In Praise of Oats

Oats have been dubbed a “superfood” because of their vast nutrition benefits. They are superior to the standard extruded cereals. Oats are high in fiber, low in sodium and sugar, help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels, improve our immune system and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Technically, an oat s the seed of a cereal grain by the same name.

Choosing oat products is not so simple due to the many adjectives prefixed to oat products – Steel cut / rolled / quick ouats … it does tend to get a little confusing when trying to decide which to select. The differences with various oats out there lie in how they have been milled (or processed).

What you need to know :

Here’s a lowdown on the various oat products available to shoppers:

Whole oats (groats or kernels) – the least processed of the oatmeal cereals, and require the longest amount of cooking. It isn’t very common to use these oats for cooking.

Steel cut (Irish or Scottish) oats – These oats are cut, not rolled, with a similar appearance to chopped up rice. They have a chewy, nutty consistency and take a long time to cook (15-60 minutes). They contain more fiber, protein, calcium and other minerals than other varieties of oats but on the downside they have more calories and fat.

Rolled/ “old fashioned” oats – These look like flat little ovals. They take quicker to cook than steel cut oats, but longer than quick oats. Mueslis and granolas are usually made with rolled oats.

Quick oats – similar to rolled oats, but have been cut before being steamed and flattened. They take quicker to cook, and are generally used in breads and muffins. They are nutritionally very similar to rolled oats but  are digested more quickly, and may not keep you as full for a long time.

Instant oats – These are the fastest to cook, because they have been rolled very thinly. While they are more convenient than other oats, you’ll often find them with added flavors and salt. They also lose a lot of their nutrition content because of the high amount of processing they have undergone.

Oat flour – Oats are ground into a flour and can be really useful for anyone intolerant to wheat flour.

Oat bran – made from the outer layer of the oat kernel. Oat bran is very high in fiber and usually eaten as a hot cereal, or sprinkled on a cold cereal. It’s a great way to boost the fiber of baked goods.

Hopefully this has helped you to have more of an understanding of what the different types of oats mean.

While there are differences between the various types of oats, they are all a nutritious and healthy choice. Assuming you buy plain oats without all the added sugars and additives.

Try having oatmeal for breakfast – add cinnamon, honey, chopped fruits and nuts for a filling and nutritious meal.

What to do at the supermarket:

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  • Dave

    Speaking of oats abd Muesli, that is exactly what I am eating as I read your post!
    In my cooking classes I find many people don’t know that you can eat rolled oats without cooking them. Here is the recipe:

  • Brian

    In your discussion about the steel cut oats, why is fat a downside with the oats? Aren’t oats inherently low in fat. Is it an overly large amount of fat? What kind of fat is it? And who’s to say fat is bad for you. There are plenty of studies that prove otherwise…

  • Heather

    Could you cite your source that shows instant oats have lower levels of nutrients than old fashion rolled oats?

    • slantendicular

      Looking at this blog post, it indicates that the nutrients in instant oats are the same as in rolled oats: 

      “Nutritionally speaking, all oatmeal has about 4 grams of protein per 1/2 cup dry (or 1/4 cup if steel cut since it’s heavier)*** and 4 grams of fiber. Even instant does.  The reason why you see oats making “heart health” claims (but you don’t see whole wheat cereal doing this), is because oats are much higher than other grains in soluble fiber (which is indigestible but absorbs liquid in your gut, forming a gel which binds to the bad (LDL) cholesterol, escorting it out, rather than allowing it to attach itself to the arteries of your heart).  They are also high ininsoluble fiber (also indigestible, but absorbs no liquid and ferries food through the gut to keep intestines clear).  Wheat delivers only insoluble fiber.**”

  • Rebeccagrey

    I don’t even bother cooking my steel cut oats or rye or whatever closer to whole grain I happen to have in the house anymore.  I mix it with plain yogurt the night before and overnight the oats absorb the water from the yogurt.  In the morning I toss in some berries and I am good to go.  Still on the chewy side, but good.

  • David Pool

    Everything I have ever read (until now) about steel-cut oats v. rolled oats is that they are absolutely the same…with the same nutrition (your body cannot tell the difference)…and that it’s only a matter of texture.  Would love to know where you got your information that suggests otherwise.

    • carol

      I think you’re right. All forms contain the same nutrition more or less, and certainly the steel cut ones wouldn’t have more than the whole grain (uncut). All are the same grain (nothing added or removed) simply processed differently — whole, cut, flattened, pressed, or cut then pressed. The fiber is a bit lower in the flakes and especially “instant” versions as the physical structure has been altered, making it easier for the body to digest (opposite of fiber, which we can’t digest)

  • Monica Warstler

    I love eating oatmeal but i can only eat it about once a month. It messes up with my digestion. If i eat it for breakfast 2 days in a row it takes me like 3 days to recuperate.

    Anyone know why this happens?

    • Bryan

      You may have some level of gluten intolerance.  Here’s a good resource to learn about it

  • jnwalsh1

    I can’t get myself to eat oatmeal for breakfast in the summer, but in the winter it’s a daily thing.  I use plain quick oats mixed with water in the microwave for 2 minutes, with goji berries, chia seeds and ground flax…add a scoop of vanilla whey protein powder when it comes out, mix it up, throw on some cinnamon and I have the perfect complex carb/protein ratio to fuel my workouts.

  • Lauren Smith

    Mmmm, my breakfast of choice. Here are some flavoring suggestions:
    -”Apple Cinnamon” : Applesauce, diced apples, cinnamon, raisins, chopped almonds
    -”Banana Bread” : Mix in half a mashed banana, slice the rest and add near the end. Cinnamon, nuts, raisins.
    -”Pumpkin Pie” : Pumpkin butter (if you can find it), nuts, raisins
    -”Chocolate Banana” : Cook the oats with half water, half dark chocolate almond milk (or similar substitute). Mix in half a mashed banana, slice the rest and add near the end. Add chopped almonds. VERY delicious.

    Those are my favorites. :) When I’m in a hurry, I just add a teaspoon of jam/spread/butter/etc!

  • slantendicular

    The spelling errors in this post are jarring.