Oats have been a dietary staple for many centuries, and they have a reputation as a healthy whole grain. Eating cooked oatmeal on a regular basis (daily or several times a week) can help control cholesterol. People who eat whole grains, including cooked oatmeal from rolled or steel-cut oats, lower their likelihood of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers (Seal & Brownlee, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Aug. 2015). In addition, people who eat more whole grains and vegetables and less processed foods ward off gum disease better (Salazar et al, Journal of Clinical Periodontology, online May 19, 2018). But what about the more convenient instant oatmeal? How does it differ from cooked oats?
Is Cooked Oatmeal Better Than Instant Oatmeal?
Q. I have been eating instant oatmeal five days a week for many years now. I have read that instant oatmeal is somehow nutritionally inferior to regular oatmeal that must be cooked. Is this true, and if so, why?
Glycemic Index of Cooked Oatmeal and Instant Oatmeal:
A. Instant oatmeal has been processed so that it requires only boiling water or a minute in the microwave. It has a higher glycemic index than whole grain oats. As a result, it is likely to raise blood sugar more quickly than whole-grain oats. In addition, many instant oatmeal varieties are sweetened, which would further increase the blood sugar response.
Instant oatmeal is better in this respect than cold cereal made of oats, however. In a randomized crossover trial, people were less hungry when they ate instant oatmeal than when they had a bowl of cold oat breakfast cereal (Rebello et al, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Aug. 14, 2016).
Can You Get a Nutritious Breakfast in a Hurry?
If you don’t have time to cook regular oatmeal in the morning, you might try cooking it the night before or soaking the oats overnight to speed cooking. That way you would still get the “whole-grain benefit” you are currently missing with instant oatmeal. Even with sugar added, Quick Oats raised blood sugar less than Cream of Wheat (Wolever et al, Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, Dec. 2016). Nonetheless, for even better nutritional value, you might consider sweetening your oatmeal with fruit instead of sugar.
Another possibility: add a tablespoon or two of oat bran to your instant oatmeal. One study showed that beta-glucan from oat bran lowers the glycemic index of instant oatmeal (Wolever et al, Food & Function, March 1, 2018).
Savory Oatmeal with Greens:
There’s no rule that oatmeal has to be sweet. Here’s another take on oatmeal, though you may need a subscription to The New York Times to grab it.