What's the Difference Between: Oat Groats, Steel Cut Oats, Whole Rolled Oats, Quick Cooking Oats, & Instant Oats?
As the weather turns colder, we often wake up in the morning and want a warming meal in our bellies before heading out for our day. Oatmeal can be a nutritious and filling choice, but with so many varietals out there it can be difficult to understand which type of oat is the best. So we've dedicated this week's What's That?! Wednesday post to breaking down the different oat varietals, how to cook with them, and which are the healthiest choices for you.
Health Benefits of Oats
Oats contain a good amount of fiber and nutrients like manganese, magnesium, biotin, chomium, and vitamin B1. Several studies indicate that increasing fiber in your diet can help to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, the type of fiber found in oats is a special type of fiber called beta-glucon. Not only is beta-glucon heart protective, but a study of out Brown University shows it can also enhance immune system response to bacterial infections. This study shows that beta-glucon helps neutrophils (the most abundant type of immune cell) to navigate to the site of the infection more quickly and even enhances their ability to eliminate the infection at that site. Beta-glucon is also great for stabilizing blood sugar and keeping you feeling fuller longer. But like anything else, not all oats are created alike and some are so processed that they retain little to no nutritional value. So if you want to get all the best benefits from oats, we recommend eating oats as close to their natural state as possible and we've listed them in order of most nutritious and whole to least.
Whole Oat Groats: An oat groat is the whole oat kernel with the inedible hull removed - its as close to the whole food as you can get and still digest. This variety will have a very chewy texture and a nutty flavor and needs to be cooked for at least 1 hour on the stove top before consuming. Because they need to cook the longest of the oat varieties, a slow cooker is great way to enjoy oat groats for breakfast. Use 4 cups water for every one cup oat groats if you are doing the slow cooker version.They also work well in replacement of rice for a pilaf style side dish or meal- just replace the water with organic vegetable broth and add your favorite vegetables. Oat groats are starting to become more widely available and while they can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores, you can find them at most natural grocery stores in the bulk section or online.
Steel-Cut Oats: This varietal is more widely available and is made by splitting whole oat groats into a few pieces. Steel-cut oats are my favorite oats to make breakfast porridge or "oatmeal" with as they are not quite as chewy and dense as oat groats but still closer to their natural state, less processed than whole, quick, or instant oats and full of nutty flavors. Steel cut oats take about 20-30 minutes of cook time on the stove top or you can do these in a slow cooker overnight for 6-8 hours on low. If you've never tried steel-cut oats, download our Basic Steel-Cut Oats Recipe, and give it a try. If you are like most people, you don't have 30 "spare" minutes to stand in the kitchen in the mornings, so we recommend making a batch of steel-cut oats at the beginning of the week. Just allow to it cool, then toss into Tupperware or mason jars in individual serving sizes and place in the fridge for up to one week.
Whole Rolled Oats: Also called "Old Fashioned Oats," these are made when they soften the oat groats by steaming them and then rolling them into flakes. This makes them flatter and thinner and allows them to cook faster - generally only 10-15 minutes on the stove top. To save some time during a busy weekday morning, try our Easy Overnight Oats recipe. This recipe soaks whole oats overnight in milk and allows them to soften to a cooked-like texture. Besides being a time saver, the extra bonus is that by not cooking them, you are retaining more of the gut healthy enzymes and nutrients they are packed with! Nutritionally, they have a very similar profile as steel-cut oats and are much more nutritionally intact than quick cooking or instant varietals. We love to use whole rolled oats inside homemade baked goods. Try our: Apple Oatmeal Snack Balls or our No Bake Granola Bars or our Honey Vanilla Almond Granola.
Quick-Cooking Oats: Also called "Quick-Rolled Oats" are made using a process similar to whole rolled oats except that they are steamed longer and rolled more, making them flatter and more processed. This is really the stage where we lose some nutritional value, especially fiber, which drops from 4-5 grams per serving in the steel-cut or whole rolled to 2-3 grams for quick-cooking or instant oats. These oats do cook faster than whole rolled, they only need about 5 minutes on the stove top and come out as a creamier, more porridge like texture.
Instant Oats: This varietal is steamed longer (essentially pre-cooked) and rolled even thinner, and then dehydrated. Depending on the brand you buy, the consistency is 50%-70% almost ground oat "saw dust" with some whole oats mixed in, because of this they digest quickly and will provide much less satiety than the other types of oats. Often times, these oats come in pre-mixed, single serving packages that are also filled with sugars, sugar substitutes, additives, and artificial flavors. Let's be clear on this...this is not a healthy choice! Stick to the oats closer to their whole form like whole rolled or steel-cut and you will feel fuller longer and be filling your body with clean nutrients.
We hope you enjoy a warming, filling bowl of oatmeal soon! Please do not hesitate to toss up comments and questions.
Happy Oatmeal Making!
~Billie & Jen
Billie Shellist, FDN-P
I practice functional nutrition, an approach that allows me to look at your entire health history and help you find the "root causes" of your chronic health complaints.
This cuts out the trial and error process and helps you get real symptom relief and resolution!
Food is medicine and knowledge is power -I hope you enjoy my anti-inflammatory recipes which are gluten, dairy, and soy free as well as very low grain and sugar.
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