Steel-cut-Rolled-and-Instant-Oats-whats-the-difference-between-different-types-of-oats-w.-Healthy-Oats-Recipes

Steel-cut, Rolled, and Instant Oats: What’s the difference between different types of oats? w/ Healthy Oats Recipes

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Also note: While I am a certified nutrition coach, I am not a medical doctor. Information here is not intended to be a replacement for the advice you should seek from your doctor.

Rolled, steel-cut, or instant, flavored or unflavored: the types of oats out there are almost endless! But do you know the difference, and what type is best for different dietary needs and recipes? In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about this incredible staple food, plus some healthy recipes with oats!

Steel-cut, Rolled, and Quick Oats: Different types of oats for different needs!

Oats are a staple in most Americans’ kitchens, and this doesn’t come as a surprise! Indeed, it is such a versatile and nourishing ingredient, that can be used in both salty and sweet preparations. But did you know that different types of oats can have slightly different nutritional profiles and that some of them are healthier than others? Plus, different types work best in different recipes. Let’s discover why and how!

What Makes Them Different?

The main difference between rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and quick oats is how they’re manufactured. All types begin as whole oats (groats), from which the outer layer (the hull) is stripped away, leaving the fiber-rich bran, the endosperm, and the germ. From there, the oats are either steel-cut, rolled, or further processed into quick oats (which is a sub-type of rolled oats).

From here, it is apparent how the first main difference between these different types of oats is the degree to which they are processed – hence the difference also in their nutritional profiles. Let’s break them down more in detail.

Steel-cut Oats: The least processed

Steel-cut oats -or Scottish oats – are the least processed type of oats, and those containing the most fiber (even though all types of oats are excellent sources of fiber).

To produce steel-cut oats, the groats are chopped into pieces with large steel blades. This kind of oat has a chewier texture and nuttier flavor than the other two types. They also take longer to prepare, with average cooking times varying from 15–30 minutes.

Moreover, they have a lower glycemic index than rolled or quick oats – as they contain more fiber – and for this reason, the body can digest and absorb them more slowly. This results in a slower rise in blood sugar, which in turn keeps us fuller for longer and cuts down cravings for overly processed, sweet foods.

Because of their “denser” consistency, steel-cut oats are perfect in stews and soups – as they absorb less water than rolled oats – or for adding to meatloaves, stuffings, and even plant-based burgers (you will find an incredible recipe for this down below). In addition, they can also be used for the preparation of oatmeal (the result will be a thicker, “chewier” porridge).

“Old-fashioned” Rolled Oats: More processed, yet still highly nutritious

Old-fashioned rolled oats are easily the most popular type on the market: they are classic flat-looking oats.

Rolled oats are groats that have undergone a specific process of steaming and pressing. They have a milder taste and a softer texture than steel-cut oats. They also require much less time to prepare – usually between 5 to 10 minutes – because they have already been partially cooked.

However, don’t worry about the fact that they are more processed than steel-cut oats: indeed, the difference in their nutritional profile is only minimal. Rolled oats are an amazing source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and energizing complex carbohydrates. Steel-cut oats contain a little more fiber.

As far as their use, in addition to being the perfect ingredient for creamy oatmeals, rolled oats can be added to a variety of baked goods such as cookies, muffins, waffles, and smoothies.

Quick and Instant Oats: the fastest to cook

Quick oats – are rolled oats that undergo further processing to reduce cooking time. They can be considered as a sub-type of rolled oats, as they are equally partially steamed and then rolled (thinner than old-fashioned rolled oats).

This process makes them easy to absorb liquids and makes them very quick to cook. Indeed, for their preparation, they only need a few minutes on the skillet (you can even microwave them). They have a mild taste and a soft, mushy texture.

It is also necessary to distinguish between quick oats and instant oatmeal. Packaged instant oats can contain other ingredients such as skim milk powder, sweeteners, sugar, and various – artificial and not – flavors. This is why it is essential to always check the nutritional label before deciding which type of product to buy: prefer those with a minimal ingredients list, low sugar, and with no additives, preservatives, or artificial sweeteners.

As far as their nutritional content, the main difference between quick and instant oats and steel-cut oats is their glycemic index (GI): because instant oatmeal has been processed to cook more quickly, it is also broken down and digested more quickly by your body, giving it a higher glycemic index.

To lower the glycemic index of instant oatmeal, all you have to do is combine it with a little lean protein (such as yogurt, milk, or even protein powder) and a source of healthy fats (for example chopped nuts, chia, and hemp seeds, or any type of nut butter).

Which Type of Oat is the Healthiest?

