Steel cut oats have been an important part of a healthier diet

I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with oatmeal for my whole life. It was big for me as a child since my mother would always cook up a bowl whenever I came down with something.

My friends and co-workers would get grossed out when I told them my penchant for using salt instead of sweeteners like sugar, cinnamon, honey or fruits. I think my preferences stem from oatmeal’s similarity to congee, a cultural staple that is always served salty or savory with ingredients like pork, chicken and/or dried scallops.

In short, I was never able to get into sweetened varieties of oatmeal when I was younger, but I’m finding the idea of mixing in fruits and other sweet ingredients more palatable nowadays with my new love of steel cut oatmeal.

Steel cut oats are the whole grain inner portion of the oat kernel which are minimally processed and thus require more cooking time than the more popular rolled oats that Quaker sells in tremendous quantities throughout the U.S.

Despite this additional processing, steel cut oats are surprisingly not much healthier or diabetes-friendly than other varieties of oatmeal. The logical assumption is that the additional step of processing that turns cut oats into thin sheets of flattened grains would eradicate some of the nutrients, but in reality the two varieties are almost identical in nutritional content.

Further, while the glycemic index of steel cut oats is indeed lower than that of rolled oats both types fall into the “low glycemic impact” range and thus are very good sources of complex carbohydrates for diabetics and others who are watching their sugar intake.

What it really boils down to is taste and texture. Steel cut oats have a nuttier, bolder flavor as well as a chewier consistency which in my opinion provides a better mouthfeel than the mushier, more “porridge-like” texture of rolled oats.

Panera Bread's steel cut oats with strawberries, cinnamon & pecans on the side

Panera’s steel cut oats are great as long as I keep the strawberries, cinnamon & pecans on the side

I personally like Panera Bread’s steel cut oatmeal offering which currently comes in just one variety — strawberries with cinnamon and pecans — although they have seasonal options during the year as well. I of course make sure to get all of the toppings on the side so I can control the amount of additional carbs I consume.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jamba Juice’s steel cut oatmeal which has an unappetizingly soggy consistency and an inordinate amount of cinnamon sugar blended in. The end result is a dark brown, somewhat slimy, overly sweet quagmire of glucose overload. I love Jamba Juice’s all fruit smoothies, but I highly recommend avoiding the oatmeal there.

For a do-it-yourself option, I highly recommend Quaker’s steel cut oats which when prepared exactly as instructed on the packaging produces a delicious equivalent to Panera’s nutty, chewy oatmeal. I recently purchased a can of Trader Joe’s steel cut oats, but I have yet to try them: I’ll post a thought or two when I have a chance to cook ’em up.

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