If I pick a staple food crop that merits investigation, oats would be the one. Oats possess characteristics and nutritional attributes that are attractive in human nutrition and prevention of disease. Additionally they have environmental advantages in agriculture. Oats are consumed as a whole grain cereal unlike wheat and rice, etc. which have more processed uses. They have dietary fiber, lipids, phytochemicals, Vitamin E, phenolic compounds, are a slow release sugar food, and contribute to feelings of satiety. They have an advantage in gluten intolerant diets, as they can be consumed by celiac disease sufferers.
“Consumption of oats, oatmeal and oat bran provides various clinical and industrial usages. It is known to reduce total plasma cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol level, postprandial blood glucose and insulin response, occurrence of coronary heart disease, chronic inflammation of arteries and development of cancer and atherosclerosis.” (Rasane 2015)
Oats have nutritional qualities that can help prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This is good news for prevention of these non-communicable diseases. “Oatmeal is one of the richest sources of the fiber β-glucan, which has been associated with improvement in blood cholesterol and postprandial glycemic and insulinemic responses, as well as with reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and increased satiety in adults.” (Fulgoni et al. 2019)
One interesting fact I found while reading up on oats, is they were primarily more of an animal feed than a human food. “The use of oat as animal feed has declined steadily owing to emerging use and interest in oats as human health food.” (Rasane et al. 2015) This is encouraging as oats have so many benefits both for humans and agriculture, and our increased use of them as human consumption has changed the way they are grown. Perhaps this can happen with a crop like corn, if we decrease the use of corn syrup and turn to whole food.
An interesting study on children’s consumption of oats for breakfast had a positive conclusion. I thought this study was cool in that it only considers breakfast and it was done with children 2 to 18 years of age. “…child oatmeal consumers had significantly higher intake of fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium than breakfast skippers or consumers of a number of the other breakfasts studied. All of these nutrients are currently under-consumed and have been identified as ‘shortfall nutrients’.” (Fulgoni et al. 2019) It shows how we can impact the next generation in a big way, with a small change, by providing simple and affordable oat products for breakfast.
Agricultural and environmental advantages are; minimal tillage of fields or no-till planting systems, soil erosion, weed suppression, and less fertilizer used to produce. “Oat requires lesser nutrients (N-Sodium, P-Phosphorus and K-Potassium) to cultivate than that required for wheat or maize.” (Rasane et al. 2015) “The dense cover provided by oats helps prevent soil erosion. …Reduced tillage also minimizes the release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere where it can contribute to climate change.” (North American Millers Assoc. 2011)
Fulgoni, Victor L. III et al. “Oatmeal-Containing Breakfast is Associated with Better Diet Quality and Higher Intake of Key Food Groups and Nutrients Compared to Other Breakfasts in Children.” Nutrients, Vol. 11 (5), 2019, pg. 964, doi: 10.3390/nu11050964 (Links to an external site.). Accessed 5 November 2020.
“Oat Sustainability.” North American Millers Association, 2011, https://www.namamillers.org/issues/sustainability/oat-sustainability/#:~:text=Oats%20provide%20excellent%20soil%20erosion%20control.&text=The%20dense%20cover%20provided%20by,soil%20is%20susceptible%20to%20erosion (Links to an external site.). Accessed 5 November 2020.
Rasane, Prasad et al. “Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Vol. 52 (2), 2015 Feb, pgs. 662-675, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325078/ (Links to an external site.). Accessed 5 November 2020.