Are Raw Oats Actually Safe to Eat?

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You can eat most types of oats raw, atop a breakfast bowl with yogurt and fruit.

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.

Here's the gist: Eating raw oats is generally safe — depending on the oats you choose.

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, so topping your yogurt with some rolled oats is completely safe!

But cooking or soaking your oats overnight may yield a tastier morning meal.

Read more: Is Oatmeal a Good Breakfast for Weight Loss?

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 T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Whole-grain oats contain beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber, which has been associated with reduced risk of heart disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan 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: These 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: These 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. Steel-cut oats are much easier to find at your local grocer than oat groats.

Rolled or old-fashioned oats: These 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 aren't the best choices.

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.

Read more: 12 Easy, Savory Oatmeal Recipes for Any Time of Day

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