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Oatmeal - Everything You Wanted to Know about Oats

"Marzidoats and dozidoats and little lamzidivie,
A kiddeldie divey too, wouldn't you?"

A Counsel On Oats...

A tough, old cowboy once counseled his grandson that if he wanted to live a long life, the secret was to sprinkle a pinch of gunpowder on his oatmeal every morning.

The grandson did this religiously and lived to the age of 110.

He left four children, 20 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren, 10
great great grandchildren and a 50 foot hole where the crematorium used to be.

Don't forget the Oats.

There are a few times in my life that I consider "... next to God experiences" and when I found out about oats and began eating them, this was one of those times. I had been vegetarian for a few months at least, maybe a year, eating nothing but raw veggies, salads, fruit and fruit juices. I took a course on "whole foods" and learned about Steel Cut Oats. I began eating them and everything just "straightened out" in my life. Blood sugar was more balanced, I became even more regular and I began to put on some muscle. I began with "Bob's Steel Cut Oats" which take about 20 minutes to prepare. Now I eat "Bob's Scotish Oatmeal" which is a much faster cooking time.

To this day, I begin each morning with scottish oatmeal and on my re-feed days, have up to 4 servings of oatmeal. Oatmeal is my friend and it should be yours too!

Ode To Oats

We have not succeeded in answering all your problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.

If you come across a good recipe using oats or more "Oat Facts" that I have failed to list here, let me know and I will be happy to post it!

So to start off, here is all I have learned to date about this wondrous little grain:

Oats are the third leading cereal crop produced in the United States (after wheat and corn) and the fourth most important crop world-wide. They were once considered a weed which grew right with the barley and wheat. One day farmers decided to "join 'em rather than fight 'em," and oats started being planted as a crop by itself. It fares best in cool, moist climates, which is why they are such a popular staple of the British Isles like Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The grain was introduced into the Americas in 1602 by a sea captain who planted them in one of the islands off the coast of Massachusetts. They were a popular grain, but corn had a better yield per acre crop, so their popularity wasn't as great as corn. Today, nearly half of the world's oat crop--more than 4 billion bushels a year--is grown in the United States and Canada.

While we feed most of our oats to our animals, a look into Scottish cookbook to see the variety of ways that oats are presented to eat to get your mind off having to have it only in the form of oatMEAL. That is what we will do below here.

Nutrient Values and Virtues of Oats

Oat kernels look very much like wheat in structure. They have an outer covering of bran which protects the starchy endosperm and the germ that sits at the bottom of the grain. Because the oat kernel is soft, the nutritious bran is not removed. Whole grain oats contain seven B vitamins, vitamin E, and nine minerals, including iron and calcium. The quality and quantity of the protein in oats is far superior to that of wheat and most other grains. One ounce of oats has TWICE the protein of wheat or corn flakes. But the most important nutritional advantages are the soluable fiber and the GLA (gamma linoleic acid).

The soluable fiber is what gives it the gummy texture, and it helps lower cholesterol levels in the blood. GLA is considered an "activated" essential fatty acid. Very small amounts of it fill the metabolic pipelines and allow the body to make other essential fatty acids, and all this is part of the hormonal control aspects of the Zone Diet as described by Dr. Barry Sears in his first book, "Enter the Zone" (pp. 119-134, Reagan Books, Harper Collins, 1995).

Sears reccomends eating 3-5 bowls of oatmeal a week. This reccomendation has been the driving force in all the discussion questions, like "Is INSTANT oatmeal okay?" and "Do I have to eat it every day?" and comments like "I HATE oatmeal!" I think that the limitations on our imagination for the use of OATS has been part of the problem, and I hope that this will be a continually growing page to fill your mind and imagination with more ways to get your GLA than in a bowl with brown sugar and milk!

Forms of Oats

Oat grains are enclosed in two tough husks that must be removed. The grains are cleaned and toasted, husked and scoured, resulting in whole oat kernels called GROATS. These contain nearly all the original nutritional value of the grain. Oat groats are much softer and quicker cooking than wheat berries, and can be used in many other meals that breakfast, which I hope to demonstrate through the recipes found here. They are not refined before or after processing, so they retain most of their nutrients regardless of the form in which they are eaten (according to Jane Brody in her book "Good Food Book." Sears says this is not so. It is up to you to decide from the information that follows.

