When you wake up in the morning and you head to the kitchen for breakfast, what’s on the menu? Do you pour yourself a bowl of sugary cereal or make something from scratch? If you’re tight on time and just need a quick meal, cereal may seem like the best option.
Before you fill that bowl with Cheerios, however, you should consider another option – oatmeal. Delicious and nutritious, oatmeal is a gluten free grain that works well for breakfast but can also be used in recipes for snacks and desserts.
If you’re curious to learn more about oatmeal, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to learn whether oatmeal is gluten free and about the different types and how to prepare them.
What is Oatmeal, Anyway?
The term “oatmeal” usually refers to hulled oat grains or groats that come from a plant with the scientific name Avena sativa. The whole grain is referred to as a “groat” but the grain is commonly milled, steel-cut, or rolled. Oatmeal is also the name of a porridge made from oats that is popular as a breakfast food in the U.S. and Canada.
Though there are different types of oats, they are a well-balanced and gluten free grain. A half-cup serving of dry oatmeal contains about 300 calories with 51 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, and 8 grams of fiber. Oats are also rich in a multitude of different nutrients such as: manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copy, iron, zinc, folate, and several B vitamins.
Before heading to the grocery store and buying your oats, be sure that they are certified gluten free. This ensures that the oats are not cross contaminated during manufacturing, processing, or packaging.
In addition to essential nutrients, oatmeal is a good source of antioxidants and polyphenols. These compounds help lower blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide in the body which improves circulation. Another nutritional benefit of oatmeal is linked to its fiber content – specifically a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan which improves insulin sensitivity, lowers blood sugar, and improves digestion. The fiber content of oatmeal has also been shown to support healthy weight loss by helping you feel fuller longer.
How Does it Compare to Other Grains?
Oatmeal is a naturally gluten free grain and it can be very nutritious when prepared in a healthy way. But how does it compare to other grains? Here’s a quick summary of how oatmeal stacks up against some other common grains:
- Both oatmeal and brown rice are gluten free grains that are high in fiber and nutrients with modest amounts of protein – oats are a little lower in calories and carbs but much higher in iron.
- Oatmeal and quinoa are similar in calories and protein content and, while quinoa is a complete protein, oatmeal is much higher in fiber.
- Like oatmeal, barley has a nutty flavor and it cooks into a tender grain, but oatmeal is lower in calories and carbs but higher in protein, magnesium, and calcium.
While it may look like oatmeal is a more nutritious option than many grains, it does matter how you prepare it. If you load up your oatmeal with sugar and cream, you may end up negating the benefits of this healthy grain. The best toppings for a healthy bowl of oatmeal are fresh fruit, toasted nuts, Greek yogurt, or a drizzle of dairy-free milk.
What Are the Different Types of Oats?
If you walk down the breakfast aisle at your local grocery store, you’ll find all kinds of oatmeal. But what’s the difference between each type, and which one is the healthiest? Here’s a quick overview of the different types of oatmeal:
- Whole Oat Groats – The word “groat” is simply another name for the whole grain oat kernel. Whole oat groats are harvested, cleaned, and have had the inedible hull removed.
- Steel-Cut Oats – These are simply whole oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces with a steel blade. They cook faster than whole oat groats but are still very nutritious.
- Stone Ground Oats – Also known as Scottish oatmeal, these are groats that have been stone-ground instead of steel-cut. This results in broken bits rather than cut pieces and a creamier oatmeal than steel-cut oats.
- Rolled Oats – Available in regular (old-fashioned) or quick-cooking varieties, rolled oats have been steamed then rolled into thin flakes. They stay fresh longer than whole groats and cook faster but they retain a somewhat chewy texture.
- Oat Flour – When whole grain oats are ground into powder, it’s called oat flour. Oat flour is a gluten free flour that can be used in baking or for thickening in soups and stews.
When it comes to choosing a variety of oatmeal, it depends what you’re looking for. If you want the most nutritious variety, go with whole oat groats. If you’re looking for something that cooks up quickly, choose rolled oats or old-fashioned oats. If you don’t mind waiting a little longer and want a creamy texture, steel cut oats are the way to go.
Gluten Free Cooking Tips for Oats
In the same way that there are different varieties of rice, another gluten free grain, there are also different types of oats. Each variety offers its own unique benefits and has its own requirements for cooking. Here’s how to cook the different types of oats:
- Whole Oat Groats – Combine 1 cup whole oat groats with 3 cups of water and ¼ teaspoon of salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer on medium-low, covered, for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes to thicken.
- Steel-Cut Oatmeal – Bring 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk to simmer on medium heat in a large saucepan. Toast 1 cup steel-cut oats in a tablespoon of coconut oil or butter for 2 minutes then stir into the simmering liquid. Reduce heat and simmer on medium-low for 20 minutes until thickened. Season with a pinch of salt then simmer 5 to 10 minutes more until creamy.
- Scottish Oatmeal – Boil 2 cups of water with a pinch of salt in a large saucepan. Stir in 1 cup of stone-ground oatmeal then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes until thickened.
- Old-Fashioned/Quick Oats – Bring 3 ¼ cups of water to boil then stir in 2 cups of old-fashioned oats and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes and stir occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 2 minutes before serving.
While you can certainly enjoy plain oatmeal topped with fresh fruit, nuts, or yogurt, there are plenty of ways to use oats in gluten free cooking. Oatmeal can be cooked into cookies, cakes, and bars for dessert or made into healthy snacks like muesli or granola. Oat flour has also been used in baked goods and makes a good gluten free thickener for soups and stews.
To give you a sample of how to cook with oats, here is a recipe for cinnamon apple oatmeal cookies you’re sure to love.
Recipe: Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal Cookies
These cinnamon apple oatmeal cookies are studded with tart apple pieces and crunchy walnuts in perfect balance with tender oats. To make them extra-special, top with a maple glaze.
Servings: about 2 dozen
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 2 cups gluten free old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup all-purpose gluten free flour blend
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- ¼ cup butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 small apple, cored and diced fine
- ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
- Whisk together the gluten free oats, all-purpose gluten free flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, white sugar, applesauce, and butter.
- Stir in the egg and vanilla extract then stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
- Fold in the diced apples and walnuts (if using) then scoop onto the prepared cookie sheets, using about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons per cookie.
- Slightly flatten the cookies by hand then bake for 14 to 15 minutes until just browned on the edges and set.
- Cool on the pan for 10 minutes then remove to wire cooling racks.
- If desired, whisk 2 tablespoons each of almond milk and maple syrup into 1 ½ cups of powdered sugar to create a glaze.
Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies and let it set before serving.