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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Which is better for you - rolled oats or steel cut oats?

I have read your advice to eat oatmeal for reduction of cholesterol. Is there a real difference between rolled oats and steel cut oats? Some of the health food companies suggest only steel cut.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

A closeup of a bowl of oatmeal topped with blueberries arranged in the shape of a heart

What we call oatmeal is processed from one of the cereal grasses – oats. As with most cereals a fair amount of processing takes place before we pluck the familiar round cardboard carton from the store shelves to cook up a bowl of steaming oatmeal.

Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats, the ones that you are used to with the Quaker fellow on the label, are made by first cleaning, toasting, hulling, and then a second cleaning. This initial product is known as oat groats (any grain up until this stage is considered a groat). It is only after being steamed and rolled flat that the product that we think of as oatmeal is made.

Quick cooking oats are actually rolled oats that have been steamed and rolled a second time to make a thinner flake. They cook in about a third the time as “old-fashioned” oats.

These are highly processed especially when compared to steel cut oats. Instead of being rolled the groats are cut with knives. The finished product takes much longer to cook and the finished recipe is much chewier and has a lovely earthy taste.

The steel cut oats have more of the whole grain. As such they will have a LOT more fiber. One quarter cup of raw steel cut oats (44 grams) contains 5 grams of fiber while 1/2 cup (40 grams) of rolled oats only 4 grams. At the same time they are a much more complex carbohydrate with a Glycemic Index (GI) of 42 as opposed to 66 for rolled oats.

Steel cut oats take longer to cook and some folks don't like their coarse texture but I LOVE them and you should give them a try.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet