Food/Nutrition Columnist
Sorting Out Oats
Jan 6, 2014 - 12:02:23 AM

( - Nothing says winter better than a steaming bowl of oatmeal. Oats are a great addition to anyone's diet. A 1-cup serving costs 20 cents or less, has only 150 calories, and is a rich source of minerals, B vitamins and soluble fiber which helps lower your risk for heart disease. Soluble fibers dissolve in water and form a gel-like substance. They offer significant health benefits including supporting your immune system and helping to normalize blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

For those with celiac disease oats may be a problem. Oats themselves are gluten-free but oat crops are often rotated with rye or barley which contain gluten and cause cross contamination of fields. For those with gluten intolerance this may not be an issue. For those with celiac disease it is and they need to be sure the brand they buy is harvested from dedicated fields and the oats are not cross contaminated during processing.

Groats are the least processed oats. They are the husked whole oat kernel and need at least 40 minutes to cook. Groats can be substituted for brown rice or wheat berries.

Steel-cut oats are the whole grain inner portion of the oat kernel which has been cut into smaller pieces. They need 10 to 20 minutes to cook but quick-cooking steel cut oats are now becoming more available. See the product review below for an excellent source of quick-cooking steel-cut oats. They have a firm, chewy texture and a nutty flavor. Cooked cereal made from steel-cut oats can be thinner than traditional oatmeal but it will thicken as it cools.

Rolled oats, the most common, known as old-fashioned or 5-minute oats, are groats that have been steamed, flattened and dried. Quick oats are rolled oats cut into smaller pieces to reduce the cooking time to as little as 1 minute.

Instant oats resemble quick oats in taste and texture but they have been partially cooked before they are dried so that they can be cooked (reconstituted) by simply adding boiling water. Added ingredients in flavored instant oats can add to the calories in a serving.

Oats have been grown in America since the early 1600s. Most were used for animal feed until Scottish, Dutch and other immigrants introduced their traditional porridges, puddings and cakes made of oats. Rolled oats were first sold by the Quaker Oat Company in 1877 and instant oatmeal was introduced in 1966. The figure of a man in Quaker garb - the Quaker Oats Man - was the first registered trademark for a cereal in the US.

Better Oats ( owned by MOM Brands came on the market in 2010 with a product line of 23 flavors of instant oatmeal, a food category that has been dominated by Quaker for years. Each flavor of Better Oats instant oatmeal comes packaged with 5-single serve pouches. A clever and useful packaging twist allows the product pouch to be used as a measuring cup to make the oatmeal. This is a distinct advantage for an on-the-go breakfast in the office microwave or for kids preparing their own breakfast. Package instructions suggest that the oatmeal be prepared with either water or milk. If you use fat free milk, the product is richer and offers 300 milligrams of calcium, one-third of the daily adult recommendation.

The Better Oats brand continues to grow and I recently tasted their quick-cooking Steel Cut Oats ( which cook in 5 minutes on the stove in 2 ½ minutes in the microwave. As with all other Better Oats varieties, the pouch serves as the measuring device for water or milk which is very convenient.

Steel Cut Oats come in 3 flavors: Classic, Apples & Cinnamon and Maple & Brown Sugar. All flavors are kosher certified (OU) and contain flaxseed which makes them a good source of omega-3, heart-healthy fats.

Oatmeal, a traditional breakfast choice, also makes a nutritious, filling lunch or an afterschool snack which the kids can make by themselves.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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