One of my clients and I were talking about oats the other day. She said she had to eat steel cut oats, and I asked, “why do they HAVE to be steel cut?”
She said well they’re healthier for you.
I told her that wasn’t necessarily true.
So, let’s talk oats – what’s the difference between them?
Steel-cut oats are minimally processed, meaning they have only been cut a few times from their original form of oat groats. They can take up to a half hour to cook.
Rolled or old-fashioned oats are oat groats that been steamed and rolled – this makes for faster cooking.
Quick-oats are rolled oats that have been chopped – even faster cooking.
Nutritionally, these are all made from oat groats, so they should contain the same number of calories, protein and fiber. However, the biggest nutritional differences will occur when you compare brands. Oats made from Quaker may differ from oats that are store brand.
The biggest difference is how your body digests steel cut versus rolled oats.
The steaming and rolling process that the rolled oat goes through make them easier on digestion in comparison to steel cut oats. This is because the outer layers of the steel cut oats have insoluble fiber, which is harder for digestive enzymes to breakdown (Rasane, Jha, Sabikhi, Kumar, & Unnikrishnan, 2015). While steel cut may help with satiety, they may also result in bloating (Rebello, O’Neil, & Greenway, 2016). To further help with oat digestion you can soak your oats overnight or slow cook them. Here’s how I make mine overnight.
So why does it seem like there are more differences nutritionally?
Serving size matters. I’ve seen some brands list the serving size as a ½ cup of dry oats where I’ve seen other’s list it as 1/3 cup. The serving size dictates the caloric and nutritional value.
Add-ins and topping make a difference. I buy plain rolled oats because sometimes I actually enjoy plain oat meal, but mostly because I enjoy the chance to experience with different toppings and flavors. I love using protein powder in my oats – it adds protein and flavor, which allows me to add minimal toppings. I also love berries and peanut butter in my oats.
If you look at some of the instant oatmeal’s available in the store you’ll see packets that include high sugar flavors like maple brown sugar, apple cinnamon, etc.
Below is a comparison of steel cut oats, rolled oats and apple cinnamon from Quaker Oats.
You’ll notice that steel cut and rolled oats are pretty much the same, except steel cut has 2g of insoluble fiber, which comes from the lack of rolling the oat groats (soluble v. insoluble fiber). Comparing these two to the Quaker Instant: Apples and Cinnamon flavor, you may noticed that the serving size is the same weight, but as you scroll through the table you’ll also see an additional 6g of carbohydrates, but 12g of sugar – this is because a portion of oats have been replaced with sugar, spices and apple pieces, all of which add weight and sugar.
Really what this comes down to is asking yourself 1. What texture do you prefer? 2. How much time do you have?
If you like oats in general, they have a lot of benefits like the vitamins listed above but can also help with maintaining a healthy cholesterol level as well as satiety throughout the day, which can assist with dietary adherence.
Remember, there’s a lot of marketing tactics used to make us as consumers believe something is much healthier than it truly is. Don’t get fooled. Read labels, ask questions and do a little digging on your own.
Lastly, how do you take your oats?
Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 662-675.
Rebello, C. J., O’Neil, C. E., & Greenway, F. L. (2016). Dietary fiber and satiety: the effects of oats on satiety. Nutrition Reviews, 131-147.