At least when we’re talking about whether it helps to lower cholesterol, the answer as to how healthy oatmeal is turns out to be “it depends.”
Recently a reader asked me whether instant oatmeal is as healthy as the old fashioned steel cut type when it comes to the cholesterol-lowering properties of the cereal. It’s a great question, and research to answer it led me to some surprising conclusions.
What I Learned About Oatmeal and Lowering Cholesterol
Maybe you know all this, but I didn’t.
- There are 2 types of fiber in foods – soluble and insoluble. The government recommendations on fiber in diet do not distinguish between the two types, but they are found in differing amounts in various foods. Some foods are higher in one type than the other or have only insoluble fiber.
- It is soluble fiber that has the cholesterol lowering qualities that help prevent heart disease. (The insoluble type of fiber is healthy too, but in different ways.) According to an NIH report, eating at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day (up to 25 grams) lowers LDL cholesterol and can be beneficial.
- There is no difference in the cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber content based on whether how the oats are prepared, steel cut or rolled.
- Old fashioned oatmeal has no more soluble fiber than quick or instant, and sometimes less.
- More expensive brands are no better than the less expensive ones when it comes to soluble fiber content.
- Except for 1 brand that has added fiber (not from oats), all the brands I found had between 1-3 grams of soluble fiber per serving.
- Other types of cereal can have just as much soluble fiber as oatmeal. For example, Kashi Go Lean Crunch has 3 grams, more than most of the oatmeal brands I found and as much as the same company’s oatmeal.
- You can get the same amount of soluble fiber from lots of other foods (besides oats), including beans and many types of fruits and vegetables. Here’s a great list of foods with soluble fiber and how much each food type contains.
Reading food labels is key to getting the straight story on what you’re buying and eating.
I visited 3 grocery stores in my local area and searched online, reading labels on various brands of oatmeal to figure out which brands had the highest per serving amount of soluble fiber. Here’s what I found:
Are you surprised by any of these conclusions or comparisons?
Update on 2012-01-14 17:26 by motherwouldknow
While you’re reading labels on oatmeal packages, check out how much sugar is in the brand you are considering. You’ll be amazed how much sugar some companies sneak into “natural, healthy” cereal. Also keep in mind that even if a package says in big letters on the front that the oatmeal does not contain “high fructose” corn syrup, the cereal may still contain sugar.
Update on 2012-01-18 17:16 by motherwouldknow
What do you think of this recipe, using a slow cooker to make oatmeal while you sleep?