What’s the Deal with Steel-Cut Oats?

Steel-cut oats are whole grains, made when the groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) are cut into pieces by steel. Also known as coarse-cut oats or Irish oats, they are golden and look a little like small pieces of rice. They gain part of their distinctive flavor from the roasting process after being harvested and cleaned. Although the oats are then hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and germ, allowing them to retain a concentrated source of their fiber and nutrients.

How do steel-cut oats differ from “rolled oats”? Rolled oats are flake oats that have been steamed, rolled, re-steamed, and toasted. All of this processing causes them to lose some of their natural taste, texture, and goodness. Steel-cut oats take longer to prepare than instant or rolled oats due to their minimal processing. They typically require 15 to 30 minutes to simmer (much less if pre-soaked), but they taste chewier and nuttier than instant oats.

Steel-cut oats have a lower glycemic index than instant oatmeal (42 versus 66, respectively), causing a smaller insulin spike when consumed. The exact cause of this is undetermined, but is believed to be due to a higher proportion of complex carbohydrate.

In August 1999, the FDA issued an endorsement of oats by allowing companies to promote the benefits of whole grains in relation to heart disease and certain cancers. It has indicated that diets rich in whole grains, such as oats, may reduce the risk of these conditions.

Grains are essential to a healthy lifestyle and form the foundation of the food pyramid. Steel-cut oats are full of nutritional value and are high in B-Vitamins, calcium, protein, and fiber, while low in salt and unsaturated fat. One cup of steel-cut oatmeal contains more fiber than a bran muffin.

Oatmeal is the only food that naturally contains GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid critical to the body’s production of favorable eicosanoids (PGE1 – prostaglandins). Eating steel-cut oats four times a week will provide you with a good supply of GLA. 

A 10-year study published in the American Journal of Public Health indicated that eating one serving of oatmeal (one cup cooked) two to four times a week resulted in a 16 percent reduction in risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes. When people increased their consumption of oatmeal to five to six times a week, there was a corresponding 39 percent reduction in the risk of onset of type 2.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine confirms that eating high fiber foods, such as oats, helps prevent heart disease. The almost 10,000 American adults who participated in this study were followed for 19 years. The participants who ate the most fiber, 21 grams per day, had 12 percent less coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11 percent less cardiovascular disease (CVD) than those who ate only five grams daily. Those who consumed the most water-soluble dietary fiber fared even better, with a 15 percent reduction in risk of CHD and a 10 percent risk reduction in CVD.


The modern oat draws its ancestry from the wild red oat, a plant originating in Asia. Oats have been cultivated for two thousand years in various regions throughout the world. Known scientifically as Avena sativa, they are a hardy cereal grain, able to withstand poor soil conditions in which other crops cannot thrive.

Before being consumed as a food, oats were used for medicinal purposes. The use of oats for human consumption was well established in Ireland very early in the Christian era. There are references to oatmeal in the Great Code of Civil Law, compiled about the year A.D. 438. There is evidence that even before this date, porridge was recognized in Europe as a characteristically Irish food. The growing of oats became widespread in Europe, and oats constituted an important commercial crop because they were a dietary staple for the people of many countries, including Scotland, Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia.

In the early 17th century, Scottish settlers brought oats to North America. Today, the largest commercial producers of oats include Russia, the United States, Germany, Poland, and Finland.

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