Starting your day off with a bowl of hot oatmeal can give you an early dose of fiber and help stave off hunger until lunchtime. However, all oats are not created equal. Because many instant oatmeal products have added sugar, steel-cut oatmeal can be a healthier alternative. This whole-grain food can be served as a hot cereal or incorporated into baked goods, such as cookies or granola bars, to create a tasty, lower-calorie snack.
A number of oat varieties are available on the market: steel-cut, stone-ground, quick-cooking, old-fashioned and instant oats, just to name a few. Steel-cut or Irish oats tend to be the less processed and refined of all the oat types. The oat grains in steel-cut oats are simply cut into smaller chunks and then packaged. They take slightly longer to cook than other oat types. Steel-cut oats typically take about 45 minutes to cook while Scottish oats take half as long. Less processing means that the oats retain their more of their nutrients and fiber.
Steel-cut oats have a distinct, natural flavor, with a hearty, slightly nutty taste. Mixing in fruit adds some sweetness to it. Steel-cut oats also have a crunchier texture compared to traditional instant oats. If you prefer your oatmeal slightly chewier, you might prefer steel-cut oatmeal.
Insoluble and Soluble Fiber
Steel-cut oats are whole grains and thus high in fiber. The insoluble fiber in steel-cut oats helps you maintain digestive regularity. Insoluble fiber passes through your digestive system largely undigested and adds bulk to your stool, which makes it easier to pass. If you routinely suffer from constipation, adding steel-cut oats to your diet can help to minimize symptoms. Oats also have soluble fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer. This prevents mid-morning overeating. Soluble fiber also helps control the level of unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the blood. Instead of eating refined-grain breakfast foods, such as a white-flour bagel, try steel-cut oats, which are a healthier choice.
Packages of instant oatmeal can be highly refined and have added sugars that increase the calorie count, which means they are not as nutritious as plain steel-cut, stone-ground or rolled oats. In fact, the latter three types of oats have similar nutritional values. If you add fruits, such as peaches, blueberries or bananas, you can also up the nutritional value of oats without adding unnecessary sugars.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.