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Nutrition

Is Instant Oatmeal Good for You? Nutrition Experts Weigh In

Consider this before buying those oatmeal packets.

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Instant oatmeal packets allow you to enjoy the breakfast staple in a quicker fashion — no stovetop cooking required. But while instant is certainly the more convenient option, steel cut and rolled oats are often touted as being more nutritious; that’s because they’re less processed and typically contain no additional ingredients. However, some nutrition experts are challenging this belief, claiming there are still health benefits to be gleaned from eating the speedy oatmeal variety.

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We spoke to registered dietitians Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND, and Johna Burdeos, RD, about why instant oatmeal is actually good for you.

Instant Versus Other Types of Oats

Various types of oats have some similarities and differences when it comes to their nutritional content and processing method. Below, Magill gives us the full scoop.

Instant, rolled, and steel cut oats all have similar nutrition profiles (as they’re low in fat), a good balance of carbohydrate and protein, and are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Steel cut oats have a slightly higher fiber content because they’re made by cutting the oat kernel or groat in just two or three pieces, while instant oats are pressed through a roller and further ground or milled to make them cook faster. Sometimes instant oats are pre-cooked and dehydrated, but not all manufacturers do this. 

Instant oats are a great everyday choice for breakfast since they have beta glucan, a soluble fiber that’s been shown to reduce cholesterol and may also reduce blood sugar and insulin levels. Additionally, research shows beta glucan and sufficient hydration of water when cooking instant oats helps increase satiety (feeling full) — reducing your need to snack or feel extra hungry. In short, instant oatmeal is a nourishing breakfast option for busy mornings, as long as you pay attention to the nutrition label and prepare it correctly.

Tips for Buying and Preparing Instant Oatmeal

Your options for store-bought instant oatmeal are vast. So, Johna Burdeos, RD, recommends looking out for instant oatmeal made with little to no sugar (5 grams or less) and selecting lower sodium options that contain less than 200 milligrams in a serving. She also suggests incorporating other vitamins and minerals into your oatmeal. “Protein and fiber are key to a healthy diet — meals and snacks should be built around these to aid with satiety, energy, and overall health,” she says. Here are her four suggestions for making a healthier bowl of instant oatmeal:

  • Top oatmeal with fresh and ripe fruit, which acts as a natural sweetener.
  • Cook oats in milk instead of water to boost calcium and other essential nutrients.
  • Add plain nuts or nut butter to boost protein and healthy fat.
  • Sprinkle in chia or flax seeds for an impressive dose of fiber and omega-3 fat.

The Bottom Line

Oatmeal is a filling breakfast that shouldn’t be off the table when you’re short on time. Easy instant oatmeal still offers a nice dose of fiber and protein to start your day right. Plus, you can prepare and enjoy this dish all in the same bowl — taking the hassle out of mornings!

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