Oats are the perfect breakfast option. They're naturally gluten-free, vegan, full of fiber, and are low on the glycemic index, they easily fit into any diet. With oatmeal popularity growing, so are the varieties of oatmeal available at the grocery store. From oat groats and steel cut to old-fashioned and instant, choosing the healthiest option isn't easy. Trying to decide between instant vs regular oats? Keep reading for the #deets. 

Oat Groats

porridge, oatmeal, berry, muesli, yogurt, milk, sweet, cereal, blueberry
Becky Hughes

All oatmeal starts off as groat oats—the whole unbroken oat grain. After being milled (harvested), the oats go through a cleaning phase to remove impurities. Next, the hull (outer shell) is removed from the groat (inner kernel). A heating and cooling process gives the groats a nutty flavor, which is present in minimally processed steel-cut oats. The other varieties are pressed and processed to determine their final form—old-fashioned rolled, quick cooking, or instant oatmeal.

Oatmeal boasts a multitude of health benefits compared to other common breakfast foods. With their high levels of fiber and the ability to lower blood sugar levels, oats promote satiety. In other words, a bowl of heart-healthy oatmeal won't leave you with a raging case of the munchies an hour later. 

I'm going to focus on two common varieties to determine which is healthier: regular vs instant oats.

Regular Oats

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Jocelyn Hsu

Also called old-fashioned oats, this is the classic oatmeal. It is steamed and rolled to be pressed into thinner flakes—hence the term "rolled oats." Since the husk has been removed, protein content is decreased compared to the steel-cut variety. On the plus side, regular oats have a longer shelf life.

Half a cup of dry old-fashioned oats has 150 calories, 5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber. By cooking them with your milk of choice, you can increase the calcium and vitamin D content along with the oatmeals' thickness factor. On the stove, regular oats take just 10 minutes to cook from start to finish. They can also be cooked in the microwave in about three minutes.

Using a recipe that calls for oats? Stick to your good old-fashioned oats. They hold moisture better without going soggy, making them ideal for overnight oats, granola, cookies, and muffins.

Instant Oats

Remember the magic of hatching dino eggs in your oatmeal as a kid? Those were the good ol' days.

Instant oats are found in single-serving packages. When you're crunched for time, instant oats are a legit lifesaver; just add hot water for an instant breakfast. Their speedy cooking time is the result of being über processed. By being pre-cooked and dried at the factory, instant oats have a powdery consistency. As a consequence, prepared instant oatmeal has a mushier consistency.

To make up for the mushiness, instant oats come in a variety of tasty flavors. You've got the classics like apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar (my fav), and mixed berry and seasonal varieties such as pumpkin spice. However, the taste comes at a cost; flavoured instant oats contain added sugar, salt, and flavourings. 

Instant oats have an almost identical nutritional profile to regular oats, except for one main difference: sugar. One package of flavoured instant oats contains approximately 12 grams of sugar, compared to 1 gram found in the same amount of old-fashioned oats. They are also lower in protein due to the extra processing. 

#SpoonTip: Instant oats are NOT the same as quick oats. 

Instant vs Regular Oats?

rice, tuna, sushi
Hana Brannigan

While instant oats may be tasty, opt for regular oats as often as possible. With the added sugar, instant oats have a higher glycemic index, which leads to faster digestion and #hanger. Plain, unsweetened varieties do exist but they can be hard to find. Make sure to check ingredient lists for added sugars. Since they are still instant oats, try adding a scoop of nut butter, Greek yogurt, or protein powder to promote satiety. 

Worried about plain oatmeal tasting bland? Spice it up (literally) with cinnamon, chia seeds, agave, fresh fruit, or cocoa nibs.  

Like all foods, instant oats can be incorporated into a healthy diet. After a long day of classes, labs, and extra-curricular, sometimes all you need is a bowl of hot instant oats.