Whats The Difference Between Steel Cut Oats and Scottish Oatmeal?

Here is where everyone goes nuts. What is a groat, steel cut, Scotch, Irish or instant oat? Or a GROAT, for that matter??? Whenever anyone asks the question from now on, send them here for the answer! Remember, 3 Tbs. uncooked ROLLED OATS equals one carbohydrate block,but because STEEL CUT OATS are more dense, they only require 2 Tbs.--but check your package just in case, remembering that you have 9 grams of carbohydrates to one carb block AFTER you subtract the dietary fiber ! 1/3 cup cooked also equals one carbohydrate block.

Steel Cut Oats

steel cut oats

Steel Cut Oats or Irish Oats- These are groats which have been cut into two or three pieces. Cooking time is considerably longer than for rolled oats. This is the variety that I began with but have now switched from. Typical cooking time for Steel cut oats or Irish oatmeal is about 20 minutes.

Steel cut oats are bigger pieces of oatmeal.

Scottish Oatmeal

scottish oatmeal

Scottish Oatmeal - is very similar to Steel Cut Oats, but are cut a lot more and much finer. They seem to cook much quicker, in about 5 minutes instead of 20.

Scottish Oatmeal is cut more and is a finer version with smaller pieces of oatmeal.

Rolled Oats

rolled oats

Old Fashioned Rolled Oats - These are made by steaming the groats and flattening them with a roller. The Quaker Old Fashioned Rolled Oats are very thinly rolled, as are the store varieties by the same title. If you look hard, however, you can often find rolled oats that are twice as thick as the Quaker variety, and these make a lovely, less creamy version of oatmeal than the Quaker ones do. Quaker sets the industry standard, so theirs is considered REGULAR Old Fashioned Rolled Oats. If they are thicker, they are called THICK Old Fashioned Rolled Oats.

Quick-cooking rolled oats -- These are made by flattening pre-cut groats. They cook in about 5 minutes.

Instant Oats- are usually packaged with salt and sugar. Don't indulge in the empty calories!

Oat Groats

oat groats

Oat Groats - Whole grain of the oat, with only the outer hard husks removed, then toasted.

Oat Flour- You can make it yourself by grinding rolled oats in a food processor or blender. Oat flour adds lovely flavor to breads and because of certain natural preservative in the oats themselves, it improves their shelf life. Oats contain no gluten, which is needed for bread to rise, so it must be mixed with a gluten-containing flour such as wheat. Substitute 1 of every 5 parts of wheat flour with oat flour. If your recipe is for a quick bread, no addition of other flours is necessary.

Oat sprouts - oat groats are very easy to sprout! Sprouting increases their nutritive values. Add them to sandwiches, salads, stir-fry and soups. Chop them and add them to your bread dough.

Commercial Cereals - Amazingly, Cheerios are made from oat flour and wheat starch, and Brody contends that they too are a nourishing cold cereal. A bit high in sodium (330 mg in 1-1/4 cup (1 ounce) compared to 1/4 cup cottage cheese which has about 440 mg sodium), there is only 19.6 grams of carbohydrates in one ounce serving with 2 grams of dietary fiber. The only cereal that leaves me hungrier faster is Grape Nuts by Post, so there is a lesson in there somewhere. Remember that as with everything, the better the quality of the food that you put into your body, the better your body. I buy organic as much as possible. Bob's products come in organic as well as non-organic versions.

Granolasare simply overrated if you buy the commercially produced one. They just have way too much sugar and way too much trans fatty acids.

Which form of oats should I buy?

Anytime you do ANYTHING to a food besides "pick it off the stalk," you have processed it. Sears uses the term and says some of the oats are too processed, while Brody contends that oats are NOT processed, Brody meaning that the nutrients are not removed like they are in other grains. Our concern should be how much is done to the food item to break down the cell structure of the carbohydrate food. One way this can be done by cooking the food item. Cooking means that you have subjected it to heat, water or chemicals to break down the cell structure or inactivate certain enzymes. You can "cook" a food by chemically altering it (like fresh seafood being "cooked" by adding lime juice to it). The longer the cooking time, the greater the breakdown of the cell walls, and the faster that food can enter your blood stream and the faster your body will react to it by producing insulin to break down the carbohydrates (sugars) into simple, readily useable forms.Some grains you can begin the "cooking" process by soaking them, but even with the increase in size because of rehydration, the starch in the carbohydrate has not broken down and the food item will still taste...green. Raw.

