- Steel cut oats are healthier than rolled oats
- Factories shouldn’t be part of the digestion process
- Do you always have to choose steel cut oats?
Find out why small changes, like choosing steel cut oats, make a big difference.
Steel cut oats: My story
Steel cut oats? I just heard about them recently.
Until a few weeks ago I ate rolled oats (aka porridge) a few times a week for breakfast. I stirred in some cinnamon and dried cranberries before microwaving them for one minute.
Meanwhile I’d cut up an apple to throw on top. Add a latte (made of 2% milk) and I thought it was a pretty good, roughly-balanced breakfast made mostly of whole foods, as recommended by the Eatwell Guide.
Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates: rolled oats
Dairy and alternatives: 2% milk (now I drink 3.25% milk)
Oil and spreads
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat & other proteins
Fruit and vegetables: apple & cranberries
… though I was always surprised how quickly I felt hungry after this meal.
Last month I went to the grocery store. I was making sure I spent enough to get the offer; I take loyalty points seriously 🙂 Steel cut oats were on sale, so I threw them into my basket and headed home.
A couple days later I got ready to make a quick breakfast. But when I read the instructions I was surprised to see that steel cut oats take twenty minutes to cook! That was the start of me understanding how rolled oats are different.
Steel cut oats vs. rolled oats
Both types of oats are full of roughage. The main difference is that rolled oats are more processed than steel cut oats. Rolled oats are precooked, dried and then rolled—just like quick oats (aka instant oats).
Roughage is a fibrous material found in food that’s indigestible. Fiber aids the passage of food and waste products through and out of your body.
Processed foods cook faster, you digest them faster and you feel hungrier faster. Then you can either eat more food or be preoccupied by hunger pains. Each decision we make triggers a positive or negative series of events.
Another option that’s closer to its natural state is steel cut oats. The grain kernel is simply cut into 2 or 3 pieces by a thick metal blade so that water can penetrate the smaller pieces more easily when they’re cooked.
Steel cut oats keep you full longer because they take longer for your body to process.
Set off a healthy domino effect!
Steel cut oats are a healthier choice because:
- your body does all the work (vs. a factory!)
- whole foods take longer to digest
- energy and nutrients are released slowly
When energy and nutrients are released slowly, you stay full looonger!
Steel cut oats keep you full longer
I don’t believe in counting calories now (but for the 10 years I was overweight, I obsessed over them.) Talking about calories here, however, demonstrates an important point. 200 calories of quick oats and 200 calories of steel cut oats affect your body differently. After eating quick oats you’ll feel hungry faster.
If you change your eating habits to include more whole food (beans, rice, vegetables and fruit), then you'll eat less.— Roy Walford, doctor
Whole foods simply go further. They take longer for your body to break down and extract energy, which keeps you full longer. I also prefer the taste and texture of steel cut oats.
Whenever possible, I choose an orange over orange juice, brown rice over white rice and steel cut oats over rolled oats. Choose natural foods over factory foods. Let your body do the processing!
If 20 minutes is too long for your morning routine, cook your steel cut oats the night before, while you’re cleaning up after dinner. Then add a bit of water the next morning, give them a stir on the stove and breakfast will be ready in less time than quick oats! You’ve likely heard this idea before:
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Peeease porridge in the pot
Nine days old …
Don’t get lost in the details
I didn’t understand there was a difference between rolled oats and breakfast grains like steel cut oats or Red River Cereal until recently. Yet I’ve been a healthy weight for 20+ years.
The goal of this post is not to say never eat rolled oats! (One of my favorite snacks is this great banana muffin top recipe made with rolled oats.) And I’m not suggesting you’ve ruined your day if you eat rolled oats. As I write this post I’m actually eating a rolled-oat-raison-coconut cookie I bought this morning when visiting my dad in the hospital. I’m also eating an orange and drinking a milky coffee to make it a more balanced snack that includes some whole foods.
You CAN snack between meals and reach a healthy weight naturally. Here’s some of my favorite snacks.
My objective is to explain how our bodies work. Then it will make sense to introduce more whole foods while you start eating more balanced meals and snacks. Choices get easier when you recognize why they’re a good idea.
