Oatmeal for Breakfast: Rolled or Steel Cut?

By: Keith


The fact is that unless you prefer the taste of one over the other or you’re a hippie, it doesn’t really matter.  They’re both healthy.  I was in the grocery store recently, holding two canisters of oats, scratching my head pondering my choices.  My friend, who was standing next to me, told me steel cut oats are what all the oat aficionados buy because they, the oats, are healthier.  “Really?  Well, what’s the difference?”  I asked.  And he said, “I think steel cut oats aren’t processed as much and somehow have more nutrients.”  Have I been buying rolled oats all this time and not been getting the full oat experience?  I bought the rolled oats because I’m not dead yet and I’ve been eating them since I was a toddler so I was sure they weren’t going to kill me before I did my research.  And, they haven’t.


What are Oats?


Oats, unlike other grains, are quite difficult to process.  They contain as much as 5 times the fat of wheat.  They carry large amounts of a fat digesting enzyme, and become rancid if left unprocessed.  All oat groats (whole grain oats) undergo a heating treatment that deactivates that enzyme.  So, why do we eat oats if they’re such a hassle?  Because they’re really healthy, that’s why.  They’re super rich in beta-glucans (indigestible carbohydrates) which absorb and hold water and which are responsible for lowering blood cholesterol.   Oats also contain loads of antioxidants – which is always good.


Oats are used as whole grains because the endosperm, germ, and bran can’t be separated like with corn and rice.  Thus they are simply parsed into smaller pieces.  First, the groats are heated at a low temperature to deactivate that enzyme I was talking about before.  After the initial heating the only difference is in what shape and size you prefer eating your oats, and how easy you’d like to make breakfast.


Steel Cut:  Whole groats cut into several pieces for faster cooking


Rolled Oats:  Whole groats that are steamed so they can be flattened between rollers.  Their flattened nature makes them better able absorb moisture.  Muesli is made with rolled oats for that reason.


Regular, Quick, Instant:  These designations refer to the thickness of the rolling.  .8 mm thickness are regular rolled oats while .4 mm thickness is typical for quick-cooking oats.  Instant oats are the thinnest.


Let it be known that the nutritional value of steel cut and rolled oats are identical.  Some purists believe that the steaming process utilized to make rolled oats degrades the nutritional value of the oats.  My research says otherwise.  According to On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, 2004, no nutrients are lost in the process of making groats into edible oats of any size and shape.  


20 Responses to “Oatmeal for Breakfast: Rolled or Steel Cut?”
  1. Jeremiah January 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

    BIG fan of the oats in all forms, oatmeal, cookies, granola, and anything else you can do with it. My mom was so creatative with Oatmeal I guess because it was cheap and easy on top of being good for you. We did it with the traditional butter and brown sugar, but also we would put all kinds of jellies and jams in there and get a whole variety of flavors. My ten month old son picked up the bug. He can eat just as much oatmeal for breakfast as I can. No kidding. a full sized adult bowl almost every morning. It like the size of his head, but he puts it down and is happy to do it.

    • Keith January 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

      Jeremiah, Oatmeal has been a favorite of mine for a while. I never knew the differences between them until I looked it all up. One thing I didn’t mention is that steel cut oats are three times the price of rolled oats. I find that funny considering it costs less to produce :-) It’s the power of the naturalist I guess. All those folks thinking they’re being posh!

  2. Tamy Pelletier January 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm #

    Oatmeal rocks! I’ve been feeding all my kids (5, 3, and 1) and myself rolled oat oatmeal for breakfast since they were big enough to eat it. We usually put bananas, craisins and raisins (if you chop them up really well the young ones can eat them) in it with some cinnamon (yep, I so spetlled that wrong) and nutmeg.. even chopped walnuts these days (we buy the walnuts, craisins and raisins at Costco for WAY cheap compared it the supermarket). Voilla!, oatmeal cookie without the guilt! I’ve had friends look at me cross eyed for doing it, but I never understood why. It’s super cheap, it’s REALLY yummy and it’s WAY healthier than the frozen pancakes and sugar cereal their kids eat for breakfast every day! Thanks for the information.. I hope you convert some folks!!

  3. PJ Mullen January 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    I knew there wasn’t a difference in nutrition, but I like steel cut oats a little better, maybe it’s the texture. But, like you pointed out, they are so freaking expensive, which most likely has to do with the production volumes than anything else. At our store there is only one option for steel cut oats, while there are 84,000 options for rolled and instant.
    .-= PJ Mullen´s last blog ..This one’s too big, that one’s too small… =-.

  4. john January 22, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    hmmmmm does the cinnamon brown sugar instant oatmeal count? I like that…lol
    .-= john´s last blog ..New blog =-.

    • Keith January 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

      John, Hmmm, I’m thinking the cinnamon brown sugar stuff might just have a little added sugar :-) But, jeez, it tastes great! Thanks for reading.

  5. Chris | Advice for Dads January 23, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    I hate oatmeal and avoid the stuff as much as possible.

    This one time my wife sent me to buy oatmeal. But it has to be special oatmeal to help increase breast milk supply. Long story short I stood in the oatmeal isle for about 30 minutes dumbfounded and probably looked like a moron!
    .-= Chris | Advice for Dads´s last blog ..6 Ways to Make Your Baby Smile =-.

    • Keith January 23, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

      Chris. I had no idea there was such as thing as oatmeal that increased breast milk supply! That must have been an interesting and educational experience for you :-)

  6. Nely January 23, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    Thanks. I have been meaning to look into what the difference was. I’ll continue with my rolled oats. :o)

    • Keith January 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Nely! I’d been eating rolled oats all these years and I hadn’t felt crummy about it. Reading up on it has just reassured me and made me feel better about being cheap! :-)

  7. beth muse January 23, 2010 at 6:55 am #

    I like oatmeal, but my kids hate it. I also heard that there was no nutritional difference in any of the oatmeals including instant. But is there a fiber difference? I would think, no. It’s a little hard to believe, though. Btw, if you like oats that aren’t mushy and you want to buy rolled oats, let the water come to a boil BEFORE you put the oats in. Then cook as directed. That sort of slimy gelatinous stuff that makes it taste mushy will be greatly diminished. Thanks, Keith. Now… any ideas about getting super finicky kids to eat it?
    .-= beth muse´s last blog ..Next Competition =-.

    • Keith January 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm #

      Beth, I looked it up, and the fiber content is the same as well. That’s a pretty good question :-) Thanks for the oatmeal info!

  8. Dennis Yu January 24, 2010 at 7:00 am #

    Wow, this is the most informative article on oats that I’ve ever read. Keith, it’s great that we have a detective like you to figure this out for us. Apparently we can’t blindly assume the more expensive item in the more expensive tin is better quality.

    I personally like the flavored oatmeal– about to make one with apples and cinnamon right now, even though I know they add nasty things like high fructose corn syrup in it.

  9. dadshouse January 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    I love oatmeal and I eat it every morning! I’m glad to hear that I’m not losing nutritional value.
    .-= dadshouse´s last blog ..OK, Cupid – Shoot That Arrow! =-.

    • Keith January 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

      LOL! David. I didn’t know you wrote an oatmeal article too. Nice catch!

  10. Albert May 7, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Hi Keith,
    I was also wondering if there is any difference between both types of oats and yes, there is at least one thing different: Glycemic index: Steel cut=42 vs rolled=50 wich could be important if you need to pay take care of sugar levels in your blood.


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