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You Oat To Know

One of my co-workers recently asked me what the difference was — from a nutritional standpoint — between steel-cut oats, quick-cooking oats, and instant oatmeal.

Answer: there really isn’t any!

They are all a nutritious whole grain that offers soluble fiber (the kind that has been linked to a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels).

(Quick review: insoluble fiber — found entirely in whole wheat products and partially in fruits, vegetables, and legumes — speeds up the transit of foods in the digestive system.)

The difference between these varieties of oats and instant oatmeal ultimately comes down to processing techniques.

Whereas steel-cut oats are — ready for a shocker? — cut by rotating steel blades into tiny groats, quick-cooking oats and instant oatmeal go some extra processing that produces a flat flake.

If you look at their respective nutrition labels,  steel-cut oats appear to contain more fiber than their quick cooking counterparts. However, this is simply due to different serving sizes. It’s akin to a one-ounce slice of whole wheat bread containing 3 grams of fiber and a 1.5 ounce slice providing 4.5 grams. The larger slice may appear to be a “better source” of fiber, but ounce by ounce the two are equal.

While steel cut oats have a lower glycemic index than flattened oat flakes, I don’t consider the difference significant.  Additionally, it is more important to consider glycemic loads (how what you add to your oatmeal affects its glycemic index).

You can’t go wrong by buying plain (unsweetened, no salt added) oatmeal and jazzing it up with nuts, seeds, spices, and some fruit.  Additionally, cooking it in milk (dairy or otherwise) adds protein and additional nutrients.

The problems begin when you buy flavored varieties than add sodium and up to 4 or 5 teaspoons of sugar.  So, keep it simple, real, and whole!



  1. Anonymous said on May 27th, 2008

    I recently found out I have high cholesterol. I’ve been trying to add more soluble fibre to my diet but I can’t STAND oatmeal. Am I losing out on any of the properties of the oats by toasting them and having them as part of a home made granola, as opposed to as oatmeal?



  2. La Diva Laura said on May 27th, 2008

    I just started to eat the steel-cut version of oatmeal and I like it better. The texture is chewy vs. mushy and I seem to stay fuller longer. I also jazz it up with cinammon, vanilla, dried fruit, berries or bananas. (but not all at once!)

    I make a batch and then put in containers for my husband and myself for the next couple of days as it takes a bit longer to cook.

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