Like many other messages of its kind, we American consumers have internalized the idea that oatmeal is “good for us.” Not all oatmeals are alike, however. Follow this listing, from most (no thank you) to least (yeah) processed oatmeal.
Quaker Oats instant oatmeal is already cooked, with part of the fiber stripped out, so it’s ready to eat simply with the addition of hot water. Besides regular flavor, it comes in Raisins and Spice, Maple and Brown Sugar, Cinnamon and Spice, Apples and Cinnamon Peaches and Cream, Cinnamon Roll, Raisin Date & Walnut, Honey Nut, Apple Crisp, Banana Bread, Strawberries and Cream, Blueberries and Cream, Bananas and Cream, and French Toast. The “weight control” version comes in Banana Bread, Maple and Brown Sugar, and Cinnamon flavors. There is a “lower sugar” as well as a “high fiber” version. They all have absurdly high amounts of sugar.
Quaker Oats also sells a product called “weight control” oatmeal. The ingredient list contains multiple items that are not normally found in your kitchen, such as acesulfame potassium, whey protein isolate, sucralose, and polydextrose. Sucralose is the generic name for Splenda, the artificial sweetener. In general, I do not recommend artificial sweeteners because I believe they confuse our metabolism’s exquisitely sensitive signaling systems.
A few words about polydextrose, a synthetic fiber manufactured by Danisco. The FDA calls polydextrose not dietary fiber but, rather, “functional fiber,” and allows manufacturers to add it to fiber counts on nutrition labels. Canada’s equivalent agency, with tighter classification regulations, does not permit polydextrose to be labeled as edible. In addition, though it increases gastrointestinal motility, there is no evidence, to date, that polydextrose has equivalent cardiovascular benefits.
Quick oatmeal is stripped of less fiber than instant oatmeal, which is why it cooks faster than rolled or steel-cut oats. Rolled oats are made from whole oats that have been flaked, steamed, rolled, re-steamed, and toasted. The processing leaves them soft enough to eat dry, without additional cooking. That’s why you can add them to yogurt or trail mix straight from the box. That’s okay.
The least processed kind of oatmeal is steel-cut oats. One cup of steel-cut oatmeal contains more fiber than a bran muffin. Even though steel-cut oats are hulled, the bran and germ remain intact, so they are still a concentrated source of fiber and nutrients. Steel-cut oats are absorbed much more slowly than all other oatmeals, and the more slowly a food is absorbed, the less insulin is required to take it to the cells. The less insulin you use, the better.
This relative lack of processing makes steel-cut oats much chewier and nuttier than instant or rolled oats. But it also means that they take longer to cook. Luckily, there is a way around this. Though it takes a bit of planning to eat steel-cut oats, but it does not take more time. Here’s a 2-minute recipe: The night before you want steel-cut oats for breakfast, measure ½ cup serving of oats per person into a large glass bowl. Then add 1 cup water for each ½ cup oats. [So for 3 people, that means 1½ cups oats, and 3 cups water.] Add ¼ teaspoon vinegar (any kind) to the oats mixture. No worries — you won’t taste it. Leave it on the counter overnight, and in the morning it will be ready to eat in the 2 minutes it takes to heat it up on the stove or in the microwave. Once it’s warm, feel free to add butter, milk, peanut butter, fruit (fresh or dried), honey, maple syrup, or your choice of sweetener. It is really delicious, and extremely filling, too.