What's The Difference Between Instant Oats And Quick Oats?

If you start your day start earlier than most but still want a warm, healthy breakfast, oatmeal may be the perfect antidote to satisfy your morning hunger. According to Everyday Health, oats are a good source of whole grains and a host of B vitamins alongside magnesium, and zinc. 

Plus, the American Heart Association says oats are loaded with a special type of fiber called beta-glucan. Dr. Candida Rebello, PhD, RD, director of Louisiana State Univerisity's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, outlined to the AHA how this special fiber is known as the runny liquid that forms on top of your cooked oatmeal. Beta-glucan helps you stay full long after eating and has been shown to improve consumers' overall cholesterol levels.

But the number of oatmeal-centered products on the market can be pretty overwhelming for someone who's trying to streamline their morning meal. To Taste expounds on the eight main types of oats, which include whole oat groats, rolled oats, steel-cut oats, quick oats, instant oats, Scottish oats, oat bran, and oat flour. Despite the whole-grain debate at large, oats have always been considered a popular whole grain amongst Americans. In fact, the Oldways Whole Grains Council listed oats as the second most popular grain in 2018, next to whole wheat. Yet, if you're looking for a fast breakfast, "instant" and quick" sound the same. So what's the difference between the two?

One is more processed than the other

If you're familiar with the basics surrounding oats, then you know steel-cut oats are one of the heartiest options known for their extended cook time. According to Food Network, steel-cut oats aren't rolled or dried like rolled oats. Their unprocessed nature equals a cook time of roughly 40 minutes.

While rolled oats have a much shorter cook time, quick oats and instant oats are your best choices when convenience is the highest priority. Bob's Red Mill states that instant oats are usually pre-cooked. While quick oats can be cooked on the stove or in the microwave for three to five minutes, instant oats can be prepared in the microwave in under two minutes or by adding hot water to a pre-packaged mix.

This shortened cook time has to do with the extended process of cutting instant oats down by size further than any other variety. Food author Harold McGee explains old-fashioned rolled oats are usually around .8 millimeters thick, but quick oats are cut down to half that size (via The Washington Post). Instant oats are not only smaller, but according to Food Network, they are also steamed the longest. For some, making perfect oatmeal simply includes adding hot water, but that's an individualized choice. If fast cook time is the most important factor, then consider instant oats. Yet before ripping open that little packet, you may want to know whether they're as healthy as other oatmeal varieties.

Are instant oats healthy?

According to The Washington Post, while quick oats are processed more than rolled oats, they can typically be used correspondently with the latter and have the same general makeup (despite a small size discrepancy) and shorter cook time. However, Food Network says instant oats are a little trickier, as a lot of varieties on the market have added sugar. Among the most popular instant oatmeals, a lot of these options may have up to four teaspoons of extra sugar for every serving.

The other factor to consider is the speed of digestion. According to One Green Planet, because instant oats are cut down further, they are digested faster than other varieties, which can pose issues for those with medical conditions such as diabetes. Harvard Health Publishing shows the glycemic index for rolled oats as 55, but for instant oats, the number shoots to 79. As Eat Right.org outlines, foods with a higher glycemic index can cause spikes in blood sugar.

Because plain instant oats are generally healthy, though, physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis suggests combating instant oats higher GI index by adding a good source of fat, such as nut butter or protein powder, to slow your body's absorption (via CNN). Whichever variety you choose as your morning fuel, oats are a great, whole-grain option that keeps you full. With some additional fat and protein added to your quick or instant oats, you can have an easy, nutritious breakfast in minutes.