The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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Oatmeal By Any Other Name – is a Whole Grain

Oatmeal By Any Other Name – is a Whole Grain

Dietitian Dialogues

August 27, 2013

Bonnie Johnson, MS, RD

Like so many other parts of the supermarket, the hot cereal aisle is exploding with choices. Where once there were just a few options based on speed of preparation, now the possibilities are endless! However, with all the choices and combinations available, confusion about nutritional value and superiority are swirling like cream in a hot bowl of porridge. To steam things up, here are grains of truth to consider next time you’re in an oatmeal situation:

Oats are a familiar whole grain. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, only about 15% of American adults and less than one percent of children meet the daily whole grain recommendation. This is a wider consumption gap than any other food group that’s encouraged, even bigger than fruits and vegetables. While ancient and other unique whole grains can help fill this gap, they are not mainstream yet and may not be on the daily menu at most American homes. On the other hand, oatmeal is familiar but not often thought of as a whole grain. By encouraging oatmeal for breakfast and snacking occasions, the whole grain gap can start to be filled. 

All oatmeal is created equal. Whether steel cut, standard, quick cook or instant, all oatmeal is whole grain. The only difference is how the oat (a whole grain) is processed to produce flakes. Steel cut oats are not flaked and instant oats are flaked very thin for quick preparation, the others are somewhere in between. There is no nutritional difference between different types of oatmeal products.

Oatmeal has unique health benefits. In 1997, oats were the first specific food to earn approval from FDA to carry a heart disease health claim based on oat’s ability to lower cholesterol. Three grams of soluble fiber from oatmeal daily in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease (the cereal has two grams per serving). As consumer needs and science advance together, more health benefits of oats are being uncovered.

Oats are a base for culinary AND nutrition creativity. While whole grain consumption may be the biggest gap in the American diet, there are still gaps in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy consumption. Oatmeal provides a whole-grain vehicle to deliver low-fat dairy, fruit and vegetables in one bowl. For instance:

  • Use milk to prepare instant oats in the microwave and add your favorite fruit for sweetness for a quick, warm breakfast.
  • Cook old fashioned oats in low-sodium chicken broth with diced sweet potatoes and ginger, and serve with a garnish of scallions as a unique dinner side-dish made from a family friendly ingredient.
  • Soak old fashioned oats in a mixture of milk, Greek yogurt, chunks of fruit and some honey overnight, in the refrigerator for a cold “muesli” mid-morning snack.  

From texture to toppings, cooking methods to eating occasions, oatmeal is hot and healthy, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore.


Bonnie is a Senior Principal Scientist with the Nutrition R+D Group of PepsiCo. As the nutrition lead for Quaker US, Bonnie supports innovation of new products and renovation of the portfolio in addition to leading global nutrition initiatives that promote whole grains and the importance of breakfast. Prior to her time with Quaker, Bonnie worked with commodity promotions boards like the Dairy Council and the National Peanut Board. For four years, she appeared as the “Diet Editor” for KVVU Fox 5 TV’s morning program MORE, conducting more than 200 live cooking demonstrations. She is past-chair of the Food & Culinary Professionals Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and spends her free time discovering new food ingredients and honing her kitchen skills.