Battle of the Oats: Steel-Cut vs Rolled

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Steel-cut oats have become an increasingly popular choice in the health/foodie worlds. Regardless of the type of oats, when you pop them in your mouth you’re treating your body to fibre, protein, beneficial fats, micronutrients and phytochemicals. However, as with most foods, the less processed oats tend to be more nutritious than highly processed ones (eg: quick oats, sweetened products). For this reason steel-cut oats are sometimes promoted as a better choice than the traditional rolled versions. Here we compare the nutritional value of these two less-processed choices.

Key Points:

  1. As far as grains go, oats are a good choice for the decent protein and calcium, and high amounts of essential fatty acids, fat-digesting enzymes and fibre provided.
  2. Steel-cut are the least processed variety of oats available and therefore have been touted as the best choice.
  3. Despite this, the information we have suggests there isn’t a significant difference between steel-cut and rolled oats. Additional studies and data may alter this conclusion in future, but as yet there’s no proof that steel-cut are definitely nutritionally superior. 

Nutritional value of oats in general

Relative to some other grains, oats contain decent amounts of protein and calcium, and  are high in fat (i.e. they’re composed of 6-8% fat versus most other grains at 2-3%). More importantly, they are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, including the essential omega-6, linoleic acid. To demonstrate this, the table below compares protein, calcium and unsaturated fats provided by steel-cut oats, pearl barley, weetbix, and white rice. Note these figures are averages adapted from FSANZ’s Australian Food Composition Database, and they may differ from those of individual products and from data that has been obtained elsewhere.  

Steel-cut oats, uncooked (100g)Pearl barley, uncooked (100g)Weetbix (100g)Whole wheat, uncooked (100g)White rice, uncooked (100g)
Protein11.7g10.1g12.1g11.5g7.3g
Calcium37mg28mg31mg35mg4mg
Monounsaturated fat4.32g0.36g0.28g0.36g0.26g
Polyunsaturated fat3.2g1.37g1 g1.08g0.34g
Comparative Nutritional Information of Common Grains

Accompanying the fats are large amounts of enzymes involved in digesting fats. In addition, oats are a good source of fibre, including beta-glucan (a soluble fibre which can help lower cholesterol levels). 

A lab study mimicking digestion has shown that wholegrain oat cereals may also have prebiotic properties, supporting the gut microbiota. 

Luckily, we’re able to enjoy oats with a greater variety and quality in flavour and nutrition than Oliver Twist did. 

Rolled versus steel-cut oats

To produce oats, their outer hull is first removed, then they are kilned (i.e. steamed, dried and cooled). Rolled oats are these whole oats, flattened after steaming, whereas steel cut oats are whole oats chopped into 2-4 bits. Steel cut oats tend to have a chewier texture and nuttier taste- and take longer to prepare.

In terms of the levels of nutrients provided, rolled and steel-cut oats are quite similar. As you see in the table below, perhaps the largest variance is in the caloric value, selenium and vitamin E levels. While steel-cut oats seem to provide marginally higher levels of some nutrients, rolled oats provide more of others.  However this should be taken with a grain of sodium (pardon the pun), as these values obtained from FSANZ’s Australian Food Composition Database are not necessarily representative of all oat products and testing procedures within different labs. In fact, while this hasn’t been found in this particular data set, it has been suggested that steel-cut oats may be higher in fibre.

100g steel cut oats100g rolled oats
Energy1575kJ/ 376 calories1889kJ/ 451 calories
Protein11.7g12.4g
Fat9.8g9.5g
Monounsaturated fat4.32g4.19g
Polyunsaturated fat3.2g3.1g
Fibre8.6g9.5g
Calcium37mg40mg
Iodine74 ug74 ug
Magnesium117 mg104 mg
Phosphorous305 mg310 mg
Potassium310 mg310 mg
Selenium17 ug6.5 ug
Sodium4 mg3mg
Zinc2.3 mg2.35mg
Thiamin (B1)0.31 mg0.39 mg
Riboflavin (B2)0.01 mg0.005 mg
Niacin derived equivalents 3.75 mg3.96 mg
Folate17 ug17 ug
Vitamin E0.48 mg0.23 mg
Nutrition Information: Steel-Cut versus Rolled Oats

It has also been suggested that steel-cut oats may have a lower glycaemic index- i.e. they increase blood glucose levels more gradually. However, the one systematic review I was able to find showed that both steel-cut and rolled oats made into porridge had similar, low-to-medium glycaemic responses. This may suggest the size of the oat fragments is the most significant effect of processing on GI, rather than the processing methods themselves. Of course, there being only two samples of steel cut oats analysed, it would be worth adding more to this list to increase the accuracy of data. 

However, as expected they definitely outperformed quick-cooking and instant oats. 

Steel-Cut Oats: The Verdict

Nutritionally speaking, it appears there is little difference in the nutritional value of steam-cut and rolled oats. We may obtain additional data from more thorough studies in future that suggest otherwise. In the meantime, though, it may come down to personal preference- either variety will do you good, beyond the benefits provided by highly-processed quick oats. 

How do you take your oats for a satisfying, sustaining meal?

References

Connolly, M.L., Tuohy, K.M., and Lovegrove, J.A. (2012) Wholegrain oat-based cereals have prebiotic potential and low glycaemic index. Br J Nutr. 108(12):2198-206. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512000281. 

Decker, E., Rose, D., & Stewart, D. (2014). Processing of oats and the impact of processing operations on nutrition and health benefits. British Journal of Nutrition, 112(S2), S58-S64. doi:10.1017/S000711451400227X

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) (2019, January). Australian Food Composition Database. Accessed at: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients

Tosh, S., & Chu, Y. (2015). Systematic review of the effect of processing of whole-grain oat cereals on glycaemic response. British Journal of Nutrition, 114(8), 1256-1262. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002895

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *