28 Nov

Do It Yourself (DIY): Oatmeal

Ah, the wonders of oatmeal. This little girl seems to agree.  It’s usually associated with breakfast, but it’s great as a snack or for any meal, especially on a cold day. Oatmeal is a whole grain high in soluble fiber. And, it’s a good source of the B vitamin thiamine and iron. Soluble fiber is beneficial in a few ways. First it absorbs water in our bodies which slows digestion, making us feel full for longer (helpful in weight control and maintaining stable blood sugar). And, it helps lower cholesterol by removing the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) out of the body. According to Quaker,  3/4 cup of oatmeal each day can lower cholesterol. The research is so strong that the FDA approved the label claim that it can reduce risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet.

Kids can sometimes be scared of oatmeal because of its mushy texture. Great, a perfect opportunity to get them involved. Because if you haven’t picked up on one of my main themes = if kids prepare the food they are more likely to eat it. A fun activity is an “oatmeal bar” – have kids set up cups of fruit, spices, add-ins, natural sweeteners (honey/maple syrup). Make a big batch of oatmeal on the stove and have everyone add in their own toppings.

Types of Oats:

All oats are whole grain meaning they have all parts of the oat gran including the bran, endosperm and germ. But they can differ in taste, preparation, cooking time and nutritional value.

Steel cut/Irish: Inner portion of the oat kernel is cut into small pieces by steel rather than being rolled.  It has a nuttier flavor and is and chewier than rolled oats. It takes longer to prepare because of its minimal processing. Cooks in 15-30 minutes on the stovetop.

Rolled oats/old fashioned: Inner portion of the oat kernel is rolled into flat flakes with heavy rollers, then steamed and lightly toasted. Cooks in 5 minutes on the stovetop.

Quick-cooking rolled oats/quick oats: Rolled oats cut that are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled to cut down cooking time. Cooks in 1-2 minutes on the stovetop.

Instant: Rolled oats that are pre-cooked and dried, then sodium is added as a preservative. Just add boiling water and does not require cooking.

Nutritional Comparison of Quaker Oats (per 1.5 oz dry = single portion packages):

Rolled/old fashioned: 159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Steel cut/Irish:   159 kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Quick oats:  159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium 1.1 gm sugar

Instant (Maple & Brown Sugar): 160 Kcal, 3 gm fiber, 270 mg sodium, 13 gm sugar

Surprising, huh? Instant oatmeal is much higher in sodium and sugar and lower in fiber. Another case where you can thank salt for being a preservative in pre-cooked goods. I was surprised when I learned that those with high blood pressure should avoid instant oatmeal because of added sodium. My vote? Any type besides the instant. Really, rolled, steel cut and quick oats are nutritionally comprable, they just differ in cooking time and taste.

Since I’m the barrer of bad news on instant oatmeal, it’s only fair I provide some alternatives. Making oatmeal from scratch is really easy, I promise.

Do It Yourself Oatmeal:

1. Buy either rolled, steel cut or quick oats. I like the flavor and texture of steel cut best even though it takes a little longer to make.

2. Follow instructions on the label for amount of liquid, oats and cooking time.

3. Substitute water for fat-free milk if you don’t eat much dairy and need to boost calcium intake.

4. Add in flavorings of your choice: cinnamon, vanilla extract, dried fruit, fresh fruit, teaspoon of peanut butter (similar to hummus, I try PB with everything), teaspoon of natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup.

If you’re not ready to part with instant, you can still make a healthier choice if you buy unflavored package and add in your natural sweetener or fresh flavors. This way YOU can control how much sugar goes in.

Have leftover rolled “old fashioned” oats? They’d go perfectly in this  cookie recipe.