Oatmeal 101: Health Benefits and Cooking Tips

January 14th, 2020

By Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN

January is National Oatmeal Month, so it’s a great time to learn more about this whole grain, which is not just for breakfast!

Oatmeal and Nutrition

Oatmeal has a lot of positive health effects and fits in well with a whole-foods, plant-based healthy diet. It is a great source of whole grains, which are an important part of a healthy dietary pattern according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Oatmeal is also rich in soluble fiber, which helps to lower LDL blood cholesterol levels.

One cup of cooked rolled oats provides 4 grams of total fiber. The daily goal for total fiber is 25 gm. per day for women, and 38 gm. per day for men, also according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, many people are falling short of this goal. Soluble fiber also decreases the rate of absorption of glucose from our diet into the bloodstream. As it combines with water in the stomach, it can help people feel fuller. This may mean eating less overall and is a strategy for weight management.

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, oatmeal has 5.5. gm. of protein. Oatmeal is also rich in phosphorus and thiamine.


Naturally, oatmeal doesn’t contain gluten. However, it is often cross-contaminated by wheat in processing or even when it’s growing. If you need a gluten-free diet, look for a brand which is tested and certified gluten free by the Gluten Free Certification Organization.

Types of Oatmeal

You can buy oatmeal in the most natural form: oat groats or steel cut. These are the least processed variety. When cooked, it stays in a loose form instead forming a porridge type consistency. Steel cut oats take 20 – 30 minutes to cook: you can make it ahead of time and reheat it, allow extra time in your morning routine, or try an overnight oatmeal version.

Old-fashioned or rolled oats – these are my favorite. They work well to create a creamy bowl of oatmeal and provide a lot of texture to baked goods like cookies.

Quick oats – these are more processed and are digested a bit more quickly but are slightly quicker to prepare. Their texture is more fine.

Instant oats – These come plain and in a variety of tasty flavors. If you start with plain instant oatmeal, you can sweeten it with fruit and / or a small amount of sugar or sugar substitute. A pack of flavored instant oatmeal can have up to 12 gm. of added sugar, which is 3 teaspoons! You can find lower sugar instant oatmeal packets also. The flavored oatmeal is also higher in sodium than needed, with 7 – 11% of the Daily Value.

Instant oatmeal is easy to prepare, even from the hot water dispenser of a water fountain, so it’s very easy to pack for work as part of your breakfast.

Other Ways to Use Oatmeal

  • Oats are also a great addition to baked goods, like muffins (Check out my recipe for Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Muffins), cookies, pancakes, breads, granola and granola bars, energy bites, and veggie burgers.
  • Add some uncooked oats to a smoothie before blending
  • You can also use oatmeal to make a muesli for a breakfast cereal.
  • Tip: If you are adding oatmeal, you may need to reduce the flour in the recipe.


Preparing Oatmeal

I like to make oatmeal in the microwave. Then I don’t have to wash out a pot or worry about it burning on the stove. Choose a bowl that is large enough for the mixture to rise and bubble while it is cooking, without spilling over the edge of the bowl. I combine ½ cup oats with 1 cup of water. Then I add a dash of salt, at least ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of maple syrup. From my experience (1100 watt microwave), quick oats take two minutes, and rolled oats take three. Oatmeal may take another minute or two to cook on the stove

I like oatmeal cooked with water, but you could make with all or half plant milk substitute for more calcium and vitamin D.

Here are some suggested add-ins:

  • Pumpkin
  • Chopped apples
  • Raisins
  • Blueberries
  • Sliced bananas
  • Almond or peanut butter
  • Maple syrup, agave nectar or brown sugar

Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN is a nutrition professor and blogs at: https:/melissatraubrd.com.

You can follow her on Instagram at melissatraubrd.

Posted by: Julie Stefanski

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