DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have a question about eating oatmeal uncooked. I've been doing it lately, mainly due to time constraints, but also to avoid the heat of cooking because the air conditioning in our house struggles on hot summer days. Of course, oatmeal is more pleasing cooked, but beyond that, are there any health or nutritional concerns associated with eating it uncooked? -- C.M. Walnut Creek, Calif.
DEAR C.M.: Bypassing the high-heat cooking step places a greater onus on cleanliness, but assuming all is wholesome, it is definitely OK. I would advise a good chew and sufficient fluid with your "meal."
If you know you are going to be eating them uncooked, opt for rolled oats, or even a muesli-type trail mix that contains uncooked rolled oats. Quick oats, which are sliced and diced even more finely, are another option. All of these have an increased surface area, which decreases cooking time; if consumed uncooked, this also makes it easier for the body to access the grain's nutrients.
It is possible that switching to uncooked oats might give rise to a bit more gas production until your body adapts, since the whole grain might not be digested as efficiently. This leaves some components to end up as food for the flora that normally reside in the large intestine.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Do you think it's safe to drink straight, pure vinegar? How many ounces per sitting or per day is it safe or advisable to imbibe? I'm asking because I'm one of those who can drink straight vinegar and not gag, and I'm willing to do so if it's good for my health. So what are the main claimed health benefits of drinking vinegar? -- D.S., San Francisco
DEAR D.S.: Vinegar is safe, but it has no nutrients or phytochemicals of note. One possible benefit of vinegar is described in studies reporting that about 2 tablespoons (one ounce) at mealtime was associated with a decreased glycemic index of a food. Glycemic index is the rate at which a food causes the blood sugar level to rise.
The first study, in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, also reported the same effect when peanut butter was included instead of the vinegar, and these effects were only found with a meal that was high in easily absorbed sugars and starches. Another small study in the November 2007 issue of Diabetes Care reported that 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar taken at bedtime by subjects with type-2 diabetes had a favorable effect on their blood glucose levels during the day. Next, there is a study in the May 2009 issue of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice that looked at the mealtime consumption of vinegar and measured hemoglobin HbA1c, which is a measure of the average blood-glucose value over an extended period of time. The daily consumption of 2 tablespoons of vinegar over 12 weeks was associated with a small but significant decrease in the HbA1c value. Body weight did not vary.
There is a definite theme here, but be aware that the Web is loaded with reports proclaiming special abilities of vinegar to break down fatty deposits, mucus and phlegm and provide help with weight loss. There is no evidence for any of these, and there's also no evidence of benefit from drinking greater amounts.
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