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What to Look for in an Instant Oatmeal

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By Kati Mora, RD for

It's undeniable that oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast option. However, not all oatmeal varieties share the same nutritional benefits. Of all the varieties, instant oatmeal probably takes the hardest hit since many are either loaded with sugar or fail to incorporate whole grains. Nevertheless, instant oatmeal can be a wonderful addition to your day if you know what to look for when choosing your brand at the grocery store.

Look for whole grains. The first ingredient you find on your nutritional label should be a whole grain. Look for terms like "oats," "instant oats," or "whole grain rolled oats" to be listed as the first ingredient. This ensures that you will receive the same heart health benefits from your favorite instant oatmeal that you would from regular or quick-cooking oatmeal.

Look for fiber. Choosing an instant oatmeal variety with at least 3 grams of fiber can also be beneficial. The fiber will help you feel fuller longer because of slower digestion time. This is important because instant oatmeal has been processed to cook more quickly and usually digests more quickly in the body. By slowing down the rate in which your body breaks down the oatmeal, the more likely blood sugars will remain stabilized. Bonus tip: Adding a little lean protein or healthy fat to this meal can also help slow digestion and keep blood sugar levels more even (try a few almonds on top).

Look (out) for sugar. The amount of added sugar we see in some flavored varieties of instant oatmeal is where we start to see the dark side of instant hot cereal. Six grams or less is ideal, but you may be hard pressed to find something under this amount in a flavored variety. Instead, choose an unsweetened or original flavor and add your own fruit, honey or cinnamon to the mix.

Look (out) for sodium. Although it may seem slightly out of place, most instant hot cereals add sodium for flavor and preservative purposes. Try to choose a cereal with less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving. In reality, instant oatmeal and regular oatmeal are quite similar nutritionally. The only main difference is how fast they are absorbed and digested by the body. Of course, added sugar and sodium has the potential to make instant oatmeal a less nutritious choice than the traditional; however, by sticking to plain or original flavors, incorporating instant oatmeal into your day can be a great way to eat well and stay full.

Looking for a few instant oatmeals that meet our nutrition criteria? Check out these three top picks:

  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal - Original Oatmeal - 100 cals, 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 75 mg of sodium, and 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Walmart's Great Value - Original Oatmeal - 100 calories, 2 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 80 mg of sodium, and 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Nature's Path Organic - Original Oatmeal: 210 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 160 mg of sodium, and 6 grams of fiber per serving

More from Diets in Review: 10 Breakfast Foods With As Much Sugar As a Candy Bar Recipe: Fresh Berry Oatmeal with Sweet Cream The Most Popular Diets of 2011