Americans everywhere eat oatmeal because they think it’s healthy and they’re doing the right thing, but some oatmeal is not exactly healthy. The type of oatmeal you are eating is what matters and if you’re eating the wrong kind, you might as well eat a giant bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast!
There are several reasons why I choose steel-cut oats and avoid instant, almost always.
Types of Oats
There are several types of oatmeal available at the grocer:
Steel Cut Oats – are the most minimally processed type. Some people refer to these as Irish oatmeal. They take the longest to prepare.
Stone Ground Oats – are only slightly more processed, chopped smaller than steel-cut. Some people refer to these oats as Scottish oatmeal. These take about half as long to cook as steel-cut because they are cut / ground into smaller pieces.
Old Fashioned Oats – are both steamed and rolled. They take even less time to cook and are universally used in most recipes calling for oatmeal.
Quick Cooking Oats – are both steamed and rolled a little more than old-fashioned, which makes them cook a little faster.
Instant Oatmeal – have been through the most processing, chopped fine, rolled, pre-cooked and dehydrated.
Most experts agree that when you take the types of oats and examine them, they are nutritionally close to each other. The Instant is less nutritious than the Steel cut, but not by a whole lot. That was pretty shocking to me, but it seems to be agreed upon by most experts. You’ll lose some of the nutrition as far as glycemic impact (the speed with which it digests) by choosing instant, but it’s still considered a nutritious breakfast.
HOWEVER, keep reading. This is not the reason I do not eat instant.
I understand why most of us choose the instant variety. It’s so much faster with its one minute cook time, requires less mess and is convenient to take with you, anywhere.
But most of those instant varieties, even plain, come with added salts, sugars or fat.
Also, most people do not choose plain, they choose apple cinnamon flavor or maple brown sugar, or one of the one hundred other flavors available. THAT is why I avoid instant. It’s not the oats being a little less nutritious. Honestly, the impact of processing, in this case, is so low, that it wouldn’t impact my decision. However, the added ingredients are where it loses my support. Not just the added salt, sugar or fat during the processing, but all the sugars added so you’ll like it, too.
Have you ever picked up a nutrition label on one of the instant varieties of oatmeal? It’s packed with an ingredient list as long as my arm. Want to know what the ingredient list of steel-cut oats is? Whole grain steel-cut oats. That’s it. Nothing more.
In the end, I prefer steel-cut oats because they are nutritionally the best (although I admit, not by much), they do not contain added ingredients and because I prefer the texture, over all other varieties.
So, I guess if you would NEVER choose to try the steel-cut variety and only prefer instant, I encourage you to try quick cooking or old-fashioned. The time it takes to cook these varieties are not too much longer and typically, they do not contain the added salts, sugars or fats.
My Version of Steel Cut Oats
If the reason you won’t consider steel-cut is because of the cook time, try this crock pot method (below). It’s usually the only way I will make them because it’s so easy.
Try cooking these oats and setting up a toppings bar. Use dried, fresh and frozen fruits (NO sugar added); try nuts like slivered almonds or chopped pecans; even a little honey is okay sometimes. I eat my oatmeal just like a huge bowl of cereal. I put the steel-cut oats in, add a few fresh fruit toppings and pour 1/2 cup of skim milk on top. Try it!
Crock Pot Oatmeal
1 cup of steel-cut oats (I like the Whole Foods 365 Organic kind)
4 cups of water (or you could use half milk and half water if you don’t intend to top it with milk when you’re finished)
1/8 teaspoon of salt
Put the ingredients in the crock pot and cook on low over night (or about 8 hours). Save any leftover oatmeal in airtight containers and just warm it slightly in the microwave when you’re ready to eat.