Steel cut oats teach us the basics

Steel Cut Oats - the10principles

  • Steel cut oats are better 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.

Kelly Clark

I wanted to write this post because the difference between succeeding and failing is often down to choices we make early. Decisions can trigger a series of events. Understanding why one option is superior to another makes it easier to put your energy behind choices that set you up for success.

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.

Eatwell Guide - the10principlesthe10principlesPotatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates: rolled oats

the10principlesDairy and alternatives: 2% milk (now I drink 3.25% milk)

the10principlesOil and spreads

the10principlesBeans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat and other proteins

the10principlesFruit and vegetables: apple & cranberries

… though I was always surprised how quickly I felt hungry after this meal.

Steel Cut Oats at Shoppers

This is a reenactment.

Last month I went to the grocery store. I was making sure I spent enough to get the offer; I take the loyalty points program 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 need twenty minutes to cook! That was the start of me understanding how rolled oats are different to steel cut oats.

Steel cut oats vs. rolled oats

The main difference is that rolled oats are more processed than steel cut oats. Rolled oats (similar to quick oats or instant oats) are precooked, dried and then rolled. This process removes the roughage.

What is roughage?
Roughage is a fibrous material found in food that’s indigestible. Fiber aids the passage of food and waste products through your body.
Steel Cut Oats vs Rolled Oat

After extensive auditions for this photo shoot, we chose this rolled oat (L) & this steel cut oat (R).

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 is to choose steel cut oats. Set off a healthy domino effect!  Steel cut oats are considered whole foods because they’re very close to their natural state.
Steel cut oats aren’t processed in a factory so:

  • they still contain roughage
  • your body needs to do all the work (whole foods take longer to digest)
  • energy and nutrients are released slowly

When energy and nutrients are released slowly, you stay full longer.

Steel Cut Oats vs Rolled Oats

Rolled oats (left) and steel cut oats (right).

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.

Whole foods, like steel cut oats, 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.

If you change your eating habits to include more whole food (beans, rice, vegetables and fruit), then you’ll eat less.
– Roy Walford, doctor

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!

Trouble shooting:
Steel Cut Oats -20 minutesIf 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,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old …
Steel Cut Oats for Breakfast

Steel cut oats with cinnamon, dried cranberries and apple slices.

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 18 years.

The goal of this post is not to say never eat rolled oats! Or to suggest 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 yesterday when visiting a loved one 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.

Steel Cut Oats Ingredients

Whole foods help you eat less and stay full longer, naturally—which helps you reach and maintain a healthy weight. And get on with your life.

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 balanced meals and snacks made mostly of whole foods, every choice is simplified.

Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.

Next Steps:

Whether you:

  • 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)

Cut down on processed foods! Work toward eating balanced meals made mostly of whole foods.

Having a strategy for change also helps you turn unhealthy habits into healthy habits. Sign up (below) to receive the best strategy I learned.

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.

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What whole food have you substituted for a processed food?

By |2017-11-29T23:48:09+00:00February 14th, 2016|Healthy Eating|14 Comments

About the Author:

Hi! I'm Kelly. I lost weight when I stopped dieting. And I got my life back. Here's more about my turning point and why I'm passionate about sharing what I learned.


  1. doug m April 19, 2016 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    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!

  2. Kelly Clark April 20, 2016 at 11:54 pm - Reply

    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 🙂

  3. Rindy December 28, 2016 at 10:27 am - Reply

    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.

    • Kelly Clark December 30, 2016 at 9:36 am - Reply

      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!

  4. Christina September 7, 2017 at 10:53 am - Reply

    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”

    • Kelly Clark September 7, 2017 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      That is great advice! Thanks so much Christina 🙂

  5. Serena March 12, 2018 at 8:36 am - Reply

    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.

    • Kelly Clark March 25, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      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 🙂

  6. Rick April 16, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    I’ve just starting eating instant steel cut oakes, should I be eating regular steel cut oakes instead; if so, what’s the difference?

  7. Kelly Clark April 16, 2018 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    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.

  8. Susan Rowe May 15, 2018 at 8:20 am - Reply

    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?

    • Kelly Clark May 21, 2018 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Hi Susan,
      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
      Ref# 065120748A

      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!
      🙂 Kelly

  9. kathy June 4, 2018 at 10:07 am - Reply

    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….

    • Kelly Clark June 4, 2018 at 7:03 pm - Reply

      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.

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