Bowl of hot oatmeal breakfast cereal with fresh berries, cooked oatmeal

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.

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  1. Penelope
    Florida
    Reply

    I make a mixture of 2 cups of quick oats, 1/2 cup oat bran, 1/4 cup ground flax seed, 1 tspn each of ground ginger and cinnamon, and 1/3 cup chopped almonds or walnuts. Then in the morning scoop out however much I want for breakfast–2-3 tbspns for me, 5 for my husband, add water (1/4 cup for me, 1/2 cup for my husband), a tblspn dried cranberries and blueberries and microwave for 1 minute 10 seconds. Add almond milk, stir, and eat!

  2. Lynn
    North Carolina
    Reply

    I make a big pot of my breakfast oatmeal full of cinnamon, raisins, walnuts, and fresh cooked apples.

    I then have plenty of extra to put in small individual serving bowls or in a brownie pan, put it in the refrigerator, and later have a wonderful, healthy, cold snack. You can add a little milk, honey, or whipped cream for a delicious, satisfying dessert or snack.

  3. Linda
    FL
    Reply

    I enjoy my oatmeal uncooked, right out of the box, with milk, nuts and dried fruits.

  4. Walt
    Rio Rancho, NM
    Reply

    I just had some savory oatmeal yesterday. Cooked steel cut oats on oven. Sautéed onions, green chili, mushrooms in coconut oil with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mixed together. A different oatmeal taste. Can be a side dish for lunch or dinner.

  5. Vicki
    Hawaii
    Reply

    Whole Foods (& maybe available elsewhere) sells large packages of Chia & Flax -with vanilla…like a powder. Great on several things, incl oatmeal. I prefer steel cut…tastes lot better than packets of “instant”.

    I add tad of honey..sometimes blueberries-I buy packaged hydrated berries-longer shelf life (Hawaii fresh fruit/veggies super expensive).

    Prepare a week’s worth…its our HEALTH. Little extra time preparing pays dividends in health benefits, etc.

  6. Lisa
    Reply

    Instant Oatmeal is so obviously over processed. All these suggestions in comments as to how, when to cook whole oats, in any version, are so much better. Just like “overdone” yogurt, in oatmeal, less processing is better and no added sugar best.

    Agave syrup (less than a tablespoon to a “cereal bowl”) is a great option too, then add what you want as other options, typical suggestions below. Healthiest options are NOT cooked or processed. Happy bellies!

  7. SOLODAD
    Reply

    I add all kinds of good stuff to my quick oats, such as a dollop greek honey yogurt, peanut butter, frozen or fresh blueberries, and I top it off with sliced almonds, sunflower sees, and hemp hearts for the extra protein.

    After reading these posts I am going to try whole oats for even more texture and health benefits.

  8. Someone
    IOWA
    Reply

    Never cook oatmeal or any other food in a microwave oven. You’ll kill up to 90 percent of the nutrients.

    • Sally
      WA
      Reply

      Used correctly microwaving does not destroy nutrients any more than any kind of cooking. Heat can destroy some nutrients no matter how the food is heated. Heat can also help some nutrients.

  9. Angela
    Reply

    I put 3 heaping soup spoons in about 1/3 c of salted water. Let boil. Pour into bowl, add cinnamon, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, raisins, drunken raisins, sunflower seeds, cashews….just wonderful. I’m so beeooteeful, all the old buzzards want to kiss me. Agh, that’s so annoying. Good morning to all.

  10. Jan
    Reply

    When I was pregnant and trying not to gain too much weight, I ate oatmeal for lunch. It kept me full until supper, and I didn’t gain too much weight.

  11. Kenny
    IL
    Reply

    I prepare my steel cut oats in a rice cooker before bed (oats, chia seeds and water), set the timer so that I have freshly cooked (not microwaved) oatmeal in the morning. Top with granola.

  12. Bob
    South Carolina
    Reply

    According to the Quaker Oats Company the only difference between the instant, minute, and old fashion oats is the thickness of the cut oat. Those that cook faster are thinner. Old fashion oats are thicker and require longer cooking.

  13. John
    Croydon, PA
    Reply

    I have been eating my rolled oats uncooked with nonfat dry milk for decades. Why cook it? It has already been heated in the rolling process. I add fat, lately chia seeds, walnuts, and low fat kefir. Wouldn’t the added fat also lower glycemic index?

  14. Beth
    Baltimore MD
    Reply

    I buy regular unprocessed oats, and cook by covering with water plus a half inch. I nuke in the microwave for 3 minutes, and let it sit for a couple more, allowing the oats to swell in my bowl. The oatmeal is not gluey, but is really like cooked oats, which make a sticky mess in a pot and warrant washing a sticky spoon as well, not to mention the time needed to stand and stir. I always add a pinch of salt before cooking to this otherwise bland food, and then put organic milk on top and cut it in, cooling the cereal. Its fast, delicious, and easy to clean up. Its cheaper to buy, and you eat the amount you want, not some premeasured, sugared, packet.

  15. Jim
    Connecticut
    Reply

    I cook regular oats in the microwave every morning, and it is easy. ½ cup oats, about 8-10 oz. unsweetened almond milk. Cook 3 minutes and 45 seconds on power 8 with our microwave. Add cinnamon, nuts and a heaping teaspoon of ground flax seed, and maybe a drop or two of flavoring such as almond extract. You can use different flavors also. I never get bored with it, and it’s the real thing!

    • Jim
      Reply

      Oops! Meant to say raisins too!

