What’s the best oatmeal

Clockwise from top left: rolled oats, steel cut oats, oat bran, Scottish oats. photo: Donna P Feldman

Clockwise from top left: rolled oats, steel cut oats, oat bran, Scottish oats.
photo: Donna P Feldman

It’s winter, and a great time for oatmeal.  January was Oatmeal Month, and today is Oatmeal Monday.  Oatmeal Monday, or Meal Monday, has a very interesting back story (so interesting it has its own Facebook page).  Hundreds of years ago, students at universities in Scotland typically lived in the homes of local people.  Campus dining didn’t exist.  The students had to provide their own food and fuel.  The local oats were cheap and available, and periodically students were given Monday off from studies so they could spend time replenishing their supplies.  Oatmeal Monday was born.

These days, we don’t need to take a day off to gather oats.  Thanks to oatmeal’s reputation as a healthy food, it’s easy to find a wide variety of oat cereals in the grocery store.  Oatmeal has a documented reputation as a healthy food, thanks to the fiber content.  Oats have a unique soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which is known to help lower cholesterol.  So the more fiber in your oat cereal, the more health effect.  Which cereals are the best?

cooked oat bran photo: Donna P Feldman

cooked oat bran
photo: Donna P Feldman

Pure oat bran: You have to cook this cereal in water.  The recommended serving, 1/2 cup of dry oat bran cereal (40 grams), has a whopping 6 grams of fiber and a decent 7 grams of protein (as much as an egg).

Rolled oats: The recommended serving of 1/2 cup (40 grams) dry oats has 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.

Instant rolled oats: 1 packet has 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.

Steel Cut oats (or Irish oats): Steel cut oats are the whole oat grain (or groat), simply chopped into pieces.  Cooked steel cut oats have a delightfully chewy texture and nutty flavor.  They take longer to cook than rolled oats, which might discourage people who are rushing around in the morning and need something quick.  One suggested preparation method is to pre-soak the oats overnight, using hot water, and then reheat them in the morning.  You can also use a rice cooker, and I’ve heard that overnight crock pot cooking is another option.  A 1/4 cup serving of dry steel cut oats has 3 grams of fiber and 4 of protein.

cooked Scottish oatmeal photo: Donna P Feldman

cooked Scottish oatmeal
photo: Donna P Feldman

Scottish oats: This is probably what those students were eating back in the 17th Century.  The oat groats are ground into a meal, rather than chopped or rolled.  They also take longer to cook than rolled oats.  The recommended serving —  1/4 cup dry oats — has 4 grams fiber and 6 grams protein.

What if you don’t have time to cook hot oat cereal?  There are a number of ready-to-eat cold oat cereals to choose from.

Granola is usually made with oats, but the amount of oats and other ingredients varies widely, so it’s hard to recommend one over another if you’re choosing granola for the oat content.  Check the nutrition label for fiber content.  And beware: granola is high calorie.

Muesli with blueberries photo: Donna P Feldman

Muesli with blueberries
photo: Donna P Feldman

Muesli is similar to granola, in that it’s a mixture of grains, nuts and dried fruit.  The main difference is that muelsi is typically raw, while granola is toasted with oil and sweeteners.   Dry muesli cereal is mixed with milk or water before eating, to soften the grains.  Use of quick oats allows the cereal to soften quickly.  The amount and type of grains, nuts and fruit will vary from one brand to another, so if you’re looking specifically for oats, be sure to check the ingredients label.  Some muesli cereals don’t have oats as the main ingredient.

Toasted oat cereal photo: Donna P Feldman

Toasted oat cereal
photo: Donna P Feldman

Cheerios (and similar toasted oat cereals).  It used to be there was one Cheerios cereal.  Now there are a dozen different flavors.  Dulce de Leche?  Chocolate?  Honestly, stick to the basics if you’re looking for a convenient way to eat oats.  A 1 cup serving has 100 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein.  Some of the other flavors aren’t even made primarily with oats, and most have more sugar.

oat square cereal photo: Donna P Feldman

oat square cereal
photo: Donna P Feldman

Oat Squares: The are two brands I’ve tried in the oat square category are Quaker’s and Barbara’s.  A cup of Quaker Oatmeal Squares has an impressive 5 grams of fiber and 6 of protein.  However, it also has twice the calories of Cheerios, due to the sugar sweeteners.  One cup of Barbara’s Shredded Oats Original has about 180 calories, 4 grams of fiber and around 5 grams of protein.  Both of these products are made with a combination of oat and wheat flours, so the beta glucan portion of the fiber is reduced.

So what’s the best cereal?  If cholesterol-lowering beta glucan fiber is your goal, then hot oat bran cereal might be your best choice.  Cooking time isn’t that different from rolled oats.  If you want the benefit of oats and you’ve got time, then Scottish or steel cut oats are a great-tasting alternative.  If time is a deciding factor, then cold cereals or instant oats are acceptable, but you’ll be getting less fiber per serving.

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