Leslie, what's the difference between rolled oats, steel cut, quick cooking and instant oatmeal? Are they all the same nutritionally?

All types of oatmeal are low in fat and a good source soluble fibre, the type that helps lower blood cholesterol. Nutrient wise, all types of unflavoured oatmeal are the same.

The difference lies in the glycemic index, the rate at which the carbohydrate gets digested and converted to blood sugar. Large flake and steel-cut oats have a low glycemic index and are slowly converted to blood sugar. They keep you feeling full longer and don't cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.

Instant oatmeal is basically powdered oats. Because the oats have been finely cut to facilitate faster cooking, instant oatmeal has a higher glycemic index and is more rapidly digested and converted to blood sugar.

Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats that have been chopped into small flakes and take only three to four minutes to cook.

Rolled oats (old fashioned oats) are whole grain oats that have been steamed, rolled and flaked for easier cooking

Steel-cut oats are whole grain oats that have been chopped into two or three pieces. They require a longer amount of time to cook than other oats and remain very chewy.

If you are going to buy instant hot cereal what should you look for? Are some healthier than others?

Yes, definitely. For starters, read the ingredient list to choose an instant cereal that's 100 per cent whole grain. Instant oats are whole grain. Cream of wheat, however, is not. It is a refined grain.

Next, look at the nutrition label. Choose an instant hot cereal with at least 3 grams of fibre per serving. Look for no more than 6 grams of added sugar (that's 1.5 teaspoons worth). Even better, buy an instant hot cereal that is unflavoured and sweeten it naturally by adding fruit.

The other thing to consider is sodium. Most instant hot cereals have sodium added for flavour and preservative purposes. Choose a hot cereal with no more than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. Keep in mind that non-instant hot cereals have no added sodium.

How much sugar do some instant hot cereals have?

Some can have a lot. Many flavoured instant hot cereals have 3 to 4 teaspoons of refined sugar added to each pouch.

What if you want good, old-fashioned oatmeal but you're short on time...any tips?

Yes! If you have a crock pot you can cook steel-cut oats overnight while you sleep. First, spray the inside of a slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. To make 4 servings, add 1 cup of steel-cut oats plus 4 cups of water to the crock pot. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

You can also add in dried cranberries, raisins, chopped dried apricots, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts for extra flavour.

How much is one serving and how much brown sugar can I add?

Well, one food guide serving is 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal. But most women will have 1 cup and men will have 1.5 to 2 cups depending how active they are.

As far as sugar goes -- brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup even honey -- limit it to one teaspoon.

Leslie's Overnight Muesli (Serves 6)


  • 2 cups steel cut oats
  • 2 cups low fat (1 per cent MF) buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 2 granny smith apples, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp flaxseed, ground
  • Maple syrup and warm low fat (1% MF) buttermilk, cinnamon


In a large bowl, combine oats and buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, add blueberries, apples, pecans and flaxseed. Drizzle syrup over oat mixture. Add 1/4 cup warm milk per serving.

Per serving: 267 calories, 10 g protein, 8 g total fat (2 g sat. fat), 41 g carbs, 6 g fibre, 5 mg cholesterol, 64 mg sodium

Leslie's Overnight Muesli recipe can be found in the book "The No Fail Diet" (Penguin Canada 2008), by Leslie Beck.