It's the ultimate winter breakfast, but getting your oats can also keep the body slim and healthy
When it's cold outside, a bowl of hot oats makes a warming and comforting breakfast. If you're a Scottish traditionalist, your porridge will be made with oatmeal, soaked overnight with water, salted, then served with creamy milk, and you'll view rolled oats, cooked quickly and garnished with sweet additions, as an outlandish foreign aberration. Classic Scottish porridge is indeed hard to beat, but a bowl of steaming oats of any type offers is such an obligingly blank canvas, it's tempting to turn sorcerer's apprentice. Whether you top with nuts and seeds, stir in frozen berries, add a blob of cold natural yogurt, drizzle over honey, cap with soaked dried fruits, dust with grated coconut, or slice in fresh fruit - oats are endlessly versatile and interesting.
Why are oats good for you?
Oats contain beta-glucans, a type of soluble fibre that slows down the absorption of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. This slower digestion prevents dramatic spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels that would otherwise encourage our bodies to produce and store fat.
Oats are a rich source of magnesium, which is key to enzyme function and energy production, and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes by relaxing blood vessels, aiding the heart muscle, and regulating blood pressure. A body of evidence suggests that eating magnesium-rich foods reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Experimental and clinical data also suggests a link between magnesium deficiency and depression.
Where to buy and what to pay
For the widest choice of stoneground oatmeal - fine, medium, pinhead; kiln-dried oat flakes, and oat bran - buy from wholefood shops. Guide price per kilo: £2.25- £2.65 organic oatmeal, £1.85 organic flakes.
Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to theguardian.com/bookshop
These pancakes, based on a Shetland Island bannock recipe, make a really good breakfast with poached eggs and bacon or go really well with smoked or cured fish and creme fraiche.
They take a little time to make but only because the oats need to soak in milk for several hours. I usually make these with oatmeal but they work very well with oats too. If they are jumbo oats I tend to whizz them in the food processor briefly before soaking them.
375g oats or oatmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Butter for greasing
1 Mix the oats and salt and add the milk. Stir to amalgamate and leave overnight or for 3 or more hours. To finish beat in the eggs and bicarb.
2 Drop large spoonfuls of the mixture into a hot, lightly buttered, pan, I usually aim for crumpet size or a bit bigger. The mixture spreads a little and aim for a decent thickness. Turn them over when they are set around the edge and some bubbles come up. Cook on the other side until they are set through. Keep the first ones warm in a cloth while making more.
Photo: Oats are a rich source of magnesium. Photograph: Corbis/Tanya Zouev