Are Steel Cut Oats Healthier?

Does it matter what kind of oatmeal you eat? Find out how steel cut, regular, and instant oatmeal stack up nutritionally.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #140

Are Steel Cut Oats Healthier?

Because they go through some extra processing steps, you might assume that rolled oats would be less nutritious than steel-cut oats, but it turns out that the differences are quite minor.  Steel cut, stone-ground, old-fashioned, and quick-cooking rolled oats are all made from whole grains and they all have approximately the same amount of fiber, protein, calories, and other nutrients. 

In particular, oats are a good source of soluble fiber.  As I explained in a previous article, soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol and helps keep blood sugar levels steadier—which is helpful for managing and preventing diabetes as well as keeping your appetite in check. 

Do Steel Cut Oats Have a Lower Glycemic Impact?

You might expect the glycemic load of steel cut oats to be a lot lower than that of rolled oats.  However, the differences are really not that big.

Another thing to consider with any grain- or carbohydrate-based food is its glycemic impact.  I’ve talked about glycemic impact in previous articles.  In a nutshell, the glycemic impact is the speed at which a food is digested and converted into blood sugar.   Foods that have a lower glycemic load are more slowly converted into blood sugar.   When it comes to your blood sugar, lower and slower are generally better.

Because steel cut oats are so much chewier and denser and also somewhat less processed than rolled oats, you might expect that their glycemic load would be lower.  Again, however, the differences are really not that big.   Steel cut, stone ground, and rolled oats are all in the same ballpark as far as glycemic load goes.

What About the Glycemic Impact of Instant or Quick-Cooking Oats?

The glycemic load of quick-cooking and instant oats, however, is quite a bit higher than that of rolled or steel-cut oats.  That means that a bowl of quick-cooking or instant oats might not keep you satisfied for as long as rolled or steel-cut oats would.  Nonetheless, as long as you stay away from the ones with the added sugar, quick-cooking and instant oatmeal are still considered low-glycemic carbohydrates. 


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.