Globally, approximately 25 million tons of oats are harvested every year. The commercial value of oat is derived both from its high quality grain and its superior break crop benefits.
Oat grains have unique and well-documented cholesterol lowering effects, as a result of their soluble dietary fibre- and β-glucan content. Oat is together with barley the only cereal crop that carries a health claim in both the United States and in EU. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel’s conclusions, there is a cause and effect relationship between the consumption of β-glucan and the reduction of blood cholesterol concentrations, provided that at least 3 grams per day of β-glucan from oats, oat bran, barley, barley bran, or from mixtures of non-processed or minimally processed β-glucans is consumed (EFSA Journal 2010, 2011). The fibers also have a positive effect on the gut microbiota and prevents the development of colon cancer. In addition, oat is rich in natural phenolic antioxidants such as tocopherols, inositol phosphates and contain a unique class of phenolic compounds denoted avenanthramides. These have both anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative effects, which prevent the development of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, oat grains have high oil content and the oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and contains unique galactolipids, which can form very special micro-vesicles that have a potential use in drug delivery. Oat proteins have the highest proportion of globular proteins amongst any cereal starch and contains no gluten. An oat rich diet therefore improves the well-being of persons with celiac disease and reduces the risk of other diet-related diseases.
Oat is an environmental sound crop with natural high disease tolerance and low nourishment requirements. Therefore oat plantations have, compared to most other crops, a low input demand of insecticides, fungicides and fertilizer. Furthermore, crops growing in rotation after oat are less prone to infections, both reducing the need for pesticides and giving higher yields.
Thus, oat is functional food crop with high potential. With further improvements of its health benefiting properties and by making oat a bigger part of our daily food consumption public health would be affected in a very positive way. Oat could for example to a much large extent than today replace wheat bread, pasta and rice products but also animal products like minced meat and cow milk.
The market potential for new, specialized oat varieties with improved health promoting properties is considerable. Presently only 30% of the world oat production is used as human food. The potential to increase this share is very big.