Did you dig into a bowl of oatmeal this morning? One studded with chopped walnuts and blueberries? Let’s cut to the chase: Yes, oatmeal is good for you, despite what anyone with a fear of carbs will tell you.
As a great source of whole grains, oats contain a heart-protective starch called beta-glucan that can help lower high cholesterol and potentially help reduce the risk of certain cancers. (1) Their fiber (and rich texture) make them particularly filling for breakfast, helping you avoid the prelunch call to snack. What’s more, they’re GI-friendly because their fiber content also can help improve digestion and promote regularity.
What Are Oats Exactly, and What Should You Know About Their History?
Avena sativa — or oats — may be a staple at your breakfast table, but they’re primarily cultivated for livestock feed. (2) Oats grow in temperate regions like the United States and Canada, and can withstand poor soil, making them a particularly hearty crop.
Their history goes back further than anticipated, too. Those following the paleo diet avoid grains like oats because, they attest, our caveman ancestors didn’t eat them. But new evidence suggests otherwise. A study published in September 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted the discovery of evidence of ancient tools that would have been used to grind grains like oats. (3) It appears that humans have been oat lovers for a very long time.
Oats are steamed, flattened, and sliced in different ways, producing the several types of oats available. These include “old-fashioned” (regular) oats, quick oats, and instant oats. (Their names, as you can tell, designate how fast they’ll cook up into oatmeal.) Oats are considered a whole grain because after processing, their bran and germ remain intact. (1)
In stores, you can buy steel-cut oats (aka Irish oatmeal, which are chewier and heartier), Scottish oatmeal (these are stone-ground oats and creamy), rolled oats (aka regular or old-fashioned), and, as mentioned earlier, quick or instant oats, which are made by rolling oat flakes even thinner than the old-fashioned variety. (4)
Nutrition Facts: How Dry Oats and Oatmeal Compare
Oatmeal and oats are similar, but their calories, carbs, and nutrients vary slightly. Here’s a closer look.
What Are the Nutrition Facts of Dry Oats?
Oats are mainly a carbohydrate. They’re made up of 13 percent protein, 7.5 percent fat, and 79.5 percent carbohydrates. Here’s a look into the common nutritional breakdown of oats and what we commonly eat it as — oatmeal:
Dry oats (old-fashioned oats; ? cup) (5)
Protein: 5 grams (g)
What Are the Nutrition Facts of Oatmeal?
Oatmeal (old-fashioned oats, cooked in water; 1 cup) (6)
Health Benefits of Oats and Oatmeal
A whole grain, oats are rich in fiber, B vitamins, and the minerals phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. (7) The U.S. Department of Agriculture's?MyPlate?guidelines recommends getting at least half your grains from whole grains?— more than half is even better.?Adding more whole grains into your diet may help you live longer, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study published in March 2015 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, which analyzed whole grain consumption and risk of mortality in more than 100,000 men and women. For every additional daily serving of whole grains, the risk of overall death or death from heart disease decreased by 5 and 9 percent, respectively, independent of other diet and lifestyle factors. (8)
What’s more, a study published in December 2015 in the journal Nutrition Research found that oatmeal eaters were more likely to have healthier lifestyles — they were less likely to smoke and drank less alcohol — and had more nutritious diets. (In the study, oatmeal eaters were defined as those who reported eating it within the last day.) (9) In general over the course of the day, they ate more protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals, like vitamin A, calcium, and potassium.
What’s more, oatmeal eaters tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and smaller waists — both of which lead to better health outcomes. The reason oatmeal lovers may consume more nutrients is in part because oats are a source of whole grains. People also tend to pair milk and fruit with their oats, likely helping them get more vitamins, such as vitamin A, say researchers.
Then there’s the big win: Oatmeal has been shown to help lower high cholesterol. (You’ve probably seen this claim splashed across containers of oats.) They contain a soluble fiber, called beta-glucan, which not only favorably changes your cholesterol profile, but it also has antioxidants that protect blood vessels from LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, according to Oldways Whole Grains Council. (1)
Can Eating Oatmeal Help With Weight Loss?
