In the breakfast lineup, oatmeal is the clearly the healthy choice. But within the world of oatmeal, there are options. Lots of them. Are you making the right one?

If you are the person who reaches for those quick-cooking oats, you are in fact not making the best choice in terms of health. Sure, they’re convenient. And of course, opting for instant oats will usually be healthier than the muffin you could pick up at your local coffee shop (unless, of course, you’re choosing the instant oatmeal that’s loaded with sugar and artificial flavorings). But if you’re eating oatmeal to reap its health benefits, you are short-changing yourself when you don’t choose steel cut or rolled oats.

We spoke with Bridget Murphy, a registered dietician and clinic nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center, and she broke it down for us very clearly.

The simple reason instant oats are far inferior to the other options on the market is because most of the time, these quick-cooking oats have had the outer layer, the bran, removed. (That’s how they’re able to cook faster.) The bran is where most of the fiber that makes oatmeal so good for us lives. That fiber not only keeps us feeling fuller longer, it is also associated with regulating blood sugar levels, decreasing cholesterol and regulating bowel movements.

(By the way, this is the same reason brown rice is healthier than white rice.)

But, as Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, told us “The only oatmeal that can do you any good is the oatmeal you eat, and even instant oatmeal is better than most breakfast choices most Americans make.”

If instant is the only choice for you, one thing Murphy recommends looking out for is the fiber content. Look for 3 grams per serving. Also be careful of preservatives. Murphy’s rule of thumb is to stay away from any oats with ingredients you can’t pronounce. 

Next time you make yourself a bowl of oatmeal, consider giving it a boost with one of these recipes below.

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