We Owe it to Oats

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Oatmeal has been around for years and is often perceived as the breakfast of punishment. Consumers may begrudgingly eat it when they know their cholesterol is high or when it’s just too cold outside for cold cereal. This inexpensive grain has a lot going for it beyond cholesterol reduction. And when doctored up, it can be quite delicious.

Oatmeal 101

From the tall cylinder of rolled oats to the sweetened packet of instant oats, oatmeal comes in all shapes and sizes. Here are just a few popular varieties.

Steel cut oats are aptly named because they’re produced by chopping groats (hulled oat grains) into small pieces using a steel blade. This method keeps each part of the grain (the bran, endosperm and germ) primarily intact, which helps to retain most of its nutrition. Steel cut oats may also be called pinhead oats, Scottish or Irish oats. These take longer to cook than other varieties of oats.

Rolled oats are a bit more processed than steel cut oats. These are steel cut oats that have been cut a few more times, then steamed and rolled flat. These are often called “old fashioned oats”.

Instant oats or quick oats are groats that have been steamed then rolled into very small pieces. These are the most processed form of oatmeal and are commonly sweetened and sold in packets for convenience. They tend to contain more sodium and sugar than other varieties.

Health Benefits

Oatmeal has multiple health benefits, though most consumers associate it with cholesterol reduction. In addition to beta-glucan, a fiber in oatmeal that reduces cholesterol, oatmeal has been found to alter gut microbiota which aids in the reduction of LDL cholesterol.1 One study found that boiling oatmeal resulted in higher beta-glucan content than brewing with subsequent cholesterol reduction in rodents. 2

In the early 1900s, oatmeal was used in short-term hypocaloric feedings (1100 calories per day) for individuals with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. This method was found to be effective and is being revived today.3, 4 A previous meta-analysis also showed that oatmeal intake is associated with lower post-prandial blood sugars when compared to refined carbohydrate intake.5

Oatmeal may also play a role in weight control. In an NHANES study in children aged 2 to 18, consumption of oatmeal was linked with improved nutrient intake, better diet quality, less central fat deposition, and obesity.5 New research is looking into the anti-inflammatory properties of oats.

How to enjoy more oats.

There are a number of different ways to enjoy oatmeal. Here are a few to try:

  • Combine ½ tsp. each of cinnamon and turmeric, 1 Tbsp. ground flax and 1 cup water to ½ cup rolled oats. Microwave for 2 minutes then drizzle over the top of the cereal with maple syrup.
  • Use rolled oats in homemade granola.
  • Try homemade energy bars using rolled oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
  • Make a large batch of steel-cut oats and freeze a few servings for later.
  • Try overnight oats using ½ cup rolled oats, ½ cup Greek yogurt, and a ½ cup frozen fruit in juice. Stir together and store in the fridge for breakfast the next day.
  • Use rolled oats in place of breadcrumbs in meatloaf, burgers, or meatballs.
  • Top your breakfast oats with almond slivers, dried fruit, or peanut butter.

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Ye M, Sun J, Chen Y, Ren Q, Li Z, Zhao Y, Pan Y, Xue H. Oatmeal induced gut microbiota alteration and its relationship with improved lipid profiles: a secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2020 Oct 8;17:85.
  2. Ban Y, Qiu J, Ren C, Li Z. Effects of different cooking methods of oatmeal on preventing the diet-induced increase of cholesterol level in hypercholesterolemic rats. Lipids Health Dis. 2015 Oct 24;14:135.
  3. Storz MA, Iraci F. Short-Term Dietary Oatmeal Interventions in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A Forgotten Tool. Can J Diabetes. 2020 Jun;44(4):301-303.
  4. Storz MA, Küster O. Hypocaloric, plant-based oatmeal interventions in the treatment of poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes: A review. Nutr Health. 2019 Dec;25(4):281-290.
  5. Hou Q, Li Y, Li L, Cheng G, Sun X, Li S, Tian H. The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2015 Dec 10;7(12):10369-87.
  6. O'Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL, DiRienzo MA. Cooked oatmeal consumption is associated with better diet quality, better nutrient intakes, and reduced risk for central adiposity and obesity in children 2-18 years: NHANES 2001-2010. Food Nutr Res. 2015 May 27;59:26673.

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