There’s no magic bullet to weight loss, but oats can support a healthy weight loss diet. That means you can still eat oatmeal if you love it — despite the fact that it’s a carb-rich choice. For one, oatmeal may increase feelings of fullness, therefore helping people eat less food and lose weight in the long run. (9)
And if you have a choice between cold cereal and hot oatmeal, go for oats. Research shows that compared with cereal, oats suppress appetite thanks to its beta-glucan fiber, which stimulates satiety, according to a study published in August 2015 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (10)
And despite the carb content of oatmeal, people with diabetes who are looking to reduce their weight can also eat it, per research published in September 2016 in the journal Nutrients. (11) Of participants with type 2 diabetes who were overweight, those who ate 100 g (about ? cup) of oats lost more weight after a year compared with those eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet. They also benefited from lowering their A1C — a two- to three-month average of blood sugar — and triglycerides.
One caveat: There is a chance oats may increase weight gain when eaten in excess. A study from Cornell University that was published in the journal Physiology & Behavior looked at the eating behaviors that lead to weight gain or loss (like eating a salad first, or brushing teeth instead of snacking). (12) People who said they ate oatmeal for breakfast gained 0.83 pounds over a month. Instructing people to eat oatmeal may encourage mindless overconsumption — especially if its health halo makes you forget about portions. (Too many high-sugar toppings can also do it.)
How to Select and Store Oats for the Best Taste and Quality
Here’s what to look for, depending on the type you buy:
Instant (Quick Oats) You’ll often find these sold as packets or in fast-service restaurants. These are often flavored, which means they’ll likely contain added sugar, and lots of it. It’s best to buy them unsweetened and add your own toppings or, better yet, opt for old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, which contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Old-Fashioned These are available sold in canisters, bags, or in the bulk aisle. They may also be labeled “rolled oats.” Buy whatever packaging suits you the best. If you’re gluten-free, particularly for medical reasons (like celiac disease), look for packaging that says gluten-free to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. (13)
Steel-Cut or Irish These offer a chewier, heartier texture. These can also be used beyond the breakfast bowl, including as a substitute for traditional rice dishes, like risotto and pilaf. (14)
Colloidal Oatmeal can be used as a soothing bath treatment for itchy and inflamed skin. (15) Look for a product that contains 100 percent colloidal oatmeal, which is finely ground oats that dissolve in bath water. It’s best to buy one without added fragrance, particularly if you have irritated skin.
Next, Store Them Right
Oats will last in a cool, dry area (like your pantry) for 18 to 24 months. (16) Once they've been opened, store oats in an airtight container or in the freezer. Oats are still safe to eat past their expiration date — these dates describe “best quality” only. But if your oats smell off or they contain insects, certainly don’t eat them.
Are There Any Side Effects or Health Risks of Eating Oatmeal?
There are few reasons to fear oats, unless you have a specific food allergy to oats. If you are avoiding gluten due to a medical reason, oats are often the victim of cross-contamination with products that contain gluten (wheat, barley, or rye) during processing. In that event, it’s critical to consume oats that are specifically labeled gluten-free. (13) Certainly, eating overly large servings of oats can lead to weight gain, as can topping it with too many fatty or sugary treats.
How to Cook Oatmeal: A Look at Preparing Different Types of Oats
You’re free to eat oats as is — sprinkle them atop yogurt for added crunch and stick-to-your-ribs carbs or toss a couple of tablespoons into a smoothie to add a dose of whole gains and pleasant chewiness.
More popular than eating them raw: cooking them into a warm breakfast cereal, often overnight. Here’s how to make the varying types of oats, organized by longest to shortest cook time. (Unless otherwise noted, each makes one serving. Always check the back of the package of oats for the proper cooking technique for that specific brand.)
Steel-Cut Oats?On the stove top, boil 1 ? cups liquid (water, milk, or?nondairy?milk). Stir in ? cup oats. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a Crock-Pot (yep, a Crock-Pot), spray the insert with cooking spray. Combine 8 cups liquid (water or half water, half milk) with 2 cups of oats. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. This makes 8 servings of oatmeal that is relatively mushier in texture. (17)
Old-Fashioned Oats In the microwave, combine ? cup oats to 1 cup liquid of choice. Cook on high for 2?? to 3 minutes. On the stovetop, boil liquid of choice, stir in oats and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Stir occasionally (to prevent it from bubbling over). (18)
Quick, or One-Minute Oats?Boil 1 cup liquid. Add ? cup oats. Cook for 1 minute over medium heat. In a microwave, combine the liquid and oats and microwave on high for 1?? to 2 minutes. (19)
Instant Oats?These are usually going to come in a packet, and may be convenient if you’re on the go. In a bowl, combine the packet and about?? cup hot milk or boiling water. Stir and let stand for two minutes. If you have a microwave handy, you can add ? cup of liquid to the packet then microwave on high for 60 to 75 seconds. Let stand to reach desired thickness. (20)
Frequently Asked Questions About Oats and the Answers
Here’s what you need to know before scooping up a big bowl of oatmeal:
Q: Do oats have gluten?