When I was trying to lose weight I had no idea how our bodies work. I got so lost in the details. Every choice was a struggle. Now that I simply focus on eating ROUGHLY balanced meals and snacks made MOSTLY of whole foods, every choice is simplified.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
- are eating tons of processed foods
- have never cooked for yourself
- been trying to exist on diet pop and rice cakes (a very processed food) like I did for years
Focus on cutting down on processed foods! Work toward eating ROUGHLY balanced meals made MOSTLY of whole foods.
Having a strategy for change also helps you turn unhealthy habits into healthy habits. But first… you need to fix the BIGGEST weight-loss mistake. Are you making it? Sign up below and find out in 60 seconds.
Sedona by Houdmouth
Have you “flipped the script and shot the plot?” Are you ready to change your story? Take control of your health. Start including some whole foods in your meals and snacks instead of processed foods.
What whole food have you substituted for a processed food? Let me know in the comments below!
Or… What’s your go-to healthy breakfast? I’d love to know.
PS These days I have 1/4 cup of steel cut oats and 1/4 cup of Red River Cereal. Love all the grains! (Measurements are pre-cooking.) I also add a spoonful of almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or sesame seeds for protein. Then this meal is more balanced.
Note on Cinnamon
Be careful not to exceed 1 tsp of cinnamon per day. This is an FDA recommendation because too much cinnamon can cause liver damage. I can’t taste cinnamon very well so I used to really over do it. Now I’m careful to just add a 1/2 tsp to my steel cut oats.
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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it
Nice work Kelly. I thought I was an expert on oats in the morning, but I didn’t understand the important difference between steel cut oats and my usual – large flake. The precooking of the latter means it’s calories are more rapidly available once it’s in your digestive tract, while the hard shell (roughage) of the former gives it a slow release quality.
The way nutrition science quantifies it is by assigning a “glycemic index” value. Lower is better, reflecting slower absorption of usable calories from the gut to the bloodstream. The glycemic index would be high for white bread, medium for large flake oatmeal, but lowest (and best) for the steel cut version. I’m switching! Thank you!
Thanks for reading this post Doug and taking time to leave a comment! The glycemic index would be a great idea for a blog post—though you’ve explained it nice and clearly already 🙂
I started my steel cut oats today. I got quick cooking (takes 8-10 minutes). Are they not as good as the ones that take 20-40 minutes? They look the same.
Check the packaging of your quick-cooking steel cut oats. As long as “steel cut oats” are the only ingredient, it shouldn’t matter that they’re quick-cooking.
While steel cut oats are less processed and therefore healthier than rolled oats, both are a MUCH better breakfast choice than oats that come with added salt and sugar. I.e. Stay away from peaches and cream flavoured quick oats!
Aim for balanced meals made of foods in their most natural state whenever you can. But eating white bread, white rice or rolled oats here and there is no big deal! Being flexible is a huge part of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Don’t get lost in the details like I did 🙂 Thanks for your question Rindy!
I strongly recommend investing in a nice rice cooker that has settings for brown rice and porridge. The porridge setting allows you to cook steel cut oats, and these cookers often have timer settings so you just set and forget the night before. As for the brown rice setting, this is useful because the machine allows you to have nice, fluffy brown rice, which is often difficult to get when you’re cooking on stovetop. This is because the traditional way of cooking rice requires steps in addition to the heating process: soaking beforehand and steaming afterwards. This means that cooking brown rice could take roughly 1.5 hours: 30 min soaking, 30 min heating, and 30 steaming (more or less, depends on amount being cooked too). I just use the timer setting, and you have it ready to be served at that set time. It makes it easy for me to incorporate these “whole foods”
That is great advice! Thanks so much Christina 🙂
Just don’t use steel cut oats for overnight oats. Or if you do just use the serving size of 1/4 cup. I made the mistake of putting 1 cup of steel cut oats, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, and a tablespoon of honey in a bowl for overnight oats. Angry at myself for eating it all in the morning and turns out i just ate 780 calories. Steel cut oats are very high in calories and I don’t see how that can be good for you when trying to lose weight.
