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Steel Cut vs Rolled Oats vs Quick Oats – What is the difference?

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Whether the cereal grain oats are left whole, cut, crushed, ground or rolled can make a huge difference to the final result. So what is the difference between steel cut, rolled oats and quick oats? Lets set out to understand the distinctions in further detail.

When you are considering a healthy, nutritious and wholesome breakfast, a steamy bowl of tasty oatmeal porridge may come to mind. However, the initial processing of whole grain oats results in very different end products.

Oats can be ground into fine flours to be used in baked goods, in addition to their inclusion in dry pet food and livestock feed.

Oats are a fiber-rich carbohydrate that is low in fat and high in protein, vitamins and minerals. As a result of this nutrient profile, oats have provided value to a variety of healthy food products from baked goods to gluten-free and vegan recipes.

However, there are several types to choose from. Steel cut, rolled oats and quick oats all differ from one another in nutritional value and processing methods.

This article sets out to discuss the difference between steel cut vs rolled oats vs quick oats.. As a result, we hope to help you determine which type of oats is best for your diet and lifestyle!

What Are Steel-Cut, Rolled Oats and Quick Oats?

The process begins with harvested whole grain oats, which are covered by an inedible outer shell called a husk or hull. The oat kernels or oat groats are then removed from the tough casing to expose the seed of the plant.

Oat groats are entirely edible and in fact they make a tasty breakfast cereal. Furthermore, oat groats provide a hearty addition to soups, stews and pilafs.

Steel cut oats, rolled oats, quick oats, instant oats and Scottish oats all begin as oat groats. The distinct characteristics between each variation results from the unique processing that the oat groat undergoes.

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel cut oats on a flat white table

Commonly referred to as Irish oats or pinhead oatmeal, steel-cut oats are the closest to the unprocessed oat groat.

To make steel cut oats, a single oat groat is chopped into two or three pieces with the help of large steel blades.

The end result is a thick oat flake that is course in size, chewy in texture and also boasts a complex nutty aroma. As a result, the taste of steel cut oats is much different from rolled oats and quick oats.

Due to the thickness, cooking time is extended to 15-20 minutes. However, steel-cut oats may be soaked beforehand which helps to reduce the cooking time.

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats in a white bowl

Also known as regular or old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are the most common form in the marketplace.

Rolled oats are oat groats that have been steamed so that they can be rolled flat using large rolling pins without cracking. This flattening process creates more surface area, which helps the oats cook for much less time.

The steaming helps to stabilize oils within the oats and also extends shelf life. However, rolled oats have a milder flavor profile and softer texture.

Furthermore, rolled oats cook much faster than steel cut oats because they have been partially cooked with steam.

A serving of rolled oats can be prepared in about 10 minutes.

Rolled oats are also incorporated into a variety of baked goods like bars, biscuits, breads, cookies, cakes, granolas and muffins. The options are endless for this whole grain food basic.

Related: Best Rolled Oats

Quick Oats

Quick oats on a flat white surface.

Quick-cooking oats or quick oats are similar to rolled oats, however they are rolled much thinner. The extra degree of thinness further decreases the cooking time.

Because they are partially cooked with steam, and then rolled even thinner than old-fashioned oats, they cook in just a few minutes.

Again, the flavor is mild and the texture is increasing softer and mushier than old-fashioned rolled oats.

Quick oats are not always the same as instant oats. Prepackaged individual servings of instant oats are ground into a fine powder usually with dried milk, sugar and other flavorings. Heat and hydrate with boiling water and viola!

So as we have determined, steel cut, rolled oats and quick oats have processing requirements that result in noteworthy differences in appearance, taste and texture.

Steel cut oats are by far the least processed of the three, and have a chewy texture and nutty taste. Rolled oats and quick oats have a mild flavor with a softer texture, with quick oats being slightly mushier.

Health Benefits of Oats

Oats are a nutritious whole grain that offers many health benefits.

The fiber-rich food is low in fat and a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Plus, oats are gluten-free! Therefore, they are a great choice for anybody with a celiac disease or  gluten-sensitivity.

Although oats are naturally gluten-free, they have a tendency to be contaminated with gluten during harvest and processing. As a result, it’s recommended to select gluten-free certified varieties as a guarantee.

Only a ½ cup (40 grams) of dry, rolled oats contains [1] :

  • Calories: 154 or 7% of the RDI
  • Protein: 6 g or 10% of the RDI
  • Fat: 3 g or 4% of the RDI
  • Carbs: 28 g or 9% of the RDI
  • Fiber: 4 g or 16% of the RDI
  • Thiamin (B1): .2 mg or 13% of the RDI
  • Iron: 1.7 mg or 10% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 56 mg or 14% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 166 mg or 17% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 1.5 mg or 10% of the RDI
  • Copper: .2 mg or 8% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 1.5 mg or 74% of the RDI
  • Selenium: 11.7 mg or 17% of the RDI

Oats are also plentiful with beneficial compounds, including antioxidants and the soluble fiber beta-glucan, which has been linked to a number of health benefits.

