In my humble opinion, everyone should consider eating oats regularly. They provide undeniable benefits to the gut and heart that nobody deserves to miss out on! For such simple grains, oats contain a surprising amount of protein, not to mention thiamin, iron, and fiber.
The fiber found in oats helps keep your digestive system regular. The insoluble fiber bulks things up and keeps it moving (if you know what I mean). Soluble fiber, on the other hand, provides benefits to your cardiovascular system. Beta-glucan, a soluble fiber found in oats, lowers your LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol. Not only does it signal the liver to remove some of the circulating LDL, it binds to cholesterol in the gut, preventing it from being absorbed in the first place.
Various methods are used to process our oats. You’ve seen these terms in the grocery store, but how do you know which oat to choose? That depends on your specific breakfast or baking needs. Take a look at the choices below to see which oat can get the job done.
Steel-Cut Oats – a.k.a. Irish oats are made by cutting whole oats into pieces with steel blades.
Pros: these are the most intact grain, making them hearty, fibrous, and perfect for overnight oats. As the least processed option, they retain the most nutrition and nutty flavor.
Cons: they take a long time to cook (20-30 minutes) if you are making them in the morning. They can also be chewy – a turnoff for some.
Recipe: mix 1 part steel cut oats, 1 part milk, and 1 part yogurt in a bowl. Stir in a handful of blueberries and some walnut pieces. Cover and keep in the fridge overnight. Enjoy right out of the fridge for breakfast the next day.
Old Fashioned Oats – a.k.a. rolled, oats get their name because they are literally rolled out under big cylinders. They are first softened with steam and then rolled into the thin flakes you’re familiar with. They are the ones usually found in big canisters in the cereal aisle.
Pros: if you ask me, I think these are the perfect amount of processed. They have a reasonable cooking time, and are the perfect baking oat, but still maintain all the fiber.
Cons: They can be touchy to make in the microwave - it’s best to use an oversized bowl due to their tendency to bubble over the top.
Recipe: combine ½ cup old fashioned (rolled) oats, 1 cup milk, ½ tbsp butter, and pinch of salt to a sauce pan and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until creamy. Add 1 tbsp peanut butter and ½ diced banana.
Quick Oats – are made similarly to old fashioned oats, but are rolled even thinner and get cut into smaller pieces. These are usually found in those big canisters too.
Pros: they cook faster than old fashioned oats, and are easy to make in the microwave.
Cons: they are not great for cooking (unless specified) and can end up with a mushier texture than old fashioned.
Recipe: combine 1 cup of water (or milk) and ½ cup of oats in a bowl and microwave for1 to 1.5 minutes. Stir in a handful of frozen berries, drizzle with honey, and enjoy!
Instant Oats – are taken one step further and are cut and rolled into the smallest, thinnest pieces of all. Instant oats are usually packaged in paper single-serve packets.
Pros: being the most processed, they cook in record time (1 minute in the microwave). They come pre-packaged so there’s no need to measure. They also come in a variety of flavors and taste good!
Cons: they typically have added salt or sugar and slightly less fiber. They are poor choice for most baking.
Nutrition Technique: Eat the oats that best fit into your lifestyle. Yes, more processing might mean less nutrition, but what good is a sack of steel cut oats that sits in the back of your pantry? Choose the oat you’re most likely to eat – in the end, all oats support heart and gut health. Eat and enjoy your oats, no matter what kind you choose!
Amy Jones, MS, RDN, LD