There is no doubt that a bowl of oats, a kind of wholegrain cereal, is the ideal breakfast meal. Oats tick off all the right boxes. They are gluten-free, have a high load of dietary fibres, have a low glycaemic index and can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, the two markers that determine our sense of health and well-being.
A specific kind of soluble fibre in oats, called beta-glucan, has many health benefits with a 2015 study finding out that consuming 3 g of beta-glucan fibre each day can lower one’s risk of coronary heart disease (CAD), reduce cholesterol and prevent serious illnesses with anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant properties.
But in the Indian context, the biggest advantage of oats is that they reduce the risk of obesity and help in dropping extra weight. The logic is simple. The fibre content lends a sense of satiety and prevents you from overeating or even heading to the food counter.
Since the outer hull of the oats are inedible, there are various processes involved to extract their groats or kernels. These processes determine the various kinds of oats available on the shop shelf. Steel-cut and rolled oats are two processed forms of these groats.
“Steel-cut oats, as the name suggests, are cut with steel blades about two to three times to make them smaller in size. Since they are the least processed form of accessing the kernel, they retain the fibre structure in husk. These are closest to the natural form, hence retain a maximum nutritional quality. Rolled oats undergo a steaming and flattening process which makes them look like small oval coins. Then there are instant oats that are pre-cooked and then dried. Manufacturers of instant oat products also add flour and spices to give more body or flavour. This affects the fibre structure present in husk and can also alter its nutritional quality, usually lowering it. The advanced processing, however, makes cooking easier and, therefore, processed versions become top draw,” says Dr Swatee Sandhan, Senior Dietitian, Jupiter Hospital, Pune.
So which kind should one have for the most effective results? “Undoubtedly, the steel-cut oats. For they retain the fibre content and the very important B complex vitamins. These get diminished with every round of subsequent processing,” says Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, Chief Clinical Dietician, Apollo Hospitals.
Dr Rohatgi gives us nutritional comparisons of steel-cut oats and rolled oats. “The calorie value of steel-cut oats is 208 while for rolled, it is 212. The carbs yielded by steel-cut oats are 37 gms, for rolled they are 39 gms. Steel-cut oats have a protein value of 9 gm compared to 7 gm of rolled. Both yield same value of fats though. But steel-cut oats have zero sugar while rolled oats have 1 gm. Now quick, instant oats yield higher values than these two types. So making a choice of the type of oats is a no-brainer,” says Dr Rohatgi.
Steel-cut oats have a glycaemic index (GI) score of about 53 and rolled oats about 57. Instant oats have a GI of 83 in comparison.
So, what stops us from making steel-cut oats our first choice of breakfast cereal? “That’s because they are chewy and take longer to digest, reducing spikes in blood sugar. They remain chewier and firmer despite cooking. They also have a stronger flavour profile. Rolled oats are softer, can absorb water more readily and have a milder flavour. Besides, some of us, who may be intolerant to higher fibre load in the mornings or cannot take the load of both oats and milk, prefer a smoother version. But you can still use steel-cut oats for quicker food preparation. You can soak steel-cut oats in probiotic curd for four hours. They can become quite mushy after which you can use the resultant blob to knead your dough for rotis or simply roll them out as pancakes or chilas, the last two an everyday favourite in Indian homes. Often the cooking time and texture take priority over nutrition logic among users,” says Dr Rohatgi.