Oatmeal: The New Comfort Food

Oatmeal: The New Comfort Food

As featured on FigureAthlete.com
Ode to oatmeal, my favorite breakfast meal. So nutty, so creamy. 3079337699_eabfc002e0 Oatmeal is my kind of comfort food. A warm bowl of golden goodness, perfect for cozily enjoying next to a fire in these chilly winter months. So many options to choose from and yet many people underestimate the value of this tiny grain. And rightly so; there are so many different types of oats, it can get pretty confusing! Let's take a look at this wondrous grain, starting with the basics.

Oat Groats

Oat groats (or whole oat berries) are minimally processed, as only the outer hull is removed by means of centrifugal acceleration. Once separated, the grains are cleaned, toasted, husked and scoured. They're then passed through a heat and moisture treatment, which stabilizes them. The stabilization process must be done because oat groats are high in fat lipids, and if they're exposed from their outer hull shell, enzymatic activity begins to break down the fat into fatty acids. If not for being stabilized, this would cause them to become rancid (or at the very least, off in flavor) within just four days of being de-hulled. Once the groat has undergone this process, it can no longer sprout — so it's no longer considered raw. Oat groats are incredibly nutritious, but the downside is that they need to be cooked for a long time in order to cut down on the gummy texture. Cooked oat groats strongly resemble rice, and are often used in savory oat recipes.

Basic Cooking Directions

Bring two cups of liquid of choice (water, milk, broth, or stock) to a boil. Add one cup of oat groats and lower heat. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring every so often, until the water has been fully absorbed. You could also cook oat groats in a crockpot, on low overnight, but use a ratio of 3:1 for liquid to oats, rather than 2:1.

Steel Cut Oats (also known as Irish or Scotch oats)

Steel cut oats are sometimes referred to as "Irish," or "Scotch" oats. These are produced by chopping each groat into two or three smaller pieces. They have a nutty taste and are firmer than rolled oats, resembling very tiny rice pieces. Many people are afraid to use steel cut oats because they believe these to be very complicated to cook; but actually, they're quite simple — and offer a richer, nuttier taste than their rolled cousins, to boot! When you see a large pot of oats at most hotel breakfast bars, buffets, cafes, etc they are typically steel cut oats.

Basic Night-Before Cooking Directions

Work in a 3:1 ratio of water to oats. So, for example, if you want to cook 1/4 cup of steel cut oats (typical serving, comparable in size to 1/2 cup serving of rolled oats), you'd add 1/4 cup (40g) steel cut oats and a pinch of salt to 3/4 cup of water in a medium size pot. Heat the oats, water, and salt over medium-high heat, with a lid on. Once the mixture reaches a boil, turn the burner off. Be sure to keep a close watch, because a boil-over can happen very quickly (speaking from experience). You don't want to lose half of your oats all over the stove top! Do not remove lid! This is very important, as it keeps the moisture inside, allowing the oats to continue cooking. Leave the covered pot on the stovetop overnight. In the morning, remove the lid and give it a stir to incorporate. Turn the burner on to medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer, approximately 5-6 minutes; pour into a bowl, and enjoy!

Rolled Oats (also known as old-fashioned oats or oat flakes)

Rolled oats are also known as "old-fashioned oats," or "oat flakes." These are made by steaming and flattening oat groats. This process allows the oats to cook more quickly that steel cut or oat groats. Typically, rolled oats are categorized as either regular, medium, or thick. Quaker Old Fashioned Rolled Oats are very thin and set the industry standard for regular.

Basic Cooking Directions

In a medium-sized pan heat 1/2 cup (40g) of rolled oats, 1/2 skim milk, 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of salt over medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer for approximately 5-6 minutes stirring every now and then. As the mixture begins to thicken, stir more frequently, until the oatmeal has reached the desired consistency. Pour into a bowl and serve. You may also use a microwave, but typically microwaving the oats does not produce a creamy or thick end product. image0032 Rolled and steel cut varieties are the two types of oats most commonly available at any market.

Quick Oats

Quick Oats are cut into even smaller pieces before being steamed and rolled.

Instant Oats

Instant oats are made by chopping groats into tiny pieces before precooking and drying them, and then crushing them with the large rollers. They typically also have sweetener, salt, and flavor already added. If you can stay away from these, that's generally a good idea, as the process of precooking removes all traces of the original texture and flavor of the groats — while reducing the overall nutritional value, as well.

Basic Cooking Directions

Mix with hot liquid and serve.

Oat Bran

Oat bran is the outer casing which is removed from the groat and separated from the flour. It's high in soluble fiber, helping to increase satiety and keeping your digestive system in healthy. It's most often used in baking or even added raw to shakes for additional fiber.

Oat Flour

Oat flour is made from oat groats that have been ground down into a fine powder using a stone or hammer mill. It can also be made at home, using a food processor or blender. Oat flour contains no naturally occurring gluten, so it won't rise like wheat flour; however it isn't considered gluten-free as low levels of gluten are detected in oat flour. This is most likely a result of cross-contamination with other grains during milling and transit. This flour is perfect for use in baking cookies, bars, and crusts.

What Does Whole Grain Mean?

Oatmeal is considered part of the whole grainsfamily, which means it contains the entire grain kernel: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Other examples from this group include whole-wheat flour, bulgur, rye, whole cornmeal, and brown rice.

The Many Reasons to Love Oats

Firstly, like other phytonutrient-rich grains, oats are famously heart-healthy. They also have a low glycemic index — which aids in stable blood sugar levels, and contain more soluble fiber than any other grain. In terms of nutrients, oats really pack a punch, being much more nutritious than wheat! They're high in micronutrients, including B-vitamins, vitamin E, and nine different minerals including calcium, thiamine, and iron. Whole oats are the only source of antioxidant compounds known as avenanthramides, which are believed to have properties that help protect the circulatory system from arteriosclerosis. Oat protein is nearly equivalent in quality to soy protein, which has been shown by the World Health Organization to be the same as meat, milk, and egg protein.

Little Known Oat Trivia

  • The oldest known oat grains were found in Egyptian remains dating back to approximately 2000 BC.
  • Scottish settlers introduced oats into North America in the early 17th century.
  • Oats, like rye, actually started out as a weed of the primary cereal domesticates wheat and barley.
  • Oats are the third leading cereal crop produced in the United States (after wheat and corn) and the fourth most important crop world-wide.
  • Traditional medicinal uses of oats include the treatment of rheumatism, depression, chronic neurological pain, loss of bladder control, and also as a skin cleanser and softener.
  • Oats are occasionally used in Britain for brewing beer.

Weigh Your Oats

The standard serving size for oatmeal is 1/2 cup of rolled oats, or 40 grams. What most people don't, is how easy to overestimate a serving of oatmeal if a measuring cup is used to determine your portion size. When dieting or tracking calories, always opt to weigh oats over measuring with a cup!


Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Oatmeal (Sweet, Rolled Oats) Cheesy Bacon Oatmeal (Savory, Rolled Oats) Pumpkin Oatmeal with Sunflower Seed Butter Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Cottage Cheese with Apples, Oats, and Walnuts And that, ladies and gents, should be enough to keep your breakfasts (or snack or dinner) fresh, exciting, nutritious, and delicious for a while. Remember: Just say no to those boring, bland oatmeal packets — there's nothing like your very own creation when it comes to both taste and nutritional value. Give each of these ideas a try, and if you have any personal oatmeal recipes or tips, don't forget to share them in this article's thread. For more of my oatmeal creations, stop by my 30-Day Oatmeal Challenge.
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