Hot Cereal in the Morning – Which Options Are the Most Nutritious?

Hot Cereal in the Morning – Which Options Are the Most Nutritious?

What better way to start the morning than with a bowl of hot cereal, especially when it’s cold outside? Hot cereal warms your tummy, soothes your spirits and gives you the energy to get through a long, busy day. These days, you have a variety of hot cereal options to begin your morning with. Let’s look at some of the possibilities and the pros and cons of each.

Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

Rolled oats, also referred to as old-fashioned rolled oats, are whole grain oat groats that have been steamed and pressed between rollers to flatten them. Because they’re flattened, they absorb water quickly, making preparation time fairly quick, but not as quick as instant oatmeal discussed below. Rolled oats are a good source of fiber and a special type of fiber-like compound called beta-glucans that help lower blood cholesterol.

The beta-glucans in oatmeal also slow down glucose absorption and reduce the insulin response to a meal. Plus, they give you that full, satisfied feeling that curbs your desire to snack. Even more compelling is the effect beta-glucans have on immune function. They seem to stimulate immune cell activity, which works in your favor during cold and flu season.

You can find rolled oats at most supermarkets and natural food stores in packages or bulk in bins. They’re one of the most filling and inexpensive ways to start the morning. You can prepare rolled oats quickly using a microwave. Here’s how:

Add twice as much water as rolled oats to a microwaveable glass bowl. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Take the bowl out and stir the oats. Place it back in the microwave and microwave at 30-second intervals until it reaches your desired consistency.

Instant Oatmeal

Those individualized packets of oatmeal that come in flavors at the grocery store are convenient, but the majority contain added sugar, artificial flavorings, and added sodium – things you’re probably trying to stay away from. Even if you buy unsweetened instant oats, they aren’t as healthy as old-fashioned rolled oats.

Instant oats are pre-cooked and cut into smaller pieces. Because they’re smaller in size, they cook quickly when you prepare them at home, usually in about a minute, but the downside is they have a higher glycemic index. Old-fashioned, rolled oats have a glycemic index in the 50s while instant oats have a glycemic index of about 80, meaning the instant oats will raise your blood sugar more quickly.

As tempting as those flavored packets and quick cooking oats are, old-fashioned rolled oats are a healthier choice, especially if you’re diabetic. Be aware that quick cooking or instant oats are also available in bulk at health food stores and you might mistake them for old-fashioned rolled oats. Read the description carefully to avoid confusing the two.

Steel Cut Oats

These are arguably the healthiest of the three oatmeal options. The reason? They ‘re made of whole oat groats cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. Other than being cut to a smaller size, they undergo no processing. As a result, your digestive tract breaks them down slowly, leading to a slow rise in blood sugar. A gentler, more sustained rise in blood sugar is healthier from a metabolic standpoint and it reduces cravings. The drawback to steel cut oats is preparation time – 40 minutes or more to prepare a batch.

Fortunately, there’s a quicker way to get steel cut oats on the table in the morning. The night before, heat four cups of water in a saucepan on the stove. Once the water reaches a boil, add a cup of steel cut oats. Let the mixture cook for one minute. Then allow your yummy, and healthy steel cut oat to set overnight.

In the morning, bring the steel cut oats and water back to a boil. Once boiling, cut back the heat and let them simmer for 7 minutes, stirring intermittently. You can enjoy steel cut oats quickly in the morning with a little prep the night before.


Steel cut or old-fashioned rolled oats are a healthy way to start your morning, and they’ll give you the energy to plow through your busy day. However, you have another hot cereal option – quinoa and it offers some advantages over oatmeal. Although oatmeal is rich in fiber and a decent source of protein, quinoa trumps oatmeal from a protein perspective. While oats have around 5 grams of protein per serving, quinoa has almost 9 grams. Plus, quinoa is a complete source of the essential amino acids your body needs for health and to build muscle. Quinoa also has slightly more fiber than oatmeal, 5 grams versus 4 grams.

Other Whole Grains

You can make breakfast porridge out of other whole grains as well, including amaranth, buckwheat, bulgar, teff, millet, and barley or a mixture of all of them. Amaranth, buckwheat, teff, and millet have the advantage of being gluten-free. What these whole grains all have in common is they’re high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. If you’re stuck in an oatmeal rut, it’s time to branch out. You can prepare most of these whole grains overnight in a slow cooker and wake up to a hot breakfast.

Make Hot Cereal Even More Nutritious

Ramp up the nutritional value of whole-grain hot cereal in the morning by adding chopped nuts, flaxseed, berries, cocoa powder, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sliced melon, no-sugar-added applesauce, pureed pumpkin, chunks of ginger, Ceylon cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries or a combination of the above. Top it off with your choice of milk or non-dairy milk alternative – and breakfast is served!

The Bottom Line

Hot cereal really hits the spot on a cold, winter morning and you can dress it up with healthy additives like flaxseed, nuts, and fruit. Although oatmeal is a super-nutritious choice, explore other whole-grain cereal options as well. Have fun!



Old Ways Whole Grain Council. “Gluten Free Whole Grains”

European Food Information Council. “Eating oat beta-glucan regularly helps maintain normal blood cholesterol”

Today’s Dietitian Vol. 16 No. 5 P. 16. May 2014.


Related Articles By Cathe:

All Fiber Isn’t Equal When It Comes to Reducing Your Appetite

Sneaky Ways to Get More Fiber

4 Ways to Make Time for a Healthy Breakfast

Is Oatmeal the Ideal Post-Workout Recovery Snack?


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