In this report
November 2008
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For best oatmeal taste, be patient
When it’s time for oatmeal, good things come to those who wait. The more cooking required, we found, the more oaty the flavor and the less mushy the texture. Our tests of 10 of the flavored instant oatmeals that Americans favor most found that nine of 10 were good but nothing special; their sweetness and maple or brown-sugar taste overwhelmed the oats. The 10th product in our best oatmeal test rated only fair.

On the other hand, when we chose to look at four different unflavored oatmeals from Quaker, the most popular brand, the longer-cooking ones all tasted very good. Quaker Steel Cut, the best rated oatmeal in our test (25 to 30 minutes), Old Fashioned (5 minutes), and Quick-1 Minute were chewy, with a toasted nutty grain flavor.

Oatmeal generally makes for a healthful breakfast. It’s fairly high in fiber, and eating 3 ounces (weighed dry) a day can cut total cholesterol by about 5 milligrams per deciliter (from 210 to 205, for example), according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Three ounces is roughly two or three bowls of the oatmeals we tested, whose serving sizes range from about 1 ounce to almost 2 ounces (added ingredients might boost a product’s weight), though a cooked serving usually looks about the same size from one product to another.

That doesn't mean all oatmeals are nutritionally identical. The unflavored, longer-cooