Do you start your morning with a bowl of hot oatmeal? If so, you’re not alone. Though food trends may come and go, oatmeal has been and will remain a healthy choice for breakfast. What you may not realize, however, is that there are different types of oats which may offer slightly different nutritional value and health benefits.
Steel-Cut, Rolled, or Instant?
When you hear the word “oatmeal,” what do you think of? Perhaps you picture a bowl of thick and creamy steel-cut oats simmered to perfection, or maybe you picture a chewy oatmeal raisin cookie made with whole-grain oats. Oatmeal comes in several different forms, but they all share the same powerful nutritional benefits.
Here is an overview of the types of oats you might find at the grocery store:
- Steel-Cut – Made from whole groats, steel-cut oats look more like grains of rice than the flattened oatmeal discs you might be used to. This type of oat takes a while to cook and it has a chewy texture to it.
- Rolled – Also known as old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are made from whole oat grains that are first steamed to soften them and then pressed flat. This type of oat cooks faster than steel-cut and they tend to absorb more liquid. They may also hold their shape better during cooking.
- Instant – Aptly named for their quick-cooking quality, instant oats are also known as quick oats. This type of oat comes pre-cooked, dried, and rolled. They look similar to rolled but they are a little thinner, they cook more quickly, and they don’t retain their shape as well.
In some cases, depending on the recipe, you might be able to use different types of oatmeal interchangeably. Just keep in mind that you might need to adjust the cook time or the amount of liquid in your recipe if you use a different type of oat.
The serving size is usually about ¼ to ½ cup dry. Calorie content varies slightly from one type to another with steel-cut oats being slightly lower in calories. Most varieties are equal in protein, fat, carbohydrate and fiber. Because the different varieties have similar nutritional content, they provide many of the same health benefits – here are the top six:
1. Rich in Fiber
A quarter cup of dry oats contains about 5 grams of dietary fiber, most of which is a type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a thick gel-like substance which promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and may help to promote cardiovascular health and immune system health.
2. Loaded with Antioxidants
This grain contains a specific type of antioxidant known as avenanthramides which boost the production of nitric oxide which, in turn, helps to lower and stabilize blood pressure. These antioxidants also provide anti-inflammatory benefits and may dilate the blood vessels to improve circulation.
3. Reduced LDL Cholesterol
The soluble fiber found in oats helps to boost the excretion of cholesterol-containing bile and, in doing so, reduces LDL or “bad cholesterol” levels in the blood. It may also help to protect the arteries and cardiovascular tissue against inflammation, reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
4. Stabilized Blood Sugar
Oats, particularly steel-cut, have a low glycemic index rating compared to many grains which means that they have a lesser effect on blood sugar levels. In addition to preventing blood sugar spikes, this grain can help to improve insulin sensitivity, particularly in diabetics.
5. Improved Weight Loss
As a low-calorie and fiber-rich grain, oats may help you to lose weight. Rich in soluble fiber, they help you to feel fuller for longer and may also stimulate the production of peptide YY, the satiety hormone that tells your brain when you are full so you can stop eating.
6. Regulated Digestion
The fiber-rich outer layer of oat grains, known as oat bran, has been shown to help relieve constipation. Consuming this food on a daily basis might help to regulate your digestion.
Not only are organic oats loaded with health benefits, but they are easy to prepare. Steel-cut can be simmered in water or milk and rolled or instant can often be cooked in the microwave.