Eat Empowered, Gut Health, Wellness Advice from Experts

How to Make Oatmeal (the Healthy Way)


Go ahead, be a flake. Eating oats for breakfast instead of refined, sugary cereal (or no breakfast at all) has been linked to healthier eating the rest of the day, according to research. Yep, oatmeal can set you up for success.

RELATED: Are Steel Cut Oats Healthier Than Rolled Oats?

Oats are not only super low in unpronounceable ingredients (the label should just read “Whole Grain Rolled Oats” or “Steel Cut Oats”), but they’re also loaded with boatloads of health bennies for not a lotta calories. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central database, a half cup of dry oatmeal offers:

  • 150 calories
  • 1g fat
  • 6g protein (close to one egg)
  • 32g carbohydrates
  • 5g fiber (one-fifth of your suggested intake for the day)
  • 1g sugar
  • 173mg sodium
  • 135mg potassium (about half as much as a small banana)
  • 145mg magnesium (approximately one-third of your daily needs)

Speaking of that fiber, did you know only 5 percent of Americans reach their daily quota of 25 grams, according to a study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine? Oats offer special benefits since they’re loaded with a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucans, and consuming ample amounts of this filling fiber has been linked to lower bad cholesterol, more good gut bacteria, and better blood sugar control. Resistant starch, a special kind of starch found in oats, beans, and green bananas, also acts as a prebiotic food and feeds the good bacteria that optimize your gut flora and contribute to a healthy microbiome.

Oatmeal has unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have strong antioxidant activity and are known to be anti-inflammatory, too,” says Mary Stewart, R.D., NLC, and founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas, Texas. 

Oats come in four common forms with similar nutrition—although steel cut oats will have a bit more fiber than the instant stuff. The other difference is in cook time and texture, so pick your optimal oat and get cooking.

  • Old-Fashioned (AKA rolled oats): These flat flakes are steamed then pressed so they can soak up a lot of water in little time.
  • Quick-Cooking: Created in the same way as old-fashioned, these are simply rolled thinner to cook more quickly.
  • Instant: Even thinner than quick-cooking, instant oats are the fastest to prep but can err on the gummy side.
  • Steel Cut (AKA Scottish oats): The teeny-cut oats are gritty before cooking, but become chewy and spoonable after soaking overnight or after about 20 minutes of cooking.

The only one to avoid: “Don’t be fooled by the ‘ready-to-eat’ oatmeal packages,” Stewart cautions. “Many of them have a lot of added sugar and artificial flavors. Read the ingredient list first,” she says. “The best choice is to buy plain oats and add your own mix-ins.”

How to Make Classic Oatmeal on the Stove 

  1. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil, then lower heat to bring to a simmer.
  2. Stir in ½ cup oats and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring throughout.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in a dash of salt and ¼ cup milk or plant-based milk.
  4. Garnish as desired.

Note: To customize this for steel cut oats, follow the same method, cooking and stirring for 15 to 18 minutes instead. Add water while simmering, as needed.

How to Make Oatmeal in the Microwave

  1. In a medium bowl, combine ½ cup oats, 1 cup water, milk or plant-based milk
  2. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until tender, stirring halfway through and again after the oats are finished cooking.
  3. Garnish as desired.

How to Make Overnight Oats

  1. In a small mason jar or bowl, add ½ cup oats, ½ cup milk or plant-based milk. Stir to combine.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.
  3. Garnish as desired.

How to Meal Prep Oatmeal 

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, then lower heat to bring to a simmer.
  2. Stir in 2 cups of oats and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove pan from heat.
  4. Fill the wells in a silicone muffin pan (such as this Nanan Silicone Muffin Pan; $12, with ¼ cup of the cooked oat mixture.
  5. Freeze for 4 hours, then remove from the muffin pan and store in a zip-top bag for up to 3 months
  6. When ready to eat, remove one or two cups, and add to a bowl with a splash of milk or plant-based milk.
  7. Heat in the microwave for 30-second intervals until warm, stirring between.
  8. Garnish as desired.

Note: To customize this for steel cut oats, follow the same method, cooking and stirring for 10 extra minutes. Add additional water while simmering, as needed.

RELATED: 17 More Next-Level Ways to Eat Oats

How to Customize Your Oats

Think plain ol’ oats are ho-hum or only exciting enough for toddlers who haven’t yet been introduced to the magical powers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Dress up your bowl with one (or several) of these mix-ins or toppings.

“My favorite way to make oatmeal is using whole-grain rolled oats on the stove-top with water,” says Stewart. “Then, I add in at least three mix-ins to amplify the flavor and nutrition. I aim to incorporate a good source of fat or protein, fruit (nature’s natural sugar!), and a spice.” Nut butter, berries, and cinnamon is her go-to trio.

  • Sweet: Vanilla extract, almond extract, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, cocoa powder, dark chocolate chips, apple butter, sliced fruit, frozen fruit, no-added-sugar preserves
  • Savory: Bacon, egg, avocado, fresh herbs, shredded cheese
  • Creamy: Greek yogurt, pumpkin purée, mashed sweet potato, cottage cheese, nut butter, applesauce
  • Crunchy: Walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds

RELATED: 10 Creative Ways to Add Protein to Your Oatmeal


(Photo: Shutterstock)

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