Despite the differences in processing, there are marginal nutritional differences between rolled oats, steel-cut oats, and quick oats. 

Plain rolled oats and steel-cut oats contain similar amounts of nutrients like fat and protein, with very slight differences in carbohydrates, fiber, and calories – steel-cut containing a little more fiber. On the other hand, quick oats do have a slightly higher glycemic index compared to the other two types.

However, what makes the biggest difference is what is added to them. For example, instant oats can be loaded with sugar, salt, artificial ingredients, and preservatives. Therefore, as explained above, make sure to carefully read the ingredient list of the product you are going to buy!

Oats: All the health benefits!

As we all have understood by now, the nutritional differences between different types of oats are minimal. But what are the main health benefits of oats?

Rich in Soluble Fiber

First of all, oats are rich in soluble fiber (including the powerful fiber beta-glucan), which helps prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into the body, as well as decreasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. In addition, soluble fiber is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Last but not least, as explained above, the fiber contained in oats can help control blood sugar spikes, improve insulin sensitivity, and can therefore also be consumed by diabetic subjects.

The fiber in oats is also great to promote regular bowel movements and avoid constipation, and assisting in weight loss and management, as it helps feel fuller and more satiated for longer.

A Great Source of Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants

Second, oats are loaded with minerals and vitamins, the main ones being magnesium, phosphorous, and thiamin (B1). In addition, it is full of antioxidants and polyphenols, which are beneficial plant compounds. The most notable antioxidant is avenanthramide, which has powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties.

Improve your sleep and mood with oats!

Third, oats are a good source of melatonin and complex carbohydrates, which can allow more tryptophan to get into your brain and consequently help you sleep better. Furthermore, oats contain B6, a co-factor that assists in the production of serotonin (the “feel-good hormone”).

A Gluten-Free Cereal

Last but not least, oats are naturally gluten-free, making them a great option for people with celiac disease. However, processed oats can become contaminated with gluten if they are manufactured in facilities that are shared with other grains that do contain gluten. Therefore, be aware of this if you are suffering from life-threatening gluten allergies, and make sure to only buy oats processed in dedicated plants.

Half a cup (40 grams) of plain rolled oats contains:

  • Calories: 154
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Carbs: 28 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Thiamin (B1): 13% of the RDI
  • Iron: 10% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 14% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 17% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 10% of the RDI
  • Copper: 8% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 74% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 17% of the RDI

Interesting Facts About Oats

  • Oats were one of the earliest cereals cultivated by man. They were known in ancient China as long ago as 7,000 B.C.
  • The ancient Greeks were the first people known to have made porridge from oats.
  • The main purpose of using oats in the past was to make beer.
  • Oats are annual plants and can reach up to 1.5m in height (about 5 feet).
  • Currently, the Russian Federation is the world’s largest oat producer with a production of 4.5 million tons per year.
  • Seventy-five percent of U.S. households have oatmeal in their cupboard.

Ingredient Selection Tips: How to choose the best oats

Today there are a lot of oats producers and brands on the market. Therefore, here are some tips on how to choose the best oats.

First of all, make sure to check the ingredient list of the products you are going to buy. Avoid those containing sweeteners, artificial flavors, salt, preservatives, and additives. The shorter the list, the better (ideally, it should just contain oats).

In addition, an increasing number of brands are opting for organic production methods. Therefore, look for appropriate markings on the packaging. Also try to buy from local producers. This is generally better both for the environment and for the final quality of the product.

The Cultivation of Oats

Nowadays, oats are mainly grown extensively. However, if you have a small piece of land, you can try to cultivate your own oats, as they don’t require much maintenance work.

The minimum temperature for seed germination is 1-2 degrees Celsius (~34 degrees Fahrenheit), and the ideal temperature is 20-25 degrees Celsius (~68-77 degrees Fahrenheit). It can withstand early morning frosts at temperatures down to -4C (~25F). Regarding the soil, the best choice is an acidic one, with a low pH value.

oat plant
The characteristic oat plant!

Oat plants also require a fair amount of water to thrive. This is why it is not recommended to plant oats in dry, arid climates. On the other hand, wet and humid areas yield a greater and qualitatively better harvest.

My Favorite Healthy Oat Recipes

Oats are a true staple in my kitchen: they are not only super healthy but also very versatile, as they are great in both sweet and savory dishes.

I actually have a whole post dedicated to my top 5 Plant-Based Oatmeal Breakfasts, all extremely easy to make, energizing, and simply delicious. Other healthy breakfast recipes I made using oats as the main source of carbs and fiber are my Healthy Strawberry Rhubarb Baked Oats, my Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oat Parfait, and my Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oat Parfait.

pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies overhead
Try these delicious Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Cookies!

