A Definitive Guide to the Healthiest Oatmeals You Can Eat

Updated 07/25/19
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Oatmeal is a breakfast go-to that is both filling and nutritious (that is, if you know what to look for). Like many foods lining supermarket shelves, some oatmeal brands are healthier than others. Even if you think you're making a healthy breakfast choice, the oatmeal you pick off the shelf could be filled with added sugars and other processed ingredients. Because many of these oatmeals are hidden behind wholesome, family-friendly packaging, it can be difficult to find a healthy option.

To help you decipher the whole from the processed and the healthy from the unhealthy, we're breaking down four common types of oatmeal—whole oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oats—and sharing a few of the best brands to turn to for each one. Keep reading for the information you need to make a good choice at the grocery store and start your day off with a warm, nourishing bowl of oatmeal that you can feel good about.

Turn to these brands for a quick and nutritious breakfast that will keep you full until lunch.

Whole Oat Groats

Whole oat groats are the least processed type of oats you can enjoy for breakfast. A groat is simply a grain kernel and whole oat groats are just harvested oats that have been cleaned and removed from their hulls. Because they're unprocessed, they tend to take the longest to cook; however, they're also high protein, carbs, and fiber, which will keep you full and satisfied throughout the day. They also contain iron, zinc, copper, and phosphorus to promote overall health.

If you can spare some extra time to cook in the morning and prefer a chewy texture with a nutty flavor, whole oat groats are the best option for you. Use them to make oatmeal by boiling water in a pot and adding the rinsed oat groats to cook until soft, which is usually about 30 minutes to an hour depending on the brand you choose. Top your bowl with anything from fruit to cinnamon.

Organic Whole Grain Oat Groats
Bob's Red Mill Organic Whole Grain Oat Groats $10
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A USDA certified organic option, Bob's Red Mill 100 percent whole grain oat groats are one of the healthiest oatmeal brands you can buy. A serving includes 180 calories, three grams of fat, seven grams of protein, 30 grams of carbohydrates, five grams of fiber, no sodium, and just one gram of sugar.

Whole Grain Organic Oat Groats
Shiloh Farms Whole Grain Organic Oat Groats $15
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Shiloh Farms offers organic, non-GMO oat groats that you can feel good about eating for breakfast. One serving of these 100 percent whole grain oat groats provides you with seven grams of protein, 29 grams of carbs, and four grams of fiber with no sugar, sodium, or trans fat.

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats (sometimes referred to as Irish Oatmeal) are just whole oats groats that have been cut into a few smaller pieces with a sharp metal blade. Because they're smaller, they cook faster than oat groats; however, they still offer a firm texture and nutty flavor that's similar to the groats, rather than the fluffier consistency of other types of oatmeal.

Also like whole oat groats, steel-cut oats contain plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber to satisfy your hunger and keep you feeling full. Packed with iron and calcium, they're a solid breakfast choice. Prepare them on the stove by boiling water, adding your oats, and simmering until tender. Top with honey, nuts, and dried or fresh fruit.

Gluten Free Steel Cut Oatmeal
Nature's Path Gluten Free Steel Cut Oatmeal, Pack of 6 $32
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Nature's Path is one of the best oatmeal brands because it offers gluten-free, organic, 100 percent whole grain oats. According to the nutrition label, a serving of this steel-cut oatmeal provides 150 calories, 27 grams of carbs, four grams of fiber, five grams of protein, and no sugar, sodium, saturated fat, or trans fat. Plus, the only listed ingredient is gluten-free whole grain steel-cut oats.

Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal
Flahavan's Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal, Pack of 6 $19
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Grown, milled, and produced in Ireland, Flahavan's Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal simply contains 100 percent natural whole grain Irish oats perfect for cooking on the stove for breakfast or overnight. One serving contains 150 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, three grams of dietary fiber, and four grams of protein. Although it doesn't contain any sodium or cholesterol, it does list one gram of sugar on the nutrition label.

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats, otherwise known as old-fashioned oats, are produced by steaming whole oat groats and then rolling them into flakes. This method stabilizes the healthy oils in the oats, which keeps them fresh and allows them to cook faster.

Even though this type of oat will cost you less time in the kitchen (about 10 to 20 minutes on the stove), they're still a highly nutritious breakfast option, differing from steel-cut and whole groat oats only in size, shape, taste, and the how quickly your body digests them. They yield a softer texture and fluffier consistency.

Organic Rolled Oats
Now Real Food Organic Rolled Oats $4 $3
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A good source of fiber, protein, and iron, Now Real Food rolled oats are organic and always non-GMO. They're made with 100 percent whole grain and are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of heart disease. This brand offers a sugar-free way to start your day.

Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
King Arthur Flour Old Fashioned Rolled Oats $10
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King Arthur Flour produces thick and hearty old fashioned rolled oats for a satisfying bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Expect a batch to take about eight minutes to cook on the stove—a bit longer than other rolled oats due to their thick texture. A serving contains 140 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrates, three grams of fiber, and five grams of protein. The label also confirms that this brand doesn't contain any sugar, cholesterol, or sodium.

Instant Oats

Instant oats are the most processed type of oatmeal. They're rolled oats that are cut into even smaller pieces and then steamed to pre-cook them. While instant oats can definitely be part of a healthy breakfast, like all foods, it's important to read the nutrition label so that you know exactly what you're eating. Many brands of instant oatmeal contain added sugar, salt, and even artificial coloring. Look for products that list less than 200 milligrams of sodium, six or fewer grams of sugar, and at least three grams of fiber per serving.

Some brands do offer healthy instant oat options, though. However, no matter which brand you choose, instant oats will be digested quicker than other oats, resulting in feeling full for less time. You can make instant oats as healthy and filling as possible by combining them with lean protein or healthy fat like protein powder, chopped nuts, or ground flaxseeds.

Organic Instant Oatmeal
Quaker Organic Instant Oatmeal, Pack of 6 $17
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Quaker may not be the healthiest brand of oatmeal (many of their offerings contain added sugar and artificial flavors), but their original organic instant oatmeal passes the test when it comes to nutritional value. It's made of 100 percent whole-grain USDA-certified organic quaker oats and contains 100 calories, two grams of fat, 19 grams of carbs, three grams of fiber, four grams of protein, and no sugar or sodium.

Organic Instant Oatmeal Original
365 Everyday Value Organic Instant Oatmeal Original $15
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Certified organic and non-GMO, this instant oatmeal from 365 Everyday Value is a great choice for quick oats. With 150 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, four grams of fiber, six grams of protein, no sodium, and less than a gram of sugar, it's about as healthy as instant oats get. Top it with your favorite fruits or nuts for a flavorful, satisfying breakfast that's ready in a flash.

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