We know the health benefits of eating oatmeal for breakfast, but it requires a level of commitment that many of us aren’t ready for in the morning. So, we whip up one-minute oats or instant oatmeal packets, hoping that we’ll still get the same amount of nutritional benefits. However, it may be time to put in a little extra effort: Steel cut oatmeal reigns supreme when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and improving your gut and heart health. These slow-cooking oats are the least processed and contain prebiotic benefits.
“Steel-cut oats are less processed than rolled oats, which have undergone a steaming and flattening process,” Dr. Tara Weir, MD, author of Dr. Tara’s Sunshine blog, tells First for Women. “[They] have a nuttier flavor and a coarser, chewier texture. They take longer to cook but are well worth the effort since they are among the healthiest whole grains you can eat!”
The Prebiotic Benefits of Soluble Fiber
In addition to containing a healthy amount of protein, iron, and potassium, steel-cut oats are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber. What’s the difference?
“Soluble fiber dissolves in water (this is why oats get mushy when mixed with liquid!), while insoluble fiber does not,” says Dr. Tara. “Insoluble fiber promotes bowel regularity by attracting water into your stool so that it’s softer and easier to pass.”
Dr. Tara notes that steel cut oats are particularly high in soluble fiber. “As the fiber soaks up water and dissolves in your system, it creates a gel that slows digestion, bulks up your stool, and reduces the risk of constipation and diarrhea,” she explains.
Soluble fiber is so important for digestive health because it acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are dietary fibers that feed the “good” bacteria in your gut. According to a paper published in Gut Microbes, soluble fibers don’t get digested in the small intestine. Instead, they move onto the large intestine where the gut bacteria begin a fermentation process. That fermentation keeps your gut bacteria in healthy balance.
The fermentation of soluble fiber also helps your body access important nutrients. A paper from the Surgical Clinics of North America explained that gut bacteria help synthesize, or produce, water-soluble vitamins. Those include B vitamins such as thiamine, folate, biotin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.
How Steel-Cut Oats Can Improve Heart Health
Dr. Tara points out that the benefits of soluble fiber don’t stop there. The gel it creates during digestion is important for heart health. “This gel also attaches to cholesterol particles and helps pull them out of the body,” she says. “In this way, soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol levels and possibly the risk of heart disease.”
That’s why heart-healthy diets contain so much fiber. A review from the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing explained that diets high in fiber are linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease. In addition, an investigation from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dietary fiber not only reduces blood cholesterol levels, but also lowers blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity.
“Both types of fiber help you to feel full and satisfied, which is important for healthy weight maintenance,” says Dr. Tara. “Because fiber isn’t well absorbed, it also reduces blood sugar spikes, which can aid in the prevention and control of diabetes. Lastly, diets high in fiber have been associated with lower rates of colon and other cancers.”
How to Cook and Eat Steel Cut Oats
If you’re worried about the time and effort it takes to cook them, don’t be! Dr. Tara has a trick up her sleeve. “To reduce the cooking time, I like to pre-soak my steel cut oats and make them in the Instant Pot,” she says.
Instead of stirring in maple syrup and milk, Dr. Tara suggests different toppings. “When making breakfast, I aim for the meal to provide ample micronutrients — vitamins, minerals, antioxidants — as well as fiber, healthy fats, and protein,” she explains. “I refer to this as my ‘morning meal mantra.’”
With this in mind, Dr. Tara recommends boosting your micronutrients with a mix of grated zucchini, carrots, or cauliflower rice. If you have a sweet tooth, you could add berries and other fresh fruit. Dr. Tara also suggests adding chia seeds for an extra dose of fiber.
Finally, adding protein to your bowl will keep you satiated. “I always boost my oats with protein,” Dr. Tara says. “Good options include protein or collagen powder, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butter, hemp hearts, or egg whites, which can be cooked into the oats. I also love making savory oatmeal bowls that can be topped with tofu, eggs, lentils, or other proteins.” In other words, steel cut oats can act as a jumping off point for just about any nutritious dish!