  16. Gerry
    Fla
    Reply

    Add some oat bran and wheat germ (1/4 tsp each) to your daily home made drink (I make mine with a slice of tofu, very ripe banana, half cup skim milk, add any of the following for extra flavor: couple fresh strawberries, tablespoon of frozen o.j., 1/4 teaspoon real cocoa). Blend in blender til completely mixed.

  17. Lawrence Edwards
    North Carolina
    Reply

    So which is better…5 minute or 1 minute oatmeal. I EAT 5 MINUTE HOT WITH ENGLISH WALNUTS….1/3 – 1/2 CUP AND BROWN SUGAR.

  18. Eva
    North Carolina
    Reply

    For years, I have been eating whole oatmeal uncooked. This is the basis of “muesli”, which is popular in Germany and other European countries. I add walnuts and fresh fruit as well as milk, and it keeps me going until lunchtime. It’s delicious.

  19. Sue
    Kingwood, TX
    Reply

    Quick oats are just as convenient as instant oatmeal, in my opinion. I use 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of oats, and 1 TBSP of peanut butter or almond butter (optional, but the added protein helps me to feel full longer). Microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. If you prefer whole oats, the recipe is the same, but microwave for 3 minutes. The advantages over instant oatmeal are cost savings, less sodium, and the ability to vary the serving size.

  20. Leila
    Charlotte
    Reply

    I want to share my husband’s recipe for cooking Old Fashion Oatmeal. Takes less than 3 minutes and it’s easy:
    Put oats in a bowl; pour tap water over oats to wet them; then pour excess water off. Microwave 1 minute. Add maple syrup (just a dab), walnuts, raisins and fruit (blueberries and banana) to the bowl. Stir and add a splash of any milk (I use coconut).
    This takes me 3 minutes or less. My husband showed me this technique 10 years ago. I eat at 6:30 and stay full till noon.

  21. brandy
    Denton, texas
    Reply

    We cook a big batch of steel cut oats and store it in the fridge in a glass container for up to a week. Easy to scoop out and warm up with a little homemade almond milk in the microwave, and then add berries, cinnamon and a TBL of ground flax, and you have a wonderful, nutritious breakfast in 2 minutes.

    • Lisa
      Durham NC
      Reply

      This is my recipe too. Love it, sometimes just walnuts and ground flax with cinnamon, or without. I am diabetic type II and yes this does not highjack my blood sugar.

  22. JOHN
    FLORIDA
    Reply

    I simply add uncooked instant oatmeal to yogurt, stir and eat. No problems.

  23. Mary
    Raleigh NC
    Reply

    I actually make a week’s worth at a time. I just cook it all in a pot, refrigerate it, and then put it in the bowl as I need it, and it taste just as good as if I had made it that morning. I just add a sprinkle of cinnamon for a nice taste.

  24. Norma
    Midwest
    Reply

    Rolled oats (old fashioned) can be cooked in 3 to 4 minutes in the microwave. It swells up a lot so use an oversized bowl.

  25. Walt S.
    Athens, GA
    Reply

    I found an unorthodox way of enjoying oatmeal if you don’t want to add any sweeteners. Try a few tablespoons of pasta sauce, to which you can also add garlic powder or better yet, pressed fresh garlic. There is a large variety of ready-made pasta sauces to choose from.

  26. Jeff
    Roanoke, VA
    Reply

    It takes about 15-20 minutes to cook oatmeal using steel-cut oats. This is too long to do every morning! So when I cook a pot of oatmeal using steel-cut oats, I spoon the prepared oatmeal into an ice cube tray and freeze into what I call “oatmeal modules.” Just pop one or a few out into a small bowl with a tablespoon of water and microwave for a minute or so.

  27. kenneth
    England
    Reply

    This report leaves the reader wondering what the difference is between whole grains, steel cut or rolled oats, and instant oats.

    • Terry Graedon
      Reply

      The difference is glycemic index. The more processed the oatmeal is, the higher the glycemic index. Lower is better.

      • Walt S.
        Athens, GA
        Reply

        Lower might be better, but how much lower is the glycemic index for “unprocessed” or less processed oatmeal, and is this difference significant enough to worry about? How exactly is instant oatmeal processed, and why does the processing increase the glycemic index?

        • Terry Graedon
          Reply

          Steel-cut oats clock in with a glycemic index of 42. Instant oatmeal has a GI of 66. Whether it makes a big difference depends partly on how much you eat, and partly on how your body responds. It turns out that GI is not the same for everyone; people have different responses, depending perhaps upon their digestive flora.

  28. Marie
    Reply

    Another possibility is what I do – I prepare old-fashioned oats at bedtime in my small slow cooker on the low setting. I liberally grease the crock first with butter or coconut oil. Butter tastes better but coconut oil is probably better for me. I use considerably more liquid than the directions call for on the container. I add spices to flavor it. You must adjust the liquid amount to your altitude. At first, this may result in oatmeal encrusted on the side of the crock until you figure out what is best for where you live. Don’t add brown sugar or honey until the morning just before you eat it. Once you get accustomed to old-fashioned oats, instant oatmeal or even quick oatmeal tastes awful!

  29. Ed
    Houston
    Reply

    I cook “Old Fashioned” oatmeal every morning for my wife. It takes only 2 minutes to prep in microwave oven. Using a 1/2 cup of oats to 1 cup of water makes a perfect serving. We add raisins, or fruit, and milk.

    Can’t imagine there’s much margin of convenience compared to instant.

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