In addition, I love to use oats for the preparation of healthier dessert-like snacks, such as these Apple Pie Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies, and Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Cookies, as well as these delicious Beet Date Carrot Cake, Strawberry Chia Seeds Pudding, and Tart Cherry Chocolate Almond Energy Bars.

And this is not all! Oats can be a great addition also to savory dishes, such as my Lentil Beet Burgers, as well as my 50/50 Beef + Veggies Burger. In both cases, I used them mainly for their excellent ingredient binding.

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal
Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal: delicious, quick, and good for your health! It will keep you full and energized until lunchtime!
Check out this recipe
oatmeal served in a white bowl topped with chocolate chips, dried cherries, and almonds
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
This Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal is a healthy, delicious, and simple breakfast! It is also part of my 5 Plant-Based Oatmeal Breakfasts plan: eating plant-based has never been so easy and enjoyable!
Check out this recipe
Oatmeal served in a white bowl topped with cinnamon stick and dried apple rings
Tropical Coconut Oatmeal
Tropical Coconut Oatmeal: a unique flavor combination for a tasty vegan breakfast! A recipe ready in a few minutes, and full of nutrients!
Check out this recipe
Oatmeal served in a white bowl topped with cashews and fruits
Raisin Date Oatmeal
This Raisin Date Oatmeal is healthy, softly sweet, and simple breakfast and it is part of my 5 Plant-Based Oatmeal Breakfasts plan. In less than 15 minutes you can prep several breakfasts full of nutrients for the whole family, and for the whole week!
Check out this recipe
Oatmeal served in a white bowl, and topped with raisins and nuts
Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal
Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal: a high-protein and delicious vegan recipe. In less than 15 minutes, a nutritious and high-protein breakfast!
Check out this recipe
Oatmeal served in a white bowl, and topped with banana slices and peanut butter
Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oat Parfait
These Overnight Oat Parfaits are an excellent healthy breakfast as well as great for weight loss! They are high in protein, healthy carbs, and healthy fats – and full of flavor!
Check out this recipe
two jars full of overnight oats and pumpkin on the side
Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oat Parfait
These Overnight Oat Parfaits are an excellent healthy breakfast as well as great for weight loss! They are high in protein, healthy carbs, and healthy fats – and full of flavor!
Check out this recipe
two jars full of overnight oats and pumpkin on the side
Apple Pie Oatmeal Cookies
Apple Pie Oatmeal Cookies: a healthy, plant-based breakfast. Plus, unlike many other healthy cookies recipes, they have no banana in them!
Check out this recipe
apple pie breakfast cookies served on a black plate
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Cookies
Craving pumpkin pie 🍂 as the fall season approaches, but looking for a quick and easy whole food recipe for an on-the-go breakfast, healthy dessert, or snack? Look no further! My Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cookies are here for you! 🍪
Check out this recipe
pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies overhead
Strawberry Chia Seeds Pudding
Summer is finally here and what better way to celebrate it than with this delicious Strawberry Chia Seeds Pudding!
This healthy Summer parfait is super easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time for an on-the-go snack or breakfast.
Check out this recipe
Strawberry Chia Pudding Parfait layered with oats and vanilla protein greek yogurt
Strawberry Rhubarb Baked Oats – Breakfast Meal Prep
Let's start my Spring Meal Prep Series with this Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast Baked Oats: gluten-free, fully plant-based, and super easy and quick to make! Plus, this recipe is low in fats and calories and has no added sugar. Prep it ahead and enjoy it on-the-go all week!
Check out this recipe
Baked oats topped with fresh strawberries served on a white plate
Beet Date Carrot Cake
You'll barely realize this decadent carrot cake is packed with nutrition and sweetened with a nutritious sugar substitute – dates!
Check out this recipe
White plate with Beet Date Carrot Cake served
Tart Cherry Chocolate Got-No-Energy Bars
An energy bar for around or during your long or intense endurance workouts, or a meal replacement!
Check out this recipe
Tart cherry chocolate energy bars pic
Lentil Beet Burger
These Lentil Beet Burgers are super nutritious and high in protein! This recipe is gluten-free, vegetarian, and can be easily made vegan!
Check out this recipe
lentil beet burger
Grilled 50/50 Beef and Veggie Burger
I am so excited to share with you my 50/50 Beef and Veggies Burger recipe. Not only because they are super wholesome, rich in protein, and delicious, but also because they perfectly exemplify my philosophy around food and healthy eating!
Check out this recipe
burger served on a white plate with some greens on the side

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