Beyond Oatmeal: Oat Recipes and Tips

10 ways to harness the health power of oats.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Ask almost anyone to name one of the healthiest breakfasts you can have, and many will say, "oatmeal." Ask why it's so healthy, and they would probably answer, "fiber." While getting more fiber is a good reason to reach for that packet of oats in the morning, there's a lot more to oats, nutritionally speaking.

Half a cup of oats will give your body a nutritional boost beyond the 4.1 grams (g) of fiber. You get some plant protein along with some smart fats (from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat), vitamins and minerals, and countless phytochemicals, too!

Let's do the numbers:

Rolled Oats, 1/2 cup serving (approximate values)
Calories: 156
Protein: 6.5 g
Carbohydrate: 27 g
Fat: 2.6 g
Saturated fat: 0.4 g
Monounsaturated fat: 0.8 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 1 g
Fiber: 4.1 g
Sodium: 2 mg
Thiamin: 26% Daily Value
Folacin (folic acid): 7% Daily Value
Vitamin E: 6% Daily Value
Iron: 11% Daily Value
Magnesium: 21% Daily Value
Selenium: 25% Daily Value
Zinc: 10% Daily Value

The health benefits of oats are thought to include limiting oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, decreasing total and LDL cholesterol, and reducing blood pressure -- all of which help lower your risk of heart disease. The fiber in oats is also thought to help you feel full longer, and reduce the amount of insulin released after meals.

10 Ways to Harness the Power of Oats

There are all sorts of way to eat oats. There's the predictable hot oatmeal breakfast (which can also be a quick snack at work if the lunchroom has a microwave). Then there are oat recipes for baked goods, like muffins, breads, and certain desserts. Crisps, for example, traditionally call for oats. Granola is a type of cold breakfast cereal that usually includes plenty of oats, too.

One of the easiest ways to enjoy oats is as instant oatmeal. Usually, instant oatmeal is quite high in sugar. But there are now some choices in the supermarket that keep the convenience but lose some of the sugar.

Here are 10 ways to eat more oats:

1. Opt for Healthier Instant Oatmeal

Most people prefer some sweetness in their oatmeal. But there's more sugar than we need in all those fun, flavored oatmeal packets, that's for sure. How do I know? I've tasted the new less-sugar types, and they taste great!

There are Apples & Cinnamon and Maple & Brown Sugar varieties, and my personal favorite, Take Heart Blueberry. A packet (34 grams) of Quaker's 50% Less Sugar Maple & Brown Sugar flavor has 4 grams of sugar (13% calories from sugar), along with 3 grams of fiber (1 gram of which is superhealthy soluble fiber). The Take Heart Blueberry variety (a larger, 45-gram packet), with added oat bran and flaxseed, has 6 grams of fiber (4 grams of which is soluble), and 9 grams of sugar (22.5% calories from sugar), plus 130 milligrams of plant omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Make Some Muffins With Oats

Look for muffin recipes that call for both oats and whole-wheat flour. This will give you a nice balance of soluble fiber (from oats) and insoluble fiber (from the whole wheat).

Oats add texture and a mild nutty taste to muffins. Use either Quick or Old Fashioned Oats, though. Instant oats (in the packets) usually add some sugar and other ingredients along with the oats. (See the Strawberry Oat Muffin recipe below.)

3. Substitute Oats for Other Fillers

Instead of adding bread or cracker crumbs to your meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffed mushrooms, add oats instead. Rolled or quick oats cook up fast and hold onto moisture well.

4. Add Toasted Oats to Other Dishes

You can add toasted oats to trail mix, or sprinkle it on top of yogurt, frozen yogurt, or fresh fruit. Or, try adding it to cookie dough in place of some of the nuts the recipe calls for. (Check out the recipe below for Cinnamon Vanilla Toasted Oats.)

5. Thicken Soups and Stews with Oats

The heartier steel-cut oats can add thickness and texture to soups and stews. Steel-cut oats are cut into bits with steel blades instead of rolled. (Rolled oats have a flakier texture and take a shorter time to cook.)

Gravitate toward broth or tomato-based soups and stews. These are typically the lowest in fat and calories.

6. Cook up a Crisp

One of the healthiest ways to enjoy a fruit dessert is as a lower-fat crisp or crumble. A crisp -- basically a slightly sweetened fruit mixture with a crumb topping -- is a perfect opportunity to use oats.