What’s the difference between instant and traditional oats?

Oats have an impressive nutritional resume. They are high in fibre, protein and manganese (important for bone formation), have a low GI (keep you full for a long time) and help reduce LDL cholesterol.

All oats start their life as a whole unbroken grain called a ‘groat’. Before being sold, groats are usually roasted at a very low temperature to stop them going rancid and to increase their shelf life. They are then prepared for consumption in one of the following ways.

  1. Steel-cut oats refers to groats that have been passed through steel cutters and chopped into three or four pieces. They are the least processed form of oats, take the longest time to cook (30 minutes on the stove top) and have the chewiest texture. 
  2. Rolled oats, also known as ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘traditional’ oats, have been steamed and flattened with a roller to make them softer and quicker to cook (about 5 minutes).
  3. Quick oats have been steamed and flattened for a longer time than rolled oats and are therefore slightly thinner and cook even more quickly.
  4. Instant oats (also referred to as oatmeal or porridge) are pre-cooked chopped rolled oats and take only a minute to prepare. They are the most processed, mushiest variety of oats and they often have added vitamins, minerals, sugars, flavours, colours and additives.

Although all varieties of plain oats contain the same nutrients, the more processing they undergo, the higher their glycemic index and the shorter time they’ll keep you feeling full. Therefore, as with most things, the less processed the better. However, plain instant oats (read the label to make sure there is nothing added) are a good option if you’re travelling and don’t have access to a stove top because you can simply pour boiling water over them and they’re ready in a minute. If you don’t feel hungry before you leave for work, a sachet of instant oats in your handbag or briefcase might be the answer you are looking for. You can add raw nuts, milk or plain yoghurt to instant oats to lower the GI.

Another option is to cook steel-cut or rolled oats in bulk and re-heat your required quantity as needed. This does not compromise nutrition, fibre or taste.

Only buy two months’ supply of oats at a time to avoid spoiling and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark cupboard.

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