Are Oats a Healthy Choice?
You may have heard that oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfasts you can eat. You probably remember the giant red “heart healthy” symbol from packages in grocery store aisles. All of this hype is the result of years of tried and true research, which has shown that oats have several health benefits. Oats can help control blood sugar, prevent diabetes, lower cholesterol, and reduce inflammation. They are also high in fiber, which helps keep the digestive system running smoothly.
Different Types of Oats
When oats are first harvested, they are covered in a tough husk that must be removed to make them edible. Oat groats are the result of the initial hulling process and the base for all types of oatmeal. Steel cut oats are groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces, thus the name. Old fashioned rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and pressed (read: rolled) into flatter pieces which allows them to be cooked much faster. Quick oats are made from rolled oats that are rolled again and chopped up into tiny flakes. These cook the fastest of the three.
Which Oats Should I Choose?
Steel cut, rolled, and quick oats are all whole grains and provide the same benefits. Choose the type that best fits your time, budget, and taste preferences. Not all oatmeal products, however, are created equal. Flavored oatmeals are often laden with excess sugar, sodium, additives, and preservatives. These less-than-ideal additions can diminish some of the benefits of eating oatmeal. To reap all the benefits that oatmeal has to offer, buy plain oats and flavour them at home. Below you will find basic instructions for preparing oats four different ways, followed by ideas on how to flavor and top them!
How Do I Cook Plain Oats?
Steel Cut Oats
Stovetop: For 1 serving, bring 1 ½ cups liquid (water, milk, or a combination) to a boil in a small saucepan. Add ½ cup oats and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring often. Cook for 10-20 minutes, depending on how chewy you like your oats. Remove from heat, cover (to prevent a skin from forming on top of the oats), and let stand for a few minutes before serving.
Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
Stovetop: For 1 serving, bring 1 cup liquid (water, milk or a combination) to a boil in small saucepan. Add ½ cup oats and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes, covered, before serving.
Microwave: Combine above ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl with a little extra room in case the oats bubble. Microwave on high for 2 ½ – 3 minutes. Stir and serve.
Stovetop: Prepare using the same amounts and method as rolled oats but reduce cooking time to 1 minute.
Microwave: Prepare using the same amounts and method as rolled oats but reduce cooking time to 1 ½ – 2 minutes.
This method of oat preparation is great when you need a grab and go breakfast! They are usually eaten cold, so this is also a great way to enjoy oats during warmer weather. To prepare, combine ½ cup rolled or quick oats with 1 cup liquid (water, milk, or a combination) and a pinch of salt in a container or jar with a leak-proof lid. Stir well and cover. Refrigerate overnight, or up to 3 days, and enjoy! This base recipe is also delicious with with some plain yogurt or chia seeds stirred in.
10 Healthy, Flavorful and Simple Oatmeal Topping Combinations
To get you excited about your next bowl of homemade oatmeal, here are some topping combination ideas. Use this list as inspiration and make changes based on what you like and what you have on hand.
- Peach cobbler – cinnamon, chopped peaches (fresh or thawed frozen), plain yogurt, sliced almonds.
- Pumpkin spice – pumpkin pie spice, pureed pumpkin (stirred in), chopped pecans, plain yogurt, drizzle of real maple syrup.
- Apple pie – shredded or chopped apple, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, plain yogurt, drizzle of real maple syrup.
- Peanut butter banana – cinnamon, sliced banana, creamy or crunchy peanut butter, drizzle of honey.
- PB & J – peanut butter, strawberries, raspberries, and/or blueberries (fresh or thawed frozen), plain yogurt, drizzle of honey.
- Mango coconut – chopped mango (fresh or thawed frozen), unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, chia seeds.
- Almond joy – chopped almonds, unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, mini chocolate chips, plain yogurt.
- Pistachio & cranberry – shelled and chopped pistachios, craisins, drizzle of honey.
- Carrot cake – shredded carrots, unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut, raisins, cinnamon, drizzle of maple syrup.
- Savory curry – If you ever get tired of sweet foods for breakfast, try making your oatmeal savory. Curry powder, toasted cashews, golden raisins, unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut. Optional: top with some sauteed kale and a poached or fried egg.
Author: Rebecca Behr, RDN