Hi Serena, Thanks for your comment. My approach to weight loss is NOT about discipline or calorie counting. But it was for the 10 years I struggled to lose weight! Over the last 18 years that I’ve been a healthy weight my focus has been healthy habits. For instance, eating roughly balanced meals made mostly of whole foods. From my experience, the best way to build habits is to make small changes to what you’re already doing – NOT dramatic change! For example, if you’re used to eating 1 cup of steel cut oats, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and a tablespoon of honey, try eating 3/4 of that each morning this week. Then reduce the amount again. Or if you’re used to eating rice cakes and diet pop for breakfast, try adding some fresh food like a banana. Then make another small, healthy change the next week. Think of the tortoise and hare story – the animal that took slow steady steps toward their goal got there the fastest. I always say “It took me 10 years to lose 10 pounds” because I tried to make dramatic changes for 10 years. Had I focused on slowly building healthy habits I would have lost the weight a lot faster, and for good. Again, thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experience. Whatever you go through MANY other people are too so it’s well worth talking about 🙂
I’ve just starting eating instant steel cut oakes, should I be eating regular steel cut oakes instead; if so, what’s the difference?
Hi Rick! As long as “steel cut oats” is the only ingredient listed, it shouldn’t matter that they’re quick-cooking. Stay away from oats that have salt, sugar and artificial flavours. These additives confuse your body and make you want to keep eating.
I love your approach to dieting and I love steel cut oats and how they’re healthier. However, to get around having to cook them every morning I’ve been making enough for 2 or 3 days and then just reheating them in the microwave after the first day. My question are they I loosing their nutritional value by the 2nd or 3rd day?
Thanks for your question. I emailed Quaker Oats and their response was:
“… Within that short amount of time, I don’t believe they would lose their nutritional value. Enjoy.”
Diane Schreiber, Consumer Relations
The bottom line is that over time food breaks down and loses its nutritional value. Another way to say it: The fresher the food, the more nutrition it retains.
My approach to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is to keep things simple. Eating steel cut oats on Day 2 or 3 is no big deal. But personally I prefer to make them fresh. If you feel the same, here’s 2 ways to make steel cut oat prep less time consuming:
1. In the morning I boil my steel cut oats for 18 minutes while I put dishes away, eat an orange, feed our cats and dog, wait for the kettle to boil to make tea/instant coffee, etc. (I love instant coffee! It was a staple during my supply teaching days in England.) Then I turn off the heat and let the oats sit while I have a shower, etc. During this time the oats continue to cook without heat; they absorb water and double in size. When I’m ready for breakfast I reheat the oats for a few minutes (sometimes I need to add more water) while I cut fruit to put on top.
2. Use a rice cooker, as Christina suggests in an earlier comment.
Hope that helps!
Hint: Use 1/4 cup steel cut oats, 1/2 cup water. I also throw in some almonds…. Microwave for 3 minutes.. Add some fresh fruit (blueberries or strawberries, etc), and microwave another 1 minute. Yummy, and NOT 20 minutes….
Love all the fresh fruit you throw into your steel cut oats Kathy! Almonds sound great too. Getting and staying healthy is all about figuring out what works for you and keeping it simple. Thanks for sharing your method.
I’m a type two diabetic so my question is… Is there a certain brand of steel oats that’s better then others? I’m always checking on carbs and sugars when reading the ingredient label…. thank you for any light you can shed…
Thanks for your email and great question.
To begin, I just want to state, that I’m not a doctor. All the information I share is based on information I’ve read and based on my own experience of being an EXTREME dieter for years and the small changes that got me back on my feet and healthy for the last 20 years.
I LOVE getting questions and here are my thoughts based on my experiences:
Steel cut oats are amazing and they’ll keep you full longer because they’re less processed than rolled oats, etc. So your body has to do all the work (vs. the factory!) Steel cut oats also have tons of fiber which has countless health benefits.
The key is to not buy “flavoured” steel cut oats. For instance “peach flavour” will just be packed with sugar OR synthetic sugar, like aspartame, which triggers the same energy-storing reactions in your body as sugar.
I mix cinnamon in my steel cut oats before pouring it all into boiling water. I also cut up apples and add them to the cinnamon-oats after they’ve cooled down a little.
