In many classes I've taught - and in many patient rooms I've visited - people proudly claim STEEL CUT OATS as their daily breakfast of choice because they are healthier than rolled oats.
I'm supposed to be really impressed when they tell me this.
I often say, "Great! I'm so glad you eat breakfast and that you are making a healthy choice!" Because it's true, oatmeal is really good for you. It has protein, fiber, iron, vitamins, minerals; plus it tastes good and KEEPS YOU FULL. Which is a vital breakfast factor in our hungry house.
What I usually think, however, is that oatmeal is oatmeal no matter how its cut. As long as it is the whole grain it should be just as nutritious as instant oatmeal. FYI steel cut oats are the whole oat kernel chopped 3 fat parts - like cutting a banana into three chunks. Rolled oats are sliced the long way - like slicing a banana into many long thin slices. Because rolled oats are cut smaller, there is probably a difference in glycemic index (how fast and high a food increases your blood sugar postprandial) but last I read glycemic index had too much intra and inter personal variation to actually be employable.
So this morning I was telling my friend I had oatmeal for bfast and she was telling me she switched to steel cut oats because she heard on the food network that they are higher in fiber and keep you fuller longer. I told her my theory - but decided I better look up the facts before I got on my high and mighty RD horse. So here we go. I looked at fiber and protein, because that's what keeps you full (I guess, I personally think fat keeps me satisfied - so i looked at that too).
The USDA nutrient database didn't contain steel cut oats. Just quick oats and every flavor of quaker instant oats available. Weird. So I went to the manufacturer.
According to the nutrition facts on the quaker oat website - gram for gram steel cut oats and old fashioned oats are the same nutritionally.
3 grams fat, 5 grams protein, and 4 grams of fiber for 40 grams,
The difference is in the volume. 1/4 cup steel cut oats = 1/2 cup regular oats. This makes sense because rolled (regular) oats are fluffier and steel cut oats are denser. Think of it this way - you can pack alot of rice in 1 cup - but only a little bit of penne pasta. There is more air in there displacing the space. anyways - to continue....
Instant oatmeal from their packet only has 3 grams per packet (28grams). Which actually equates to 4.2 grams fiber for each 40 grams of oats eaten. Pretty much the same. The ingredients were whole grain oats for steel cut and regular rolled. The instant oats had added oat flour, which probably adds the extra fiber.
So I thought, "well that's one brand." Every processing plant is different. So I decided to check out Bob's Red Mill.
Steel cut oats ingredients on label = organic whole grain oats
1/2 cup or 44g = 170 Cal/3 g fat/5 g fiber/7g protein
regular rolled oats ingredient on label = whole grain oats
1/2 cup or 41g = 160 Cal/2.5g fat/4 g fiber/7g pr0tein
instant rolled oats ingredients on label = whole grain oats
1/3 cup (32 g) = 120 Cal/2 g fat/ 3 g fiber/5g protein
conversion (assuming 41g)
1/2 cup : 153 Cal/2.5g fat/3.8 g fiber/6.4 g protein
For some reason Bob's red mill's oat kernel has more protein (2g - who cares), and their rolled oats lose some fiber in the processing. Possibly they are just more honest than Quaker. Who knows. Either way rolled oats and steel cut oats are pretty much equal. I suppose it makes sense that more of the fiber is lost during the making of an instant oat.
So basically you can't just make a blanket statement that steel cut oats are better for you than rolled or even instant oats. I guess if you unknowingly compared them cup for cup steel cut oats would have more fiber - but only because you are eating more (read as - you are getting more calories too). Fiber and protein content seem to vary with the brand name and what else is added.
I suppose I found some evidence to verify my idea that if your rolled oats contain the whole grain, they are just as nutritious as steel cut oats that contain the whole grain.
Really, it doesn't matter anyways. As long as you are eating some form of oatmeal for bfast you are doing good. If you like a chewier texture, nuttier flavor and 20 minute wait - go for steel cut. If you like 5 minutes and mushier texture - go for regular. If you like to eat from a packet at your desk (after adding water from the drinking fountain down the hall) - go for the packet of instant. If you were wondering - yes I did this all the time at work. Just watch the added butter/brown sugar/jam/white sugar - and in richards case - the 1/4 cup of peanut butter.
For a great chart on different fiber content of different cereals from the center for science in the public interest go here.
For an additional 6-8 grams of fiber (and a guilt free sweetener) make your oatmeal Nicole style:
1. In a bowl add 1/2 cup blueberries and 1/2 cup raspberries. Microwave until they are no longer distinguishable as berries, but appear to be purple syrup with seeds.
2. Cook your oats however you like. I use regular oats and sometimes quick oats - boiled in who knows how much water - for like 5 minutes until its not too solid but not too mushy.
3. Stir your oats into the syrup. Top with 1/4 cup toasted nuts of choice (lately i like walnuts).