Steel-Cut vs. Rolled Oats: Health Benefits & Ways To Use Them
If you've ever made a pot of steel-cut oats, you know that they're a bit chewier, denser, and take a lot longer to cook than their rolled-oat counterpart. With all the extra effort (cooking and chewing) that goes into a bowl of these breakfast grains, you might conclude that they must be healthier. But not so fast. To help suss out the differences and health benefits, nutritionists share some insights into these two popular oat options.
What are steel-cut oats?
All types of oats start out as whole groats. Steel-cut oats, also called Irish oatmeal, are whole oats that have been chopped into two or three small pieces by a sharp metal blade, registered dietitian Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., tells mbg. They tend to be tougher than rolled oats and are generally less processed.
"Steel-cut oats have a longer cooking time than rolled oats because rolled oats undergo additional processing that reduces the cooking time," women's health dietitian. Valerie Agyeman, R.D., says. "Steel-cut oats have thicker pieces, requiring 15 to 30 minutes of cooking time, but soaking the oats prior to cooking can reduce that time."
When to use steel-cut oats.
Because they have a chewier, nuttier texture, steel-cut oats are not as good for baking as rolled oats. However, they work well for a traditional sweet or savory porridge, in place of rice for congee, or in place of breadcrumbs for veggie "meatballs."
What are rolled oats?
Rolled oats, also called traditional or old-fashioned oats, are steamed and rolled into thin flakes, Moon explains.
Because they're flattened in the process, Agyeman says they tend to have a softer texture and require less cooking time. "Rolled oats are already partially cooked, so they can be made in five minutes or less," she says.
When to use rolled oats.
Like steel-cut oats, rolled oats work well for a traditional morning porridge, or try one of these 20 oatmeal recipes to amp it up. They also work well in oatmeal raisin cookies, granola or granola bars, or to make your own oat flour for a gluten-free flour alternative (just make sure you're choosing gluten-free oats).
Is one option healthier than the other?
Steel-cut oats are less processed than rolled oats and may have greater health benefits, but only slightly. "Steel-cut oats have a higher fiber and protein content than rolled oats, which is good for satiety and also managing blood sugar levels1," Agyeman says.
Aside from that, the nutritional content is relatively similar. Half a cup of rolled oats and a quarter-cup of steel-cut oats provides 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of plant-based protein, and is a good source of magnesium, iron, and zinc, Moon says. They're also both whole grains, which have been shown to support heart-healthy and lower cholesterol levels.
The active cholesterol-lowering properties come from beta-glucan fiber, Moon explains, "which also helps slow down the rate of digestion to prolong feelings of fullness. That fiber also feeds beneficial gut microbes to support a healthy microbiome," she adds.
If the two are critically compared, steel-cut oats may come out on top...but just barely. "Since the differences between the two are so slim, individuals should choose the type of oats that is most suitable for them in terms of flavor, texture, and preparation time," Agyeman says. "They are all highly nutritious and excellent sources of fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants." In other words, you can't go wrong with either option.
The bottom line.
Oats are a nutritious dietary option, they can be used in many ways, and they have a range of health benefits. Opting for steel-cut or rolled oats is more a matter of preference and cooking needs than actual nutrition concerns.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.