Bottom line… You can’t really go wrong with steel cut oats as long as they aren’t flavoured in a factory 🙂
On a different note:
From my experience, focusing on the food that is the most processed that you eat and slowly substituting it (or half of it!) with a healthier option a few times a week is a great pace to start. Had I just cut out the coke I drank, donuts I ate, etc. (even just SOME of the time!) I would have been a lot healthier just from these small snack changes, alone! Instead I tried to change EVERYTHING I ate – meals, snacks, etc. overnight… which took me from one extreme (restricting) to another (bingeing).
Please never hesitate to get in touch with any questions.
I love that you’re making health your priority,
Really informative blog. Thanks Kelly! Roy
Thanks Roy! That’s so kind of you to say that. 🙂 K
Great article Kelly!! I’ve recently started consuming steel cut oats and found them very beneficial!!
So happy you’ve been enjoying steel cut oats Muskan! Yes, having a naturally high-fiber breakfast is so good for your body. And you can mix it up by adding different kinds of fruit. I love apricots and kiwi in my porridge. Adds a little exotic flavor to the oats! Thanks for your kind comment 🙂
Hello Kelly. I recently purchased an insta pot and it is my saviour when cooking my steel cut oats. I start them before I head out for my morning walk and they are finished by the time I return. No fuss no muss.
LOVE that Linda! So simple, so easy. I especially love that your insta pot gives you the freedom to hit 2 birds with one stone (do people still say that?) and go for a walk. There’s so much power in a morning routine that sets your day up for success. Thanks for sharing. xo Kelly
Add me to the list of steel cut oat believers. I support the whole food approach to eating. The mechanical structure of food is very important. Eat food as close to natural as possible. For example get the standard steel cut oats not the quick steel cut oats. If water can get in faster, so can digestive enzymes. I usually add coconut and dried cranberries to mine. I use a rice cooker and it takes about an hour, which has a steel cut oat setting. I also prefer some brands, rather than the big box brands. I buy in bulk online and store in the freezer.
Love everything you’ve said here Chris!!
“If water can get in faster, so can digestive enzymes.”
Such a clear and simple way to explain this. If you don’t mind sharing… what are the Steel Cut Oat brands you love? Thank you for your insightful comment! 🙂 Kelly
Wonderful website Kelly.
Plenty of useful information here.
I’m sending it to a few friends!
Thank you for your work,
Really appreciate your message.
I think you’ll LOVE steel cut oats.
And hope you’ll try them with apples or any fruit. Plus almonds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or sesame seeds, for protein. They make your meal more balanced. Your body will thank you!
Thanks for pointing out the benefits of Steel Cut Oats. I love them! And I totally appreciate your approach towards dieting.
So happy you love Steel Cut Oats Suruchi! They’re such a nutritious option for breakfast. Lately I’ve been making mine with frozen blueberries and adding apple slices as well as pepitas at the end. There’s so many different proteins and fruits you can add to make this meal more balanced. Getting into a healthy eating and exercise routine unlocks your H 🙂 PPY weight naturally. xoKelly
We just finished a recipe for savory steel cut oats with green onions, extra old cheese and bacon….OMG. we have been loving our steel cut oats mornings. I love the taste and texture and we throw raisins in for the last minute or two in the morning.
There really is something to be said for a morning routine that sets you up for success! Awesome post!
Wow! You’ve managed to make Steel Cut Oats a ROUGHLY balanced meal made MOSTLY of whole foods via:
Dairy: extra-old cheese
Fruit & Veg: onions & raisons
That’s so cool! I’ve never heard of that combination before but it totally makes sense:
Steel cut oats substitutes as the blank canvas bread provides for the same toppings.
Also I completely agree… nothing sets you up for success like a healthy routine to start your day. Thank you for such a kind comment Gerri,
Your blog is so informative Kelly! It outlines all good reasons to go for steel cut oats. I’m going to try the toppings you suggested. Thank you!
Excited you’re going to try the toppings, Sakshi! And keep experimenting. Peaches, sunflower seeds, kiwi… there’s endless combinations. Making steel cut oats part of a ROUGHLY balanced breakfast made MOSTLY of whole foods is the kind of meal that will unlock your H 🙂 PPY weight. xoKelly