I’ve been teaching lessons about whole grains with my 20-plus classrooms. That’s a lot of talk about carbs! It’s been great and I’ve even learned more about whole grains: the different parts of a whole grain kernel and what they provide nutritionally, why we started milling grains, and different whole grains we can eat. (Ever heard of millet or farro? I hadn’t!)
One of my favorite grains is oatmeal. Especially during the winter, it’s been my breakfast of choice. It’s warm, chewy, and fills you up. And like all whole grains, it’s a great source of fiber. While talking a lot about oats with my students, I was curious about the different forms of oatmeal and which is the best choice nutritionally. So I did a little research…
Put simply, steel-cut oats are chopped oat groats and are the least processed; rolled (or old-fashioned) oats are steamed and rolled flat; instant oats are precooked and dried, and often contain added sugar, especially when bought in little packets.
Unlike regular rolled oats, steel-cut oats are whole oat kernels that have been chopped into two or three pieces. They’re nuttier and chewier than regular oatmeal. The bigger pieces make steel-cut oats lower-glycemic, too (translation: they take longer to digest than regular oatmeal), so they keep your metabolic furnace burning steadily.
The biggest differences between steel-cut, stone-ground, and rolled oats are in the texture and the cooking time. So, it really just comes down to which type you prefer—and how much time you have to cook them. If you like a very hearty, chewy cereal, you might enjoy steel-cut oats. But you’re not losing out on anything nutritionally by choosing old-fashioned rolled oats.
On the other hand, instant oats are slightly different. Because instant oatmeal has been processed to cook more quickly, it is also broken down and digested more quickly by your body, giving it a higher glycemic index. Eating a lower glycemic index diet may help improve your cholesterol ratios and reduce blood sugar spikes and dips. A tip to improve the glycemic index of instant oats is to incorporate lean protein or healthy fat into the oatmeal, such as low-fat milk or nuts. It’s also important to check the ingredients list to ensure there isn’t added sugar with instant oatmeal.
Regardless of your personal preference, oatmeal is a healthy and hearty breakfast choice. I have yet to try steel-cut oats, mostly because of the extra cooking time, but I can’t wait to try them!