To your health: Get cozy and healthy with a warm bowl of oatmeal

To your health: Get cozy and healthy with a warm bowl of oatmeal

By Leia Kedem/University of Illinois Extension

For the past seven years or so, I would say that 95 percent of the time I have had oatmeal for breakfast. Why? What's so great about oatmeal?

Well, there are lots of reasons to love the stick-to-your-ribs hot cereal. To start, it's a whole grain, which means it contains the whole grain seed, and its nutritional value is left intact.

A half-cup serving of plain raw oats (which makes about 1 cup cooked) has 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, both necessary ingredients to start your day off right. Protein and fiber keep you feeling full throughout the morning, so your stomach's not rumbling again before you even get out the door.

The fiber has other health benefits, too. We've all seen the claim emblazoned on packages that oats can help lower your cholesterol — and it's true. Some of the fiber that's found in foods like apples, barley and oats binds to some of the cholesterol in your digestive tract and stops it from being absorbed.

Another great thing about fiber is that it helps keep things moving, if you catch my drift. There's even some evidence that fiber can help prevent colon cancer. So if you needed convincing to get more fiber in your life, you now know three good reasons.

Although the fiber content is generally the same regardless of the form of oatmeal (quick oats, old-fashioned or rolled oats, steel-cut, instant), there can be some differences with vitamins and minerals. Instant oatmeal is often fortified with vitamins and minerals, so you can't directly compare that to oats you get in a canister.

You might also see different amounts depending on the brand or if you're considering a specialty product. For example, I have seen "women's health" oatmeal that is fortified with folate (to prevent birth defects) and calcium (to prevent osteoporosis).

The issue of oatmeal "form" begs the question: What is the difference between quick oats, steel-cut and others?

Old-fashioned and rolled oats are the same thing; that is, they are rolled so that they are flattened.

Quick-cooking oats are also rolled oats, but they are chopped into smaller pieces so that they absorb water (and therefore cook) faster.

Instant oats are rolled thinner and cut into even smaller bits so that they cook very quickly.

Steel-cut oats, on the other hand, are a bit different from the others. The biggest difference is that they take significantly more time to cook, because they are not rolled and are only cut into thirds. It can take about 30 minutes to cook them, and they do have a heartier and chewier texture.

So for those who are not big on the texture of oatmeal, give steel-cut (also known as Irish, Scotch or pinhead oats) a try.

Finally, what about sugar? Oatmeal is a relatively low-calorie food, with just 150 calories in our half cup of plain raw oats.

Obviously, adding sugar (whether it's white or brown, honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.) will increase the calorie count. If this is a concern, try low-sugar instant varieties or use your favorite sweetener in plain oatmeal.

Personally, I make plain oats and then doctor them up depending on my mood. Think of your bowl as a blank canvas, with lots of room for creativity.

You can make it sweet, savory or even in between. Other toppings can increase the calories, so I like to make them count by using those with added nutrition like fresh or dried fruit and chopped nuts.

I also like to add a bit of indulgence with things like chocolate chips or even bacon bits. Just remember to use smaller amounts (e.g., a teaspoon's worth).

Try these tasty topping ideas and let me know if you have a good one to share. The possibilities are truly endless:

— Banana Chocolate Chip: sliced banana, chocolate chips.

— Peppery Maple Bacon: freshly ground black pepper, maple syrup, real bacon bits.

— Cheesy Oats: your favorite shredded cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

— Tropical Madness: shredded coconut, diced pineapple and mango (fresh or dried).

— Apple Pecan Pie: diced apple, chopped pecans, apple pie spice, vanilla yogurt.

— Cherry Almond Crunch: dried cherries, sliced toasted almonds, vanilla extract.

— PB&J: swirl in peanut butter and your favorite flavor jam or fresh fruit.

No matter the type or flavor, when it comes to oatmeal, I definitely say go with the grain.

Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at

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Topics (1):Nutrition