When it comes to breakfast, many people think of pancakes, waffles, bacon, and sausages. Although these menu items are delightful, they lack nutrients and are often full of fat and added sugars.
One breakfast food often overlooked is oatmeal. More specifically, steel cut oats. But what makes steel cut oats a healthy breakfast? What are the benefits of steel cut oats?
What are steel cut oats?
Steel cut oats come from oatmeal. Oatmeal is a whole grain that can be processed and cut to create four main types of oats (1). The first is old-fashioned, or rolled oats. Old-fashioned oats absorb more water and cook relatively quickly. These are the oats most commonly used for baking. Next are quick cook oats, which are thinner and cooked in a minute.
Quick cook oats are mainly cooked on the stove, but can be microwaved. Instant oats are also thin, and are chopped up. These oats can be prepared in the microwave and have a softer texture compared to the other oats. The oats that we will be focusing on today are steel cut oats, which take the longest to cook.
Steel cut oats take 20–30 minutes to cook, are made up of tiny pieces of oatmeal, and have a chewy texture.
What are the benefits of steel cut oats?
Steel cut oats, just like any type of oats, are 100% whole grain, making them an excellent alternative to processed white flour products. Steel cut oats are nutritionally beneficial in many ways.
- High in fiber
The type of fiber in steel cut oats in soluble fiber, which lowers blood cholesterol and glucose levels (2). High fiber diets help with bowel movement regulation, prevent constipation, maintain bowel health, and decrease risk of heart disease and cancer.
Although fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, and wheat bran have fiber, eating a single cup of steel cut, oats can knock out 45% of the recommended daily value of dietary fiber (3). Steel cut oats pack a punch!
- Good source of protein
Steel cut oats have 20 grams of protein per cup. Steel cut oats make for a wonderful addition to any diet, but are especially excellent for those who are vegan or vegetarian since they cannot get their protein from animal products.
- Full of minerals
Steel cut oats are an excellent source of iron, thiamine, and magnesium. All three of these minerals are vital for daily bodily function. Iron plays an important role in oxygen transport, but also aids in DNA synthesis and electron transport (4).
Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is involved in energy metabolism as well as cell growth, function, and development (5). Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzyme reactions. Additionally, magnesium aids in energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis, and bone development (6).
- Contains antioxidants
Steel cut oats contain a special type of antioxidant called avenanthramide. Avenanthramide has high levels of antioxidant activity, and has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and antiatherogenic (preventing buildup in arteries) properties.
They also help control blood pressure because they produce nitric oxide, a compound that dilates blood vessels (7).
- Can lower risk of colon cancer
The specific fiber in steel cut oats, called oat beta-glucan, has anti-cancerous properties. Oat beta-glucan lowers amounts of compounds that cause colon cancer (8).
- Lowers risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases
The oat beta-glucan component in steel cut oats also plays a role in satiety. In a study, subjects that consumed oatmeal sensed fuller for longer, which can help prevent obesity (9).
Suggestions on how to serve steel cut oats
One of the reasons why people tend to stay away from steel cut oats is due to its taste. Without any additions, steel cut oats can taste bland and unexciting.
However, there are many simple ways to customize your bowl of steel cut oats.
- The first method is adding fruit. Fruit is a natural sweetener also full of fiber and contains many vitamins and minerals. Slicing an apple, adding in a handful of blueberries, or chopping in a banana are all delicious ways of getting fruit in your oats. To learn about what fruits offer what nutrients, check out our article “10 Healthy Fruit and 10 Not So Healthy.”
- Cinnamon is your friend! Add in a sprinkle along with a teaspoon of honey. Cinnamon is also a known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, anticancer, and anti–heart disease spice (10).
- Add in a few of your favorite nuts and some dried coconut. Dried coconut is naturally sweet, and nuts are full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Nuts also add a nice crunch. Read our article “The World’s Healthiest Nuts” to learn more about the health benefits of the various nut options
The remarkable thing about steel cut oats is how flexible they are. Savory, sweet, or blended up into a smoothie, steel cut oat can be enjoyed the way that you want!
Steel cut oats provide various nutrients that we often lack, including fiber and iron. For how affordable and easy to produce steel cut oats, they can be added into anyone’s diet with ease.
Steel cut oats can be enjoyed daily, but unhealthy toppings including brown sugar, excessive amounts of dried fruit, and candied nuts should be avoided.
These unhealthy toppings can easily turn a once-nutritious breakfast into a sugar-packed breakfast. With the proper addition, steel cut oats are a nutrient-packed, flavorful meal.