A: No, they do not naturally have gluten. Oats can safely be consumed in a gluten-free diet, even in the majority of people who have Celiac disease and have to avoid gluten for medical reasons, according to information from the Celiac Disease Center at UChicago Medicine. (21) (There’s a small chance that someone with Celiac can react to proteins called avenins in oats or the fiber, they note.) Still, some oats are contaminated by wheat, rye, or barley because they are processed in the same factories. If you have Celiac disease, look for brands that are certified gluten-free on the label.
Q: What is the healthiest type of oatmeal?
A: You have a lot of options when it comes to oatmeal. Packets of flavored instant oatmeal often have added sugar, so they aren’t exactly the best breakfast choice. (22) Steel-cut oats and old-fashioned oats are better, recommends Harvard Health. That said, even unsweetened instant oatmeal can help you feel full and decrease your appetite, possibly helping you lose weight. (10)
Q: How do you make an oatmeal bath and what's it good for?
A: To draw up an oatmeal bath and possibly relieve itchiness, your first step is to buy colloidal oatmeal. This type of oatmeal is finely milled so that you can throw it into a bath and it will disperse in the water. The directions will depend on the brand you buy, but Aveeno makes a popular 100 percent colloidal oatmeal product, Aveeno Soothing Bath treatment. To use, simply empty a packet into the running water and soak. (15)
Q: What are the benefits of oatmeal?
A: Oatmeal contains fiber that has been linked to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The fiber is also credited for the cereal’s ability to keep you satiated and satisfied. They’re also rife with antioxidants called avenanthramides, which also help suppress inflammation. (1)
Q: Is oatmeal healthy?
A: Yes, given all the benefits listed above, you can feel good about cooking up a bowl in the morning and digging in. Keep your toppings healthy by sticking to fresh fruit, nuts, and low-fat milk or nondairy milk of choice.
Top-Selling Oatmeal or Oats on Amazon
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Oats — January Grain of the Month. Oldways Whole Grains Council.
- Oats. Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Ancient Oat Discovery May Poke More Holes in Paleo Diet. National Geographic. September 2015.
- Types of Oats. Oldways Whole Grains Council.
- Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick, Not Fortified, Dry. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 2018.
- Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick, Unenriched, Cooked With Water (Includes Boiling and Microwaving), Without Salt. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 2018.
- Oats. Harvard School of Public Health.
- Wu H, Flint AJ, Qi Q, et al. Association Between Dietary Whole Grain Intake and Risk of Mortality. Two Large Prospective Studies in US Men and Women. JAMA Internal Medicine. March 2015.
- Fulgoni III VL, Chu Y, O’Shea M, et al. Oatmeal Consumption Is Associated With Better Diet Quality and Lower Body Mass Index in Adults: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2001-2010. Nutrition Research. December 2015.
- Rebello, CJ. Johnson WD, Martin CK. Instant Oatmeal Increases Satiety and Reduces Energy Intake Compared to a Ready-to-Eat Oat-Based Breakfast Cereal: A Randomized Crossover Trial. The Journal of the American College of Nutrition. August 2015.
- Li X, Cai X, Ma X, et al. Short- and Long-Term Effects of Wholegrain Oat Intake on Weight Management and Glucolipid Metabolism in Overweight Type-2 Diabetics: A Randomized Control Trial. Nutrients. September 2016.
- Wansink B. From Mindless Eating to Mindlessly Eating Better. Physiology & Behavior. July 2010.
- Oats and the Gluten-Free Diet. Celiac Disease Foundation. December 2014.
- Steel Cut Oats. Bob’s Red Mill.
- Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment. CVS Pharmacy.
- Oats, Commercially Packaged or Purchased in Bulk (Including Steel-Cut, Rolled, Instant Types) — Uncooked. StillTasty.
- Traditional Steel Cut Oats.?Quaker Oats.
- Quaker Oats Old Fashioned. Quaker Oats.
- Quick 1-Minute Oats.?Quaker Oats.
- Instant Oats.?Quaker Oats.
- “Do Oats Contain Gluten?” UChicago Medicine. August 2012.
- “Breakfast and Beyond: The Case for a Healthy Morning Meal.” Harvard Health Publishing. May 2017.