By Keri Glassman, MS, RD
Ask Keri: Steel cut oats vs. rolled oats: Which is the better choice for oatmeal?
Keri Says: Steel cut oats get a lot of praise, but don’t go throwing out those rolled oats so fast.
Let’s start with the basics. Both rolled oats and steel cut oats come from the same whole cereal grain. The real difference is in how, and how much they are processed. Known in their whole form as “groats,” both have been separated from their hard outer “hull” to become oats. They still include both the germ (where the healthy, unsaturated fat lives) and the endosperm (where all of that gut happy fiber and protein lies). They’re also both high in B and E vitamins.
Here’s what you need to know about steel cut oats vs. rolled oats.
True to their name, in processing, rolled oats are first steamed to prevent them from cracking or breaking before they’re rolled through mills to be flattened. This results in their famously known squashed, round textured appearance. Picture those little oats plopped on top of a muffin.
They also come in a spectrum of options. Precooked ‘instant’ oats are the thinnest and most processed, as they are the traditional “Old Fashioned” oats cut into even smaller pieces to allow for quick and easy cook time.
Compare these to the completely different “extra thick” rolled oats, and you’ve got an extremely versatile whole grain with a multitude of uses. Everything from breakfast cereal to granola bars, muffins to smoothies to cookies, rolled oats are definitely on trend for recipe substitutions and weeknight overnight oatmeal prep. Rolled oats’ creamy soft texture after being cooked makes them equally as suitable for oatmeal as they are for baking.
Steel Cut Oats
On the other (less processed) hand lies steel cut oats. The same groats used to make rolled oats are instead chopped into two or three pieces rather than flattened, resulting in steel cut oats’ small, pin-like appearance.
Because of their thickness and chewier texture, they take a bit longer to cook, and they’re not as ideal when it comes to putting them into your flourless oatmeal cookie recipe. Cook up your half cup of steel cut oats for breakfast, and you’ve got a fiber packed, slowly digesting meal that will keep you full and energized until lunch (better than quicker digesting rolled oats do).
Steel cut oats are spared processing steps that rolled oats go through, giving them a lower glycemic indexand making it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starch found in them. This, in turn, slows the conversion of the starches to sugar in the body, and your belly stays happily satisfied.
Steel Cut Oats vs. Rolled Oats: The Bottom Line
So while they differ in size, shape, mouth feel, and rate at which they digest, when comparing steel cut oats vs. rolled oats, their nutritional value ends up being the same.
They both act as a great source of manganese (which is important for supporting bone health), biotin (part of the B vitamin complex crucial for the health of your skin and nervous system), as well as a go-to source for soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, which helps to lower bad LDL cholesterol in the body. This can lead to better heart health, better stabilized blood sugar, and better digestive health.
So next time you’re deciding between the two, it might be your best bet to consider what you want to use them for. Trying out a new homemade granola recipe? Go for the rolled oats. Craving a hearty breakfast for the cold winter months? Steel cut might be the better option.