Oatmeal isn’t always the first food we reach for in the morning, but a breakfast of whole grains might be the best choice you can make. The health benefits of oats have been recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other organizations for nearly two decades, but America’s average consumption of oats and other whole grains is below recommended guidelines. Food science researchers continue to clarify the reasons to eat oats: They can reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels. They can also help aid in weight loss by helping your body metabolize fat more efficiently.

With so many options, deciding which variety to eat requires a bit of knowledge. All oatmeal is healthy, but some types are healthier than others.

Groats

The purest form of oats is called groats. These kernels take a while to cook because of their tough exteriors, so soak them for a few hours or even overnight before cooking. The robust outer layer is what makes them a healthy low-glycemic choice. Because they take a while to digest, they will not cause your blood sugar level to rise quickly. Include them in soups, or stews for more substance or as a base for a tangy kale salad.

Steel-Cut

Make breakfast more quickly with steel-cuts oats. The “steel-cut” refers to the chopping mechanism that cuts the groat into smaller pieces so it will cook quickly; The good news is that they are as low-glycemic as groats. The nutty, chewy texture is delicious on its own or with cranberries, raisins or walnuts mixed in.

Rolled

Steamed, rolled and toasted until the groats are flat, these oats cook faster but aren’t as low on the glycemic index as the steel-cut kind. They become soft in texture when cooked. Save your rolled oats for cookies and snack bars. They add fiber without the tough texture of steel-cut oats or groats.

Instant

Instant varieties are rolled oats with additional processing. A packet of instant oats is still a much better choice than a bagel made from white flour, but be aware of possible added sugar and filler ingredients that might affect blood sugar, digestion, and weight management. Instant oats are excellent lunch box items; with just a few tablespoons of hot water, you have a portable, filling, low-fat snack.

When preparing your oatmeal, note that 1/2 cup of cooked oats equals 1/3 of your daily servings of grains recommended by the FDA. Other grains offering similar benefits are barley and brown rice. So try substituting the white flour and explore other grains for better health.

Sources:

http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2005-april/americans-whole-grain-consumption-below-guidelines.aspx#.VnwaA3hcLXE

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21631511

http://jibresearch.com/Manuscript%20PDF/Manuscript%20JIB-201402-003.pdf

http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html

http://www.prevention.com/content/whats-healthier-steel-cut-oats-or-rolled-oats

http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm151902.htm#daily