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Unwise, Better, Best: Oats

Oats are well known for their positive health benefits. Much of the research stems from the specific type of fiber they contain, beta-glucans. Beta-glucans have been linked to improved cholesterol levels, but another interesting finding has come out of a study from Minerva Medica in 2009. It found that beta-glucans boost defenses of the immune system. Also, research from the Journal of Nutrition concluded that whole grain oats aid in gut health leading to improved insulin sensitivity, that which will help manage Type 2 Diabetes. Lastly, oat consumption increases appetite control hormones, aiding it feeling satisfied during and after a meal, and they are gluten-free.


As you have read, including whole oats in your dietary pattern can have many positive health outcomes. The supermarket may be an overwhelming place to look for oats when various flavors and modes of processing are present on the shelves. Below are your unwise, better, best oat options.


UNWISE:  Flavored instant oatmeal. Be cautious with added sugar in flavored instant oatmeal packets. One packet of maple brown sugar flavored instant oatmeal has 3 tsp of added sugar, that’s half of the maximum recommendation of added sugar for women and 1/3 of the recommendation for men. Added sugars displace the nutrition of the oat. On the other hand, instant oatmeal is great for when you are traveling and want to take something with you that is nutrient rich. Choose the “original” instant oatmeal and add sugar if you want. You as a consumer are going to add less sugar than a manufacturer would or if a banana is around, use that to sweeten the oatmeal. Most hotel rooms have a coffee maker, where you can make hot water to steep the oats.  


BETTER:  Old fashion rolled oats. These oats are parboiled and flattened so that it takes less time to cook. Since they are partially processed you can add them to smoothies for a nice fiber boost. Rolled oats are also a great filler to put in energy balls for a satisfying FitBite or used to make granola. Even though they are partially processed you still get many of the benefits of the intact whole grain. This product will give you versatility when it comes to making food healthy!


BEST:  Steel cut or whole oat groats. Steel cut or whole oat groats are the least processed of the oat family. Oat groats are the grains that steel cut, rolled, and instant oats are made from. Bob’s Red Mill carries whole oat groats for purchase. Groats take the longest to cook, 30 minutes to an hour. If you don’t like the texture of old fashion oatmeal, perhaps oat groats will fit your preferences better. The intact grain will keep the texture of the oatmeal from being porridge-like. Watch and try Chef Karla William’s Slow Cooker Oatmeal recipe from the Healthy Kitchen.


Fiber content ranges minimally from oat groats to instant oatmeal, 5g to 3g. Instant oatmeal is made from oat groats that have been parboiled, flattened, and chopped fine. That is why it cooks so fast! Depending on what you are cooking will dictate what type of oat to use. Choose the better and best options 80% of the time and use the original instant oatmeal as a backup. Limit the varieties that have added sugar and most importantly have fun incorporating a whole grain into your healthy dietary pattern.