A. Nicola McKeown, PhD, an associate professor at the Friedman School and whole grain expert, answers: “Nutrition publications (including this one) often recommend oatmeal—and steel-cut oats in particular—as a healthy, whole-grain, breakfast option.
“After the inedible husk is removed from an oat grain, the resulting groat (inner kernel) can be cut into smaller pieces or steamed and flattened with a roller. The rolling breaks the grain’s structure down, so the resulting product cooks more quickly and has a softer, more consistent texture. Quick or instant oats generally undergo further processing, such as precooking and then drying.
“All oats are nutritious, fiber-rich whole grains and, as long as other ingredients are not added, the nutrient content of all of these products is essentially the same. Among other health-promoting nutrients, oats are rich in beta-glucan, a soluble fiber associated with reducing blood cholesterol levels and colon cancer risk. Cut oats retain more of their intact structure than rolled. They therefore take longer to digest and raise blood sugar levels even more slowly. This may help you feel full longer. What is important to consider is that both rolled and steel-cut oats are a better choice than instant varieties, which boost blood sugar more and are more likely to come with undesirable added ingredients (like sugars).
“Steel-cut oats tend to have a firmer and chewier consistency than rolled. You may find you like them better as the base for a salad, grain bowl, or pilaf. Experiment with the wide variety of other whole grains (like barley, quinoa, bulgur, buckwheat, wheat berries, amaranth, and more), too. You can even eat them warmed with cow’s milk or soymilk and topped with fruit and nuts for a wonderful—if less traditional—breakfast.
“The enjoyment of food is essential not only to perpetuating healthy eating habits, but also to the enjoyment of life. Don’t feel obligated to eat something you don’t enjoy just because it’s ‘good for you!’”