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Is instant oatmeal just as healthy as traditional?

Asked by Andrew McGrath, San Francisco, California

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I recently learned that my total cholesterol and triglycerides are very high, and my doctor recommended oatmeal, which I do not like. I did find a way to make it palatable, though. It's such a pain to make it every day. My question is this: If I make a large batch of it at once, will it lose its benefits by reheating? And what about instant oatmeal? Are the benefits the same?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi, Andrew. This is an excellent question that I get asked quite often. Oatmeal is a terrific source of heart-healthy whole grains, and I commend you for making the effort to include oats in your diet on a regular basis. To answer your questions, slow-cooked oatmeal can be reheated without losing any nutritional benefits, so that is certainly a good approach if you like the taste of slow-cooked oats.

According to Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the Whole Grains Council, instant oatmeal, which is often portrayed as nutritionally inferior, is also a whole grain. In fact, in the USDA nutrient database, instant oatmeal possesses the same nutritional profile as regular or quick-cooking oatmeal. The only difference lies in the glycemic index, which is a measurement of how quickly a food increases your blood sugar within a two-hour period. Because instant oatmeal has been processed to cook more quickly, it is also broken down and digested more quickly by your body, giving it a higher glycemic index. Eating a lower glycemic index diet may help improve your cholesterol ratios.

To lower the glycemic index of instant oatmeal, all you have to do is combine it with a little lean protein (add low-fat or fat-free milk or a half-scoop of protein powder after cooking) or healthy fat (top with a tablespoon or two of chopped nuts, which are also good for lowering cholesterol).

In addition, if you go for instant oatmeal, make sure to check out the ingredient list and nutrition fact panel; many flavored instant oatmeals are loaded with sugar and salt, making them a nutritionally inferior choice.

Here is a fun instant oatmeal recipe from Good Eats, a free book produced by the University of New Hampshire Health Services.

For more whole grain recipe ideas, visit the Whole Grains Council.

Dorm room apple crisp

1-2 apples, washed and chopped (no need to peel)

1 package instant oatmeal (cinnamon or brown sugar flavor)

2 teaspoons butter (consider substituting a butter spread with plant sterols for added cholesterol reduction)

1. Put the apple pieces in a microwave-safe bowl.

2. Sprinkle oatmeal over apples and dot with butter.

3. Microwave for a minute.

4. Enjoy!

Variations:

Substitute ½-cup rolled oats, one or two tablespoons brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon for the oatmeal packet.

Add nuts or raisins.

Top with vanilla yogurt.

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