Fans of porridge have long claimed that it gives them the best start to the day – but scientists say there is evidence that it could also have a special ingredient that actively cleans the arteries, protecting against cancer and heart disease.
A meeting of researchers says there is growing evidence that a bioactive compound contained only in oats may possess protective antioxidant properties.
Oats are the breakfast of choice for many athletes and dieters, who find the high fibre levels give them energy for longer. The combination of fibre, vitamins and minerals in whole grains has also been linked to a reduced risk of diseases.
One particular fibre found only in oats – called beta-glucan – has already been credited with lowering cholesterol.
But scientists at the annual conference of the American Chemical Society in Dallas, Texas, yesterday said there was growing evidence that the benefits of oats do not just come from the fibre.
Researchers said studies suggested that a bioactive compound called avenanthramide could stop fat forming in the arteries, causing heart attacks and strokes.
Dr Shengmin Sang, from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, said: "While the data to support the importance of oat beta-glucan remains, these studies reveal that the heart health benefit of eating oats may go beyond fibre. As the scientific investigators dig deeper, we have discovered that the bioactive compounds found in oats may provide additional cardio-protective benefits."
Fat formation in the arteries can become a condition called atherosclerosis in which the arteries become clogged. This can lead to organ damage or blood clots that result in heart attacks or strokes.
Previous studies have suggested that the fibre contained in porridge can reduce cholesterol levels by as much as 23pc.
Studies on children have suggested the traditional breakfast dish can help to keep obesity at bay. Youngsters who eat oats regularly are 50pc less likely to be overweight, one study of 10,000 children found.
Oats can reduce high blood pressure, which is closely linked to stroke and heart disease. They are also a source of vitamin B1 (thiamin) which is crucial for the nervous system, and folic acid, which is essential for healthy foetal development.
In an attempt to increase folic acid levels, pregnancy advisers have joined doctors in urging the British government to fortify flour with the acid to cut the number of babies developing defects such as spina bifida.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has also said it is time recommendations to fortify flour with the vitamin were implemented in the UK.