You have probably heard of steel-cut oats and wondered if they are just another foodie trend, a much-hyped product soon to go the way of acai berries. But hot or cold, these oats are truly a cut above some other oat forms for their nutrition and staying power.
Oats are whole grains with both bran and germ intact. As such, they are a good source of soluble fiber, the fiber that helps lower your body’s cholesterol and appears to reduce your risk of heart disease. The way oats are processed influences their nutritional value and benefits.
Instant oats are the most processed oats. They have been cooked, dried and rolled after harvesting, making them convenient to cook quickly. Unfortunately, they are lower in fiber than other versions and often have added sugar and salt. A quick glance at the label shows 3 teaspoons of sugar and 260 mg of sodium in just one packet, or a half-cup serving.
Quick cooking oats are not pre-cooked; they are rolled oats cut into small pieces, so they also retain their nutrient value while cooking fairly quickly.
Rolled oats, also called old fashioned oats, have been flattened and steamed, then dried or toasted after harvest. They are easy to cook and bake with, and when prepared with milk or water, they offer a soft, creamy texture.
Steel-cut oats, known as coarse-cut, Scottish, or Irish oats, are whole oat kernels cut into two to three small pieces rather than rolled and steamed. This makes their texture more coarse and chewy than other oat forms, and they are often toasted, resulting in a nutty flavor as well.
What’s the difference?
Steel-cut oats are nutritionally similar to rolled oats, ounce for ounce. Calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat and fiber are much the same. The difference is twofold.
- Due to their density, steel-cut oats are cooked with a higher ratio of liquid than rolled oats. They yield a larger portion, meaning you can eat less oats and consume fewer calories.
- Steel-cut oats take longer to digest, helping you to stay full longer and causing less of a rise in blood sugar. This low glycemic index, as it is called, is helpful for prediabetes and diabetes as well as active lifestyles.
As for my family, we mostly eat the steel-cut variety when we choose oats for breakfast. The easiest way to prepare them is to think ahead so we aren’t waiting for 45 minutes on a busy morning. Instead, place ½ cup raw oats and ½ to 1 cup water or milk in a container in the refrigerator overnight. I like mine in a mason jar with a tight lid. In the morning, we reheat or serve cold, stirring and adding our favorite fruit, nuts, and spices. Warm or cold, it’s a great way to start the day.
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.