With temperatures dropping, my kids are asking for hot breakfasts which, of course, take more time—which, of course, I don’t have on busy weekday mornings. I love that they enjoy oatmeal, but have always thought that I had to make the slow cooked kind to keep it nutritious. It turns out that I was wrong. Well, kind of.
I did a little research on whether instant oatmeal is as healthy as steel cut or rolled oats and was surprised at what I found. Though there are nutritional differences, there are also ways to make instant oatmeal as powerful a breakfast as the others. Here’s the deal.
Related: Three healthy hot cereals and breakfast ideas that go beyond oatmeal.
What makes oats so healthy?
Whole oats are among the healthiest grains. They are naturally gluten-free (though are often processed on machinery that also processes wheat, so read your packages if you avoid gluten); full of fiber, which keeps you feeling full and can help reduce “bad” cholesterol; and help maintain an even blood sugar level. But not all oatmeals are made whole oats, or areeven comparably nutritious.
Three kinds of oatmeal: What’s the difference?
There are three main kinds of oatmeal: steel cut, rolled, and instant. Steel cut oatmeal, the least processed variety, is the whole grain with only the outer hull removed (i.e., oat groats) cut into pieces. Rolled oats are also oat groats, but ones that have been steamed and flattened so that they cook more quickly. Instant oatmeal, the most processed variety, are rolled oats that have been steamed even longer so that they cook nearly instantly.
It turns out that all three forms of oatmeal have a very similar nutritional profile when consumed plain. As in, without fillers, flavors, or sugar added. That said, there is another difference that’s worth noting.
Related: 9 healthy breakfast ideas so fast and easy, the kids can make them on their own.
So plain instant oatmeal is as good as the rest? Not so fast…
One of the major benefits of consuming whole oats is that it takes your body a long time to process them, which keeps you full longer. While it’s great that more processed oats cook faster, it’s not as great that your body also processes them faster, leaving you feeling hungry more quickly.
So while plain steel cut oatmeal and plain instant oatmeal, for example, have similar nutritional benefits, you’re more likely to get hungry faster after you’ve eaten the instant kind. The fancy way of saying this is that instant oatmeal has a higher glycemic index than the other types.
That’s the bad news. But there’s good news too.
Related: 9 make ahead breakfast recipes that make busy school mornings easier.
How to make instant oatmeal as healthy as slow cooked:
You can combine your plain instant oatmeal with lean protein and/or healthy fats to lower its glycemic index. Then, suddenly, you’re getting nearly the same overall benefits as having eaten steel cut in a fraction of the time!
So, the takeaway? While whole oats are always your best option, there are ways to make instant oatmeal a power breakfast that you can feel good about:
- Always choose plain instant oatmeal, with nothing else added.
- Add a lean/healthy protein to your plain instant oatmeal, such as a scoop of protein powder, some milk, plain Greek-style yogurt, cottage cheese, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and/or flax seeds.
- AND add healthy fats to your plain instant oatmeal, such as nut or seed butter, chopped nuts or seeds, unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut oil, and/or flax seed oil.