Oatmeal is considered one of the best foods for digestion. In fact, it's often recommended for people who have digestive conditions or frequent discomfort. That said, certain types may be easier to digest than others.
The Fiber in Oats
Beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber in oats, is what makes oatmeal good for digestion. This gel-forming fiber supports regularity, cholesterol control, immunity and blood sugar management, according to a September 2017 review in International Journal of Molecular Sciences. It also helps slow digestion, keeping you fuller for longer periods of time.
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Beta-glucans may also have prebiotic properties, ultimately improving your gut health, according to a December 2017 review in Nutrients.
If you're not used to eating a lot of fiber and suddenly start eating more, it can cause some digestive effects like constipation, stomach ache and bloating.
Increase fiber gradually and drink extra fluids to avoid these potential side effects.
Which Type of Oatmeal Is Easiest to Digest?
Whether you choose quick-cooking, rolled oats or steel-cut oats for your oatmeal, you'll get about the same nutrition. Each 1-cup serving of prepared oatmeal has about 14 percent of the daily value for fiber along with significant amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and selenium, according to the USDA.
Though they have similar nutritional properties, different types of oats may be digested slower or faster than others depending on how they've been processed. Fast-digesting carbs provide an immediate source of energy, while slower-digesting carbs may help with blood sugar management.
Below are three oat types listed in the order of the fasted-digested to the least.
1. Quick Oats
Quick oats, often called "one-minute oats," and they are the fasted-digested type of oat. They are processed by steaming oat groats which are then flattened into thin flakes. These light flakes absorb water easily which speeds up the cooking time, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
They are more processed than the other types of oatmeal, which makes them easier for your body to digest quickly. This isn't always a good thing, as it also means instant oats have a higher glycemic index than rolled oats or steel-cut oats.
Foods with a higher glycemic index affect blood sugar levels more than those with a lower glycemic index, which isn't good for those with diabetes. But, it could be a good option for those who need quick-digesting carbs to fuel up prior to a run.
Quick Oats to Try
2. Rolled Oats
Rolled oats are one of the most versatile type of oats, and they are commonly used for traditional oatmeal, oatmeal cookies, energy bars and granola.
Like quick oats, they are processed by steaming the oat groat, followed by a flattening process to form oat flakes. They aren't steamed as long and aren't as fine as quick oats, but you can cook rolled oats on the stovetop in less than 10 minutes.
These oats digest faster than steel-cut oats, but not as fast as instant oats. Still, they may affect blood sugar in some people. Uncooked rolled oats have a glycemic index of 59, according to the International Glycemic Index Database, maintained by the University of Sydney. (Instant Oat are higher on the scale with a GI of 76, as per the database
Choose plain oat varieties (no added sugars), and consider adding foods high in healthy fats such as nuts or nut butter for added health benefits.
Rolled Oats to Try
3. Steel-Cut Oats (Irish Oats)
Steel-cut oats are the least processed of all three on our list. No steaming is involved when these oats are made. Instead, the oat groat is simply cut with steel blades into two to three smaller pieces, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health.
With this process, the oats retain a sturdier texture which takes longer to break down — which means it also takes longer to cook and digest. But because they're broken down slowly, your body will use them as a sustained source of energy over time, which means your blood sugar won't spike.
To ease digestion and prevent any stomach discomfort, be sure to cook your steel-cut oats fully. Read the package instructions for cooking instructions — they can take as long as 20 to 30 minutes on the stove.
Steel-Cut Oats (Irish Oats) to Try
Simple Ways to Make Oats More Digestible
Phytic acid, an antinutrient found in oats, may affect digestibility (e.g., absorption of certain nutrients) because the body lacks certain enzymes to break it down, according to the Harvard Health T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But how you prepare your oats can help.
Soak your oats overnight or slow-cook them. Both methods help breakdown down the grain and reduce phytic acid, making the oats easier to digest.
Cooking oatmeal for longer, pureeing it or using a food processor to break it into smaller pieces before cooking it can make it easier for your body to digest quickly.
Remember, though, that the faster you digest a food, the sooner you'll feel hungry again.
- Cornell University Health Services: Fiber, Digestion, and Health
- MedlinePlus: Diet - Full Liquid
- Nutrition Diva: Are Steel Cut Oats Healthier?
- Harvard Gazette: Getting Around Gluten
- Seattle Cancer Care Alliance: Gastrointestinal Diet 2
- Diabetes Forecast: Carbs: Beyond the Basics
- HealthAliciousNess.com: Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future
- Nutrients: Prebiotic Dietary Fiber and Gut Health: Comparing the in Vitro Fermentations of Beta-Glucan, Inulin and Xylooligosaccharide
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Oats
- International Glycemic Index Database
- Food and Function: Dietary Berries, Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes: an Overview of Human Feeding Trials
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Glycaemic and Insulinaemic Impact of Oats Soaked Overnight in Milk vs. Cream of Rice with and without Sugar, Nuts, and Seeds: a Randomized, Controlled Trial
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful?
- USDA: Cooked oatmeal