What you are looking for is breaking down the starches just enough to make them tasty and easy to digest, but not so long that they become unfavorable, i.e. high on the glycemic index. So in Zoning terms, this means that the same food, cooked for longer periods of time, will have a higher glycemic reaction (insulin producing) than that same food cooked for a short time or not at all. The higher the glycemic response, the higher the insulin level and blood sugar level will rise, and since what goes up must come down, your blood sugar level will fall equally as low. The idea of Zoning is to keep your blood sugar level fairly stable: not too high, not too low. The low blood sugar is what will start up your cravings. The over production of insulin is what is going to slap that fat onto your thighs (and belly and fanny...). Therefore the less you break down your foods, the less the glycemic reaction will be, the more stable your blood sugar will remain.

So what form of oats should you buy? Sears says that it should be the kind that cooks in nothing less than 30 minutes. That would be groats, steel cut (and the various names) and Thick Old Fashioned Rolled Oats.

Simple Cooking Instructions for Oatmeal

Oat Groats - Use two cups liquid -- water, milk, broth, stock -- and bring to a boil. Add one cup of oat groats (the whole kernel) and lower heat, simmer for about 45 minutes. This may also be done quite successfully using a rice cooker. 3 Tbs. raw equals one carbohydrate block. These cook well in a crockpot on low overnight, but you may want to increase the liquid 3 to 1, liquid to oats.

Old Fashioned Rolled Oats - Following package directions, you can cook them 2 parts liquid to one part oats, and simmer for about 5 minutes. If you are in a hurry in the morning, try mixing them up with liquid the night before with Vanilla and Cinnamon. Then it takes less than a minute to heat them in the microwave.

Steel Cut Oats - Package directions will tell you to cook them for 15 minutes, but you may want to try bringing them to a boil for 5 minutes, then turning off the heat and covering them for an additional 10 minutes. These also do well in the crockpot on low, overnight. Add liquid 3 to 1.

Oat FAQ's

1. Can I eat oats RAW? Yes. They will not be as "sweet" as cooked oats, because heat breaks down the starch in oats into a sugar, but if you like them that way, they still have the same nutritional value. The fact is that you can add rolled oats into water that is no hotter than 110 degrees and they will still be considered "raw", i.e. a live food with all it's enzymes intact to aid in digestion and nutritional assimlation.

2. What's the difference between instant, rolled, Old Fashioned, and thick rolled oats? How far apart the rollers are set. No other prep work is done to the oat. The thinner the rolling, the quicker the oats cook because of the greater surface area of the grain. That's why my favorite way to cook oats is not to boil the grain itself, but to boil the water, add it to the oats and cover them, letting them set for 3-5 minutes. 1 part boiling water to 1 part rolled oats is a good ratio to start with. Add more or less water to suit your tastes.

Oatmeal Texas

oatmeal texas

Unrelated to oatmeal the food, there is a town in Texas called Oatmeal. It's 56 Miles northwest of Austin putting it nearly smack dab in the very middle of the state. I'm not sure if they eat oatmeal in Oatmeal, but it's a curious fact none the less (or maybe not).


One of the single best decisions I've ever made is to eat oats. It's been going on 15 20 years now since I began and I dont' think it will ever stop. Years ago, I did a bunch of research into oats and oatmeal and found a very funny quote that I now repeat whenever someone brings up oatmeal:

An Englishman and a Scotsman were discussing oats. The Englishman, with his nose in the air said "In England we feed oats to our horses, and in Scotland you feed oats to your men...", to which the Scotsman replied "...that's why in England you have such fine horses and in Scotland we have such fine men!"

and just to dispel any misconceptions, I'm of English, Scotish and Irish heritage.

Coming Soon

Over the years, this article on oatmeal has gotten enormous amounts of attention. I'm going to write a few more articles about oats including:

  • How To Make Oat Milk (and a little history on oat milk)
  • Why You Want To Soak Your Oats Before Cooking
  • How To Make Oat Sprouts, for yourself and your pets
  • How To Make Oat Flour
... and of course, all sorts of oatmeal recipes.

Other Oats information

Bob's Red Mill - Oats and other whole grain products
Oats and blood glucose