Sunday, August 29, 2010

Steel Cut Oats vs Rolled Oats

We all know whole grains are good for us.  They contain more fiber.  They make you feel fuller faster.  They don't convert to sugar as quickly as more processed foods and therefore help keep our sugar levels more steady throughout the day, which can help keep energy levels more even (as opposed to highly refined flours which lack much in nutritional value and can cause our energy levels to the low you get after a sugar high).  

They can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  This is what WHFoods has to say about whole grains:  

"Eating a serving of whole least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure.  A 3-year prospective study of over 220 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:
  • Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
  • Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways."

My mom is an incredibly healthy eater.  
She eats mostly fruits and veggies, little meat, and gets her protein from soy, nuts, and other legumes.  She eats low-fat dairy and avoids nearly all processed foods.  This is easy for her because she grew up on that kind of diet, having been raised on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean.  Tomatoes, olive oil, fish, red wine, beautiful citrus and stone fruits.  These were staples in her diet and mostly still are today.  So when I found out her LDL cholesterol was a little on the high side, I was both annoyed (who wants their mom to have anything on the high side!) and motivated to give her suggestions which might help lower her cholesterol. 

She recently took a class on the topic of lowering cholesterol through diet and exercise, and talking with her about it, I was reminded how important it is to read ingredient lists on packaged foods.  So many labels claim to be offering you a product with whole grains when in reality the amount of whole grains in the product is trivial.  This always makes me think how difficult it must be for people who don't have as much knowledge of nutrition and the marketing strategies aiming to get you to buy products by deceptively exaggerating health benefits...People who are not used to reading and interpreting ingredient labels because they are not as obsessed with food as some of us foodies are, are too busy to spend hours reading ingredient labels, maybe don't speak or read English well enough to decipher ingredient labels and health information more generally.  The bottom line is we have to educate ourselves about nutrition because those behind the words on cereal boxes, in supermarkets, and emanating from our tv sets aren't motivated to strip down their health claims and give us the truth in plain English.  At the same time, the easiest step we can take to improve the health value of our food intake is to purchase food in its most unprocessed form.  Instead of packages of instant maple syrup flavored oatmeal, opt for steel cut oats from the bulk foods section of many grocery stores.

Okay back to whole foods and the topic of this entry...steel cut oats vs. rolled oats. I'm leaving out instant oats and a whole slough of other oat types on purpose.  Bottom line is steel cut oats are your best option, but rolled oats aren't a bad second.  Rolled oats are steamed then rolled, which causes them to lose some of their nutritional value.  Plus the nutty texture and flavor of steel cut oats are more pleasing to my palate, and even to those who usually don't like oatmeal, like my picky husband ("oatmeal is soggy and cardboardy").

Thinking about my mom's diet, I realized that she could probably use more whole grains in her diet, and here is just one easy way to get enough whole grains...have some for breakfast!  Making these grains can become a habit real quick and they just require a little planning the night before.  They are also much cheaper than most cereals and much healthier!

Here's the email I sent her...

Tip and recipe for Sunday.

Steel cut oats are less processed and not 'precooked' like rolled oats and quick oats are, so they are a bit better for you, but they take a long time to cook.  I think they taste nuttier and better. What I would do in the past is soak them the night before in the amount of water required to cook them. This reduced the cooking time A LOT.  I also make a few servings at a time and just add the fruit/nuts in the morning and reheat.

Here is a recipe.

Steel Cut Oats

*Soaking the oats overnight reduces the cooking time from 25 to 5 minutes.



1        cup steel-cut oats
3        cups water
⅜        tsp. salt


  1. Place oats in a heavy saucepan (it is important to use a heavy pan) and cover with 3 cups water. Soak overnight.
  2. In the morning, add salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook partially covered for 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Serve with milk and/or other toppings, such as chopped fresh or dried fruit, frozen berries, flax meal and/or nuts.  Try it sprinkled with cinnamon.

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