With today’s health-conscious athletes, there are many debates over which food is healthier. The arguments even break down as far as, “which oat is healthier?”
What I have seen recently is a trend towards steel cut oats instead of the more common rolled oats. Just look for debates about oats on any blog or forum and you’re bound to find some people harping about how rolled oats suck and steel cut oats are the healthy option.
So today I’m here to dispel the myth that somehow one oat is healthier than the other! Let’s start by looking at these different types of oats…
There are three basic types of oats. There are old-fashioned rolled oats, which are whole oats rolled flat. Then there are quick oats, which are rolled oats that have been ground up a little bit more to make them cook faster. Finally, there are the steel cut oats, where the whole raw oat was cut into smaller chunks.
They all start from the same grains, but they are cut differently. Rolled oats are steamed slightly to make them cook faster, but otherwise, they aren’t any different from steel cut oats.
The extra processing isn’t that big a deal, because you have to remember this process called digestion where you break down food to absorb it. So these oats are all the same once they get past your mouth.
So you see, rolled oats and steel cut oats are the same food, just cut differently. Saying they’re vastly different in nutritional value is like saying a sandwich cut straight down the middle is healthier than a sandwich sliced diagonally into triangles!
But let’s compare the oats to see what all the differences are…
While the oats are virtually the same thing, there are a few key differences.
Look – Rolled oats look like a big flake, like the oat was rolled flat lengthwise. Steel cut oats look like a whole oat cut in half. So the steel cut oats definitely look like a freshly picked oat from the farm.
If you’ve even been in a field with oats growing there, or bought whole oats in a feed store for farm animals, you’ll recognize the steel cut oats.
Steel cut oats look a little like wild rice once cooked.
Taste – Steel cut oats have a sort of “nutty” flavor that rolled oats lack. You’ll know it when you try them. But the big difference is with texture…
Texture – Steel cut oats are definitely chewier – it takes a while to chew each bite. “Chewy” sums up the steel cut oat texture quite well.
Whether the texture of steel cut is “better” is a matter of personal opinion. But I definitely do enjoy the heartier texture of steel cut or rolled oats over instant oats.
Amount of Processing – If there is one area where steel cut oats have a real health edge, it’s the lack of processing. Both types of oats are cut, but the rolled oats are steamed (which cuts down cooking time later.)
So there is a chance steel cut oats contain more vitamins and minerals, but don’t fret – even rolled oats contain a whole oat grain. You’re not losing valuable parts of the grain (bran and germ) like you would with white bread, which is composed of “enriched white flour” where the real nutrients are bleached out and then the bread is “fortified” to make it appear nutritious on paper.
And don’t forget – steel cut oats need cooked for quite a while, while rolled oats are pre-cooked and ready to eat right out of the canister. So whatever advantage steel cut oats have is lost, unless you can somehow eat them uncooked.
Except if you were to eat them uncooked, you probably wouldn’t digest them, meaning you’d get more nutrients from the rolled oats!
(The uncooked oats will maintain their nutrients longer than the steamed oats, though.)
Serving Size – Typically, a serving is 1/4 cup for steel cut oats, which are more dense than rolled oats, which have a 1/2 cup serving size. It’s the same amount of oats in weight, but not volume, since a rolled oat takes up more space.
The steel cut oats will also expand more when cooked, since they will absorb more water than the rolled oats. So that 1/4 cup looks pretty big once it’s cooked!
Cooking Time – Quick oats are quick; whole rolled oats take a bit longer; then a lot longer for steel cut oats. For one serving, we’re talking 1 minute, 2-3 minutes, and 4-6 minutes, respectively.
Usually I cook a whole pan of steel cut oats at once, and that takes 15-20 minutes.
Nutrients – Let’s compare the Quaker Steel Cut Oats to Quaker Rolled Oats.
1/4 cup of Quaker steel cut oats:
Calories – 150
Fat – 2.5g
Carbs – 27g
Fiber – 4g
Sugar – 1g
Protein – 5g
1/2 cup of Quaker old fashioned oats and quick oats:
Calories – 150
Fat – 3g
Carbs – 27g
Fiber – 4g
Sugar – 1g
Protein – 5g
The label is virtually identical for all three types; the only difference is half a gram of fat.
Glycemic Index – I have seen steel cut oats rated at 42 and rolled oats rated at 50 on the Glycemic Index. Both would be considered “low” and therefore neither is a huge threat to spiking your blood sugar.
Pricing and Availability – The only real downfall with steel cut oats is the price. Sticking with the Quaker brand: 18oz rolled oats are about $1.89, while 24oz of their steel cut oats are $4.99. I prefer the Arrowhead Mills steel cut oats, which are around $3.59 for 24oz.
Due to the hefty price tag, steel cut oats are harder to find. You’ll need to look at smaller retailers and specialty health stores.
The good news is, you can save money by purchasing steel cut oats in bulk, if that’s an option at your local store. If you have a local Amish store or some sort of farmer’s market, you might find steel cut oats extremely cheap!
The main differences between the oats are texture and cooking time. The nutrition facts are virtually identical.
While I do like the lack of processing in steel cut oats for health reasons, my advice is to eat whichever oats you like the best!
Personally, I like both. If I want a chewy bowl of oats with a nutty flavor, I’ll have steel cut oats. But if I’m making a bowl of cinnamon raisin oatmeal, I’ll stick with rolled oats or even quick oats.
In most circumstances, I’ll actually stick with regular rolled oats instead of steel cut oats. I like the taste just as much, and they’re quicker to cook.
The two types are noticeably different in taste, so you’ll have to try both. It’s quite possible you’ll gravitate toward one or the other.
But remember: whether you’re eating steel cut oats, old fashioned rolled oats, or quick oats, they’re all good compared to any other breakfast cereal. Just avoid “instant oatmeal,” which is the kind that comes in the little pouches, already mixed with sugar, salt, and artificial flavors.
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