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The Power of Porridge

Samurai Cereal


“If everyone started the day with porridge (oatmeal), it would have a significant impact on public health and eating one bowl per day could transform the health of a nation.”

 This, according to a professor of Food and Nutrition from New Castle University in the UK.  It just so happens that the science agrees. A double-blinded randomized trial comparing oatmeal to a placebo found that 90% of those eating the oatmeal for 12 weeks lost weight, had slimmer waists, improved liver function and had a 20% drop in cholesterol compared to the placebo group (where no one lost weight).

 But oatmeal can be a bit plain and boring. So, I thought I would share a jazzed up, tastier and even healthier version of this tried and true athlete breakfast. I call it Samurai cereal.

 This is something I make on the weekends and then heat up during the week for a quick and easy meal. Fair warning, it is quite filling. Also, every time I make this, it comes out a bit differently. So, don’t be afraid to experiment.

 To a large pot add 8 cups of water and a pinch of salt.

Bring to a boil and add:

 The Basics

1 cup of steel-cut oats

1/3 to ½ cup of barley

1/3 to ½ cup of wheat berries (this is found in the bulk section of a health food store like Whole Foods, it is well worth the effort to find as it adds a nice texture).

(you can certainly experiment with other grains like Faro)

¼ cup ground flax

¼ cup bulgur wheat or quinoa

Sweetening Options (you decide)

1⁄2 cup chopped dates
1⁄2 cup raisins
Date sugar (made from ground up dried dates) 1-2 TBL maple syrup
Dried fruit like dried apple, apricots or mango

Cook for 40-45 minutes (if you live high – in elevation that is - it takes longer). Stir periodically and add water if needed to reach desired consistency.

For Extra Nutrition

Once cooked but while it is still warm, I will add frozen berries and/or mango. Before eating I will add chopped bananas, non-dairy milk and/or whole flax seeds.

I could probably fill countless pages with the science as to the health benefits of the foods found in this dish, but I will spare you that and just give a “tip of the iceberg” summary.

Flax: Flax is rich in a type of fiber called lignans, which when converted by our gut bacteria, have been shown to directly

suppress the proliferation of breast cancer cells (at least in a Petri

dish). In one study on humans they took a bunch of young women who were at high risk for

breast cancer—I.e. they had a suspicious breast biopsy or already had breast cancer--and gave

them a teaspoon of ground flax seeds every day for a year, before getting repeat needle

biopsies to see if there were any changes. The expression of a proliferation biomarker

associated with cancer, called Ki-67 declined in 80% of the women. Additionally, they found less

cellular proliferation in their breast tissue and fewer precancerous changes.

Barley: Barley contains a type of fiber called beta-glucan. This has been shown (among other things) to benefit our gut bacteria. This in turn benefits immune function, gut health and reduces risk for colon cancer. Beta glucan supplementation has also been shown to reduce risk of upper respiratory tract infections in marathon athletes. Barley is also rich in selenium which is important for thyroid health.

Whole Wheat: Whole wheat has been shown to increase healthy bacteria (specifically Bifidobacterium) and increased production of metabolites that improved intestinal integrity and reduced intestinal permeability (or leaky gut). Just make sure you use organic wheat.

Dates: Dates are nature’s candy. They are sweet but high in fiber. In one study where subjects consumed 100 grams of dates every day for 4 weeks no adverse effects were found for blood sugar or cholesterol levels. In fact, triglyceride levels and oxidative stress were lower. This in spite of the fact that dates are 80% sugar. Yes, how your sugar comes packaged is important.

Nuts and Sunflower Seeds:

Walnuts and almonds are both rich in antioxidants and in particular vitamin E. (Vitamin E is actually a family of vitamins known as tocopherols). The best vitamin E supplement out there are almonds and sunflower seeds! Higher intakes of vitamin E rich foods have been shown to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Walnuts (and flax) have the added benefit of being rich in alpha linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid.


Close to 97% of Americans are deficient in fiber. Fiber is incredibly important for gut health. It acts as a prebiotic which is what our healthy bacteria thrive on. But it is not just the amount of fiber that is important rather the VARIETY of fiber is even more important. Every plant food has its own unique fiber type. Thus, eating a wide variety of plant fibers is the best thing that you can do to improve your gut health. (A great source on both the science and application of gut health is this book, Fiber Fueled, by gastroenterologist Dr Bulsiewicz).

Given that most endurance athletes fail to consume enough carbohydrate, a factor that can lead to performance decrements, at close to 65 grams per serving, this dish also provides a good start to our carbohydrate needs for the day. Athletes engaging in extensive endurance training and racing (such as marathon or triathlon training), intakes of 5 to 8 g/kg/day is recommended. Thus, for someone like myself who weighs in at 50 kg, and who trains more than an hour a day, at a minimum I need to consume around 300 grams per day.

A special thanks to Team Zoot member Sharon McDowell-Larsen for this blog


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