisp and golden. Leave to cool, then add a handful of dried fruit (such as raisins).