Are Raw Oats Actually Safe to Eat?

Avocado toast is making a splash in the breakfast scene, but that doesn't mean we should forget about our tried-and-true a.m. classic: oatmeal. While most folks eat their oatmeal cooked and combined with sweet toppings, we can't blame you for wondering whether it's safe to eat the breakfast staple raw.

Yes, you can (and maybe should!) eat raw oatmeal. (Image: Getty Images/Magdalena Niemczyk-ElanArt)

Although raw oatmeal is generally safe for consumption — depending on the oats you choose — cooking or soaking your oats overnight may yield a tastier morning meal!

Benefits of Eating Oatmeal

A great source of carbohydrates, oats boast an array of nutrients and health benefits. Unlike refined grains typically found in breakfast cereals, whole-grain oats contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. Each of these parts contains its own nutrients including fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins and antioxidants, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Whole-grain oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber, which has been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Oats are also a great food for those looking to control or lose weight. The beta-glucan fiber attracts water and increases the volume of food in the gut, which leaves you feeling full for longer.

Which Types of Oats Are Healthiest?

It's no secret that your local supermarket's cereal aisle is populated with endless brands and varieties of oats. While most oats are similar in nutritional content — regardless of how they're processed — less processed oats (such as groats and steel-cut oats) tend to be lower on the glycemic index, which means that they don't spike your blood sugar as much, the Harvard School of Public Health states.

Oat groats are among the healthiest varieties and are lower on the glycemic index than more processed oats. While they aren't as easy to find in every grocery store, oat groats are whole oat kernels that have been cleaned and removed of their inedible hulls — consider them the edible version of what you'd find in an oat field!

Steel-cut oats (much easier to find at your local grocer) are oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces, according to Oldways Whole Grain Council. They're less processed than rolled or instant oats and have a lower impact on your blood sugar.

Rolled or old-fashioned oats undergo more processing and have been steamed, rolled and flattened. Quick or instant oats are another highly processed variety and are often sold with added sugar, fruit or flavoring — which you should avoid.

So, Is It Safe to Eat Raw Oats?

Eating raw oats isn't the most popular method of consumption, but it can be safe depending on the type of oats you're eating. More processed varieties of oats (like rolled oats and instant oats) have been pre-steamed and heated to destroy potentially harmful pathogens, making them safe to eat raw, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Less processed varieties such as groats and steel-cut oats don't undergo a steaming process and could, therefore, carry risky germs. That said, most folks don't eat raw steel-cut oats anyway; topping your yogurt with some rolled oats is completely safe!

How to Eat Oats

While more processed oatmeal is generally safe to eat raw, cooking your oatmeal or preparing overnight oats is probably your best (and tastiest) option. Soak or steam your oatmeal with hot water or your milk of choice and toss in some healthy fruit, recommends the Harvard School of Public Health. Overnight oats are a quick, no-cook option that involves soaking your oats in liquid (whether it's milk or water) overnight. The end result will be a delicious, pudding-like breakfast that's both portable and filling!

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