Oat cereals Hall of Fame awards

oatmealOats have a major Health Halo.

The main reason: beta-glucan, a specific type of soluble fiber that’s known to help lower cholesterol.  Oats have a uniquely high beta-glucan content, and they’re easy to add to a cholesterol-lowering diet.  Food companies are happy to use the heart healthy image of oats as a marketing tool.  Other than that, oats are a cereal grain, with similar nutritional properties: low fat, high fiber, modest protein, significant B-vitamins, iron and zinc.  Another benefit: satiety.  Hot oatmeal has a high water content, so it’s filling.  Dry oat cereals do not have that satiety effect.

Thanks to the health halo, consumers are always looking for information on the “Best Oat Cereal”.  Rather than get into a ratings game, I though it would be fun to hand out awards for different oat cereal categories, based on my expert opinion.

Best value: Rolled Oats

If you want the most oats for your money, pick rolled oats.  No added sweeteners or fillers or flavorings.  Just plain oats.  They’re inexpensive and cook quickly.  Plus they’re delicious.  1 cup cooked oats has about 150 calories, 6 grams protein and 4 grams fiber.

Most calories with your oats: Granola

Yes there are hundreds of varieties of granola.  Some may be lower calorie than others.  But the classic way to make granola is to mix oats with a sweetener like honey and oil and bake until toasty.  Many granolas have added dried fruit, nuts, seeds or other grains.  That’s all nice.  Adding chocolate chips or marshmallows to granola is insulting to the oats.

Most misleading name: Honey Bunches of Oats

Sure sounds healthy: Honey Bunches of Oats.  So you’d expect to find significant oats; perhaps you choose that cereal because of that word: “oats”.  The ingredients list tells a different story.  Oats are the 4th ingredient, after Corn, Wheat and Sugar.  After oats comes brown sugar, corn syrup and honey.  So there’s more corn, wheat and sugar in this cereal than oats.

Most reasonable ready-to-eat oats: Cheerios

As in the plain classic Cheerios.  1 cup is about 100 calories, 3 grams protein and 3 grams fiber.

Most soluble fiber: Oat Bran

Cooked oat bran cereal is a more concentrated source of that soluble fiber than rolled oats.  1 cup cooked has about 150 calories, 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.  It has a different texture, and is frequently added to other baked goods and cereals.   Beware health halo marketing!  Kellogg’s Crackling’ Oat Bran cereal sounds healthy, but oat bran is the 5th ingredient, after oats, sugar, wheat bran and oil.  The calories tell the story: 1 cup is 270 calories.

Chewiest oats: Steel Cut/Scottish oats

Steel cut and Scottish oats are based on the whole oat grain.  Oats are, after all, seeds.  Steel cut are whole oats cut into pieces; Scottish oats are stone ground.  Both processes make the oats cook a bit faster.  However, they do take significantly longer to cook than rolled oats.  The result is chewy and delicious; they’re great as-is, with no sweeteners or add-ins at all, just whole grain goodness.

Easiest to over-eat: Quaker Oatmeal Squares

Well, for me that is.  These tasty little squares can be eaten straight out of the box, and that’s the problem.  1 cup is 210 calories.

Low oats-to-money ratio: Kashi Heart to Heart Honey Toasted Oat Cereal

Kasha makes nice products, but they’re expensive.  They’re also not necessarily lower calorie.  Heart-to-Heart cereal is 160 calories per cup.  And, despite the name, it’s not purely oats.  It contains several other grain ingredients.

Obviously there are many more cereals out there that contain oats.  Hopefully you now have some additional information so you can make good selections when you’re shopping, and avoid sneaky marketing ploys.

Most people do prefer some added sweetness on oatmeal.  The best choices: dried fruit (raisins, dates, figs, etc) and fresh apple or pear slices.  Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are excellent flavorings that create a sense of sweetness too.  Add protein with nuts, milk or yogurt.  A healthy and filling breakfast in a bowl.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2018 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.