In medieval times, the dining habits of kings and queens stood in stark contrast to those of the peasants. While the upper classes indulged in lavish feasts of roasted meats, fine wines, and artisan breads, the poor resorted to eating a cheap, bland substance just to stay alive.
This meal had an unappealing, glue-like texture often containing lumps or scorched bits. It offered little flavor, nutrition, or enjoyment for the consumer. The rich actively avoided this primitive food, which they deemed only suitable for peasants.
Yet this unsavory gruel represented more than just an unpleasant dining experience for the lower classes. It reflected the vast inequality that defined medieval society. The poor depended on this simple porridge to fill their bellies while the wealthy enjoyed extravagant culinary luxuries. Preparing and consuming it required no skill or status. It was a mark of their hardship and humble means.
While no one opts to eat runny, tasteless gruel today, many do enjoy a hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. What was once shunned as distasteful “peasant food” is now considered a nutritious start to the day. But is it really nutritious? Some Nutritionists are challenging this belief, saying it actually a detriment to our bodies, stealing 4 nutrients we need to survive.
Oatmeal In The Medieval Times
In medieval times, oatmeal gruel was a common breakfast food for peasants and the poor. Unlike the sweetened oatmeal served today, it was a tasteless, textureless meal born out of necessity rather than enjoyment.
Oatmeal porridge was made by coarsely grinding oats and boiling them in water over a fire. Burnt, lumpy gruel was frequently served, as peasants rushed to prepare breakfast before a long day of labor. The cereal offered some nutrition and calories, but had an unappealing paste-like consistency.
Those eating gruel for breakfast could often smell lavish morning feasts up at the lord’s castle. While they choked down bowls of bland, burnt oats, nobility would dine on white breads, roasted meats, cheeses, and ale. The stark contrast reflected the deep inequality between wealthy and impoverished.
For peasant families, oatmeal gruel represented sustenance rather than delicacy. It filled empty stomachs, providing just enough nutrition for hard manual work. But it also served as a reminder of their low status and grim life of hardship compared to the privileged classes. They tolerated the poor-quality porridge because it was cheap and they had few other options.
So while oatmeal is thought of today as a healthy breakfast choice, its medieval version was a mark of poverty and deprivation. Palatable or not, gruel was often the only thing standing between peasants and hunger. The oat porridge kept them alive, but provided little sense of comfort or dignity.
Is Oatmeal Bad For Us?
Oatmeal contains a compound called phytic acid or phytate that is concerning for health. Phytic acid is found in grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It can bind to important dietary minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium, making them less absorbable and usable by the body.
Oatmeal, a common breakfast food, is particularly worrisome because it contains phytic acid and is often consumed with other mineral-rich foods like milk and fruit. The phytic acid can inhibit proper mineral absorption from these accompanying foods when eaten together.
One study demonstrated that eating oatmeal results in 54% lower iron absorption compared to wheat cereal when consumed with milk. Over time, regular consumption of foods high in phytic acid like oatmeal could contribute to mineral deficiencies if intake is not sufficient to overcome this binding effect.
Phytic acid may also inhibit healthy enzymes and proteins needed for digestion. Some concerns indicate it may interfere with starch breakdown and digestive enzymes as well. Beyond mineral deficiencies, diets high in phytic acid could potentially lead to impaired bone health and other problems.
Sprouting or germinating oats and grains is a process that activates phytase enzymes, which can help break down phytic acid. Sprouting involves soaking the oats in water to begin germination, allowing the grain to sprout or just begin sprouting before being dehydrated and cooked. This partial germination helps reduce phytic acid.
Soaking oats or other grains in an acidic medium can also help reduce phytic acid content. Soaking in yogurt, buttermilk, whey or lemon juice for several hours at warm temperatures enables phytase enzymes to work on breaking down the phytic acid.
Fermenting oats to make foods like sourdough reduces phytic acid as well. The fermentation by lactic acid bacteria releases phytase enzymes from the grains to degrade the phytates. This can be done by allowing oatmeal to ferment and sour after mixing with an acidic liquid.
Other techniques like toasting, baking or roasting oats or grains before cooking can help degrade some of the phytic acid also. Higher temperatures and dry heat causes the phytates to breakdown.
In summary, allowing for sprouting, soaking, fermenting or heating through these preparation methods enables phytase enzymes and chemical reactions to reduce phytic acid content in oats and other grains before eating them. This helps mitigate the mineral absorption inhibition effects of the phytic acid.
Overall, the phytic acid in oatmeal can inhibit mineral absorption and cause other issues, but our body can tolerate them and benefit from them with the right preparation method and accompanying foods eaten that are high in vitamin C, and one’s overall diet quality and mineral intake.
While oatmeal has shed its reputation as bland “peasant food,” its health benefits are complicated by naturally occurring phytic acid. This compound can inhibit mineral absorption, potentially leading to deficiencies over time if intake is inadequate. Preparing oats through sprouting, soaking, or fermenting can reduce phytic acid levels somewhat. Adding foods rich in vitamin C may also improve mineral bioavailability. Ultimately, oatmeal can be part of a balanced breakfast with proper preparation and diet considerations.
Compared to the burnt, pasty gruel of the past, modern oatmeal is versatile and nutritious. But we now understand nutrition beyond just calories for energy. The body requires a complex array of minerals, many of which are inhibited by oatmeal’s phytic acid. Still, simple remedies exist to improve its value.
In the end, oatmeal remains a nourishing choice as part of varied morning meal. No longer a tasteless mark of poverty, it has earned mainstream acceptance through farming advancements and greater food access. We have more breakfast choices than our ancestors could have imagined. Awareness of oatmeal’s pros and cons empowers us to make the best use of an ancestral grain. We can honor the past while optimizing its health value.