For instance, beta-glucan found within oats has demonstrated the ability to lower both “bad” LDL and total cholesterol levels. This may promote heart health and reduce the risks associated with heart disease like heart attack and stroke. [2]

In a recent study, 80 people with high cholesterol consumed 70 grams of oats per day. After 28 days, results showed a 8% reduction of total cholesterol and an 11% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol. [3]

Furthermore, the beta-glucan in oats slows the process of emptying the stomach that increases the feeling of fullness. The altered rate of digestion effectively benefits weight loss and helps stabilize blood sugar by reducing the spike in glucose levels. [4]

Oats are highly nutritious and wholesome food that has exhibited a number of health benefits. Eating oats on a regular basis may help lower LDL and total cholesterol levels, decrease blood sugar availability and also encourage a feeling of fullness that supports weight loss.

Is One Type Of Oats More Nutritious?

Use the chart below to compare the nutritional values between 56 grams (2 ounces) of steel cut, rolled and quick oats.

The variety of oats on the market can make it difficult for consumers to determine the healthiest option. The chart below compares the nutritional differences between 2 ounces (56 grams) of rolled, steel-cut and quick oats. [5] [6]

Steel Cut Oats Rolled Oats Quick Oats
Calories 208 212 208
Carbs 37 g 39 g 38 g
Protein 9 g 7 g 8 g
Fat 4 g 4 g 4 g
Fiber 6 g 5 g 5 g
Sugar 0 g 1 g 1 g

As you can see, the nutritional values of the three oat types varieties marginally.

It is noteworthy to point out that growing conditions, soil samples and water quality can equally affect the nutritional value of harvested grains. [7]

As a result, a proper study comprised of statistical tests is required to accurately confirm and major differences.

That being said, the available data distinguishes a noteworthy difference between steel-cut, rolled oats and quick oats.

Steel Cut Oats May Have A Higher Fiber Content

Due to being the least processed of the three oat varieties, steel cut oats may have the most available fiber. The fiber found in steel cut oats has proven to be beneficial for the digestive system, nourishes healthy gut bacteria and stimulates regular bowel movements by reducing constipation. [8] [9]

It’s noteworthy to mention that all oats are an excellent source of fiber. The distinguishable difference between the fiber content of steel-cut oats, rolled oats and quick oats is minor.

Steel-Cut Oats May Less Affect On Blood Glucose Levels

Statistics show that steel-cut oats may have a lower glycemic index than rolled or quick oats. This may be due to the fact that steel cut oats have been minimally processed and are the thickest oat flake available.

As a result, the body digests and absorbs them slower. This leads to a reduced affect on blood glucose levels by delaying the output of the glycemic load. [10]

Foods with a high glycemic index cause more rapid spikes in blood sugar and the body absorbs the glucose. Foods that have a lower glycemic index release energy slower, which helps to stabilize blood glucose levels. [11]

For digestive reasons, steel cut oats may be the best choice for anyone using foods with a lower glycemic index to control of their blood sugar levels.

Steel cut oats may have a slightly higher fiber content that rolled oats and quick oats. The larger oatmeal flake size may lead to lower glycemic index and slower digestion rates. This potentially has an effect on the glycemic load and may be a better choice to help control blood sugar levels.

Which Type Of Oats Should You Choose?

Although steel-cut oats may contain a bit more fiber and also has a lower glycemic index, there is no need to rule out rolled oats and quick oats.

All three types of oats are highly nutritious and excellent sources of soluble and insoluble fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial compounds like beta-glucan and antioxidants like avenanthramides.

The most important factor to consider is selecting an oatmeal that best fits your lifestyle.

Top down order is quick oats, rolled oats and steel cut oats.

Find An Oatmeal That You Enjoy Eating

The fact of the matter is that you must enjoy what you are eating in order to continue being able to consume it regularly. As a result, its important to find a type of oatmeal the you enjoy eating the most.

Personal preference will be the most useful determining factor as to what you stock in the pantry.

If a chewy texture and nutty flavor profile are for you, then take the extra time to cook steel cut oat properly.

Steel cut oats are the least processed, and can take as long as 30 minutes to fully cook.  Consider soaking steel cut oats to noticeably reduce the cooking time.

Vice versa, rolled oats will have a milder taste and softer texture with a reduced cooking time. Many people find the creaminess and smooth consistency to be more appealing than the chewiness of steel cut oats.

Furthermore, some people are turned of by the length of time it take to cook steel cut oats, when rolled oats and quick oats only take a few minutes to make on the stove top.

A slower cooker in an advantageous tool to use with steel cut oats. This ensures that the oats are fully cooked by the morning time with no difficulty to worry about.

Overnight oats have become a popular option that is also hassle-free.

Rolled oats, quick oats, oat flour and oat bran have all found their way into tasty baked goods and smoothies. Contemplate using oats is other forms to increase your overall fiber intake.

Avoid Oatmeals Toppings That Are High in Sugar

Oatmeal has a tendency to be a bit bland and boring in taste. For overall health reasons, it’s best to avoid the loads of sugar in prepackaged oatmeal flavor combinations.

For instance, 43 grams (one serving) of instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal contains 13 grams of sugar. That equals over four teaspoons of sugar. [12]

Too much sugar can have a negative impact on your health. Increased sugar intake has been connected to a number of chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. [13]

Stick to plain and unsweetened oats. Pack your oatmeal full of flavor by using a variety of delicious wholesome oatmeal toppings like cinnamon, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Healthy fats like Greek yogurt, unsweetened coconut flakes and chopped walnuts provide a fulfilling flavor combination.

Steel cut oats, rolled oats and quick oats have low sugar levels. Avoid prepackaged instant oatmeal options that are full of added sugar. Stick to preparing your own oatmeal toppings to sidestep excess sugar and create delightful flavor combinations using your favorite ingredients.

How to Add Oats Into Your Healthy Diet

Easily incorporate oats into your diet in many different ways.

Although breakfast cereals are the most common preparation of oats, there are healthy lunch and dinner options available for you to try as well.

Simply Oatmeal is full of ideas for you to experiment with. Explore the multitude of unique, fun and exciting new ways for how to make oats a part of your everyday healthy eating routine.

Oats are a versatile food that can be used for a variety of purposes and eaten at any time of day. As a result, oats can be incorporated into both sweet and savory dishes.

Oats are a fiber-rich grain that has been associated with a number of health benefits.

Incorporating more oats in a balanced diet may help heart health, promote weight loss and also stabilize blood sugar levels.

Even though steel cut oats have a lower glycemic index and slightly higher fiber content, rolled oats and quick oats are also a valuable source of fiber-rich nutrition that should not be overlooked.

Remember to avoid prepackaged instant oats products because they contain an increased level of added sugar. As a result, stick with plain, unsweetened oats and enhance the flavor by added your own nutritious oatmeal toppings.

No matter whether you choose steel cut, rolled or quick oats, don’t limit consumption to only breakfast cereal and porridge.

Find creative ways to include oats in snacks and meals throughout the day. They are an excellent addition to the lunch and dinner menu.

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Sandra Dyett

Monday 31st of August 2020

I am using mornflakes as they are creamer. Are they better for people who are pr-diabetic. Thanks in advance

Joshua Bruck

Monday 31st of August 2020

I'm not familiar with Mornflakes, however it looks like a brand that offers many different types of oats. In general, quick oats and rolled oats will be much softer and creamier than steel cut oats. Which type of oats do you use? I recommend consulting a dietician or doctor in regards to pre-diabetic diets, however my understanding is that steel cut oats are much denser and take longer for your body to digest. The slower digestion reduces the dramatic spikes in blood sugar caused by the consumption of carbohydrates. Quick oats and rolled oats are thinner flakes that can be processed quicker, therefore the body can breakdown the carbohydrates easier which may create an influx of glucose levels.

Randy gubersky

Saturday 18th of July 2020

thanks for the information Joshua....I am a gluten free, organic farmer, in Alberta, Canada....I have been certified organic for the last 22 years, and certified gluten free ,the last 4 years....I am on the finishing stages of setting up a gluten free, organic, oat processing facility,..on farm....I would love to get recipes for different oatmeal products....Im about 4 months away from retail sales....Old Fashioned Oatmeal, Quick Oatmeal, Scottish Oatmeal, Oat Flour, Steel Cut, Groats, and Oat Fibre, are the products i will be marketing...It would be fantastic to learn about different ways of preparing each product { added fruits and herbs }...thank you kindly...website ,will be Gubersky Gluten Free Organics....should be up in about three months

Joshua Bruck

Sunday 19th of July 2020

That is very cool! Please keep me updated on the progress of your processing facility. Maybe we can work on a collaboration together that features your products in some of our oatmeal recipes.

Muskan

Saturday 13th of June 2020

Nice and clear article on different types of oats!! I think we can consume any type of oats depending on the availability as all variants are nutritious.

Joshua Bruck

Sunday 14th of June 2020

Yes I agree that all types of oats are nutritious, however each type is processed slightly differently resulting in varied texture, taste and usage. For instance, rolled oats and quick oats are great when added to baked goods like bread, granola and muffins, while I would not recommend doing the same with steel cut oats.