Thursday, January 21, 2010

Have a healthy and hearty bowl of oatmeal for breakfast

By David Burton
University of Missouri Extension

Yes, oatmeal is a healthy whole grain (because it contains all of the parts of the oat grain including the bran, endosperm and germ) but is instant oatmeal as healthy as steel cut oatmeal?

It is a question that Tammy Roberts, a nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension, gets asked frequently by health conscience people.

“The interesting thing is that when we eat the regular oatmeal most of us grew up with, we aren’t eating the grain in its original form. We are usually eating rolled oats,” said Roberts.

Rolled oats have been steamed and flattened. That process decreases the cooking time so old fashioned oatmeal can be prepared in about 10 to 25 minutes.

Quick-cooking oats have been cut even more finely so that the cooking time can be reduced even further, typically three to five minutes.

“Some people prefer steel cut oats. The primary difference between steel cut oats and rolled oats is the shape of the grain,” said Roberts.

Steel cut oats are not flattened. The grain is cut into thirds and then packaged for sale.

When preparing steel cut oats, Roberts says to use four cups of water to each cup of oats and allow 30 to 40 minutes for cooking time. Steel cut oats have a chewy texture and a hearty flavor.

Instant oatmeal is a popular product in many households because of busy schedules. The oat grain in instant oatmeal is partially cooked, dried and then rolled very thin.

“If you read the label of many of the instant oatmeal packages you will find that they have nutrients the old fashioned and steel cut oats don’t have. That is because nutrients have been added,” said Roberts.

A disadvantage of some instant oatmeal is that a significant amount of sugar has been added.

Roberts recommends looking for packages of instant oatmeal that contain less than seven grams of added sugar per packet.

All oatmeal is a good source of fiber, magnesium and thiamine. It also contains phosphorus, potassium, iron and copper.

Oatmeal is allowed to carry a health claim on the food label because of the fiber content. The health claim is that oatmeal along with a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

“This is because oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber which acts as a sponge in the digestive tract to help remove cholesterol from the body,” said Roberts.

For more information on nutrition issues, go online to http://extension.missouri.edu or contact Tammy Roberts at (417) 682-3579.

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