The Difference Between Steel-Cut, Rolled, Quick and Instant Oats

Oatmeal is a staple for me! Depending on what you are using it for and what recipe you are using, it might call for different forms of oats. What’s the difference? Why is it important to know? Is there a difference in nutrition?

Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash
Forms of Oats

Oats are usually found in three styles:

  • Steel Cut (Irish Oats)
  • Rolled Oats (Old Fashion)
  • Quick Oats
  • Instant Oats

All oatmeal is made from oat groats which is the whole grain of the oat. The only thing missing in oats is the hard outer husk of the groat. The main difference is in the cut. Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages to these to know which style of oats you might want to get.

NOTE: For the nutrition information, there may be difference in cup size, but it’s however much 1 serving is for each. For instance, since steel cut oats are more dense and will cook/puff up more, it’s only 1/4 cup uncooked. Instant oatmeal is already cooked and dried, so it will be 1 cup dried oatmeal since it won’t puff up. Total, after cooking/preparing each serving would be about 1 cup. Also there might be a slight change in some of the nutrition facts depending on the brand. I’ve seen some steel oats being 6% DV of Iron, and others being 10%. 

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash
Steel Cut (Irish) Oats

Steel cut oats are cut whole oats. Meaning the oat groat, which is the whole grain mentioned above, is cut into smaller pieces. It’s chewier than traditional oats and are digested more slowly so it may keep you fuller longer.

  • Chewy
  • Digested Slower / Longer Satiety
  • 30 Minutes to cook

NUTRITION: 1/4 cup serving | 170 Calories | 2.5g Total Fat | 31 g Carbohydrates | 5 g Fiber | 5 g Protein | 2% Calcium | 10% Iron

Rolled (Old Fashioned) Oats

This is the most common of oats you can find on the shelves. They are made by steaming the oat groats and then are flattened (rolled) to create the flakes.

  • Common
  • Used in other recipes as a binder that cooks longer (muffins) which makes it more versatile than steel cut oats
  • 5 Minutes to cook

NUTRITION: 1/2 cup serving | 150 Calories | 3g Total Fat | 27 g Carbohydrates | 4 g Fiber | 5 g Protein | 2% Calcium | 10% Iron

Quick Oats

Quick oats follow a similar method as rolled oats, but they are pressed into finer thinner flakes and cut into small pieces.

  • Cooks in about 1-2 minutes
  • Does not digest long, which may not be good for diabetics
  • Used in quick cooking recipes like pancakes

NUTRITION: 1/2 cup serving | 150 Calories | 3 g Total Fat | 27 g Carbohydrates | 4 g Fiber | 5 g Protein | 2% Calcium | 10% Iron

Instant Oatmeal

Instant Oatmeal is oatmeal that has already been cooked and dried. Simply cook by adding boiling water and eat. They usually have additives and sweeteners for texture and taste so make sure to read your labels!

  • Fast
  • Less chewy/texture
  • Many instant oatmeal products have added sugar, there is plain varieties
  • Great to use to traveling, but maybe not as your regular breakfast

NUTRITION (Plain): 1 cup/packet serving | 151 calories | 2.6 g Total Fat | 27 g Carbohydrates | 4 g Fiber | 6 g Protein | 2% Calcium | 9% Iron

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash
Bottom Line

Depending on what you need it for, there can be advantages and disadvantages to which oats you use. Nutritionally the worse one would be the instant oats since it was previously cooked and dried again, plus the chance of there being unnecessary additives and sweeteners. If you are looking for a quick meal, quick oats would be the better choice if available. You would just need to add the hot water and cover it for an extra minute or two. All in all – most versions of oats have roughly the same macro nutrients. It depends on your preference in texture and how long you need it to digest. Breakfast before a long day? You might want rolled oats. Before a run? Maybe a small bowl of the quick oats with fruit.

I’d like to know – how do you like your oatmeal?


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