Know your oats this Oatmeal Month

Hillsboro, Ill. - Steel-cut, old fashioned rolled, quick, and oat groats - when scanning the grocery store's oatmeal section, it can feel overwhelming. Oatmeal, whether steel-cut or quick, is a whole grain. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest making half the grains consumed whole grains. Why are there so many different varieties, and is one healthier than the other?

The variety of oats is based on how much processing they go through. Oat groats are the least processed oats, with their inedible hull removed, but can take over an hour to cook. Typically, this variety is found at health food stores. Steel-cut oats are the oat groats cut into pieces. Irish oats, another name for steel-cut oats, have a chewier texture, a nuttier flavor, and take between 20-30 minutes to cook. Old fashioned rolled oats are steamed, rolled into flakes, dried, roasted, and prepared in typically five to ten minutes. The quickest cooking oats, also called instant or quick oats, are steamed longer than old fashioned, may be precooked, and the most processed.

Ounce for ounce, plain oats are nutritionally similar. “Overall, oatmeal is a healthy option. Not only are oats a whole grain, but they are also a good source of soluble fiber, which will help in feeling fuller longer, may lower cholesterol, and prevent blood sugar spikes for those with diabetes,” Lisa Peterson, nutrition and wellness educator with University of Illinois Extension, explains. Personal preference, texture, use, and cooking time should all be considering when picking oats.

When purchasing flavored instant oatmeal, pay attention to the nutrition facts label. Instant flavored oatmeal may have more added sugar, a higher amount of sodium, and lower fiber than other varieties. Consider making oats ahead of time and adding natural sources of sweetness with fresh or frozen fruit or yogurt for a thicker consistency.

For those with celiac disease, look at the label carefully when selecting oats. “Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they may be processed in a facility that can come in contact with wheat. Check the label on the oats to make sure it specifically states it is gluten-free,” Peterson states.

For the most extended shelf life, store oats in a cool, dark place such as a pantry and use within one year of purchase. Enjoy this heart-healthy grain by preparing it in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or as a binder for meatloaf or a crust for chicken! Celebrate oatmeal month all through January or make a goal to try a new recipe using a different type of oat this year!


Overnight Nutty Apple Oatmeal

Makes 1 serving 

1/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free oats for a celiac friendly option)

1/3 cup nonfat milk

1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

½ cup apples, washed and diced

1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

  1. Wash hands with soap and water.
  2. Combine oats, milk, cinnamon, and syrup in a pint jar. Top with apples and walnuts.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator, shake, and enjoy cold or hot.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 310 calories, 8 grams fat, 40 milligrams sodium, 56 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams fiber, 8 grams protein.


SOURCE/WRITER: Lisa Peterson, Nutrition and Wellness Educators, University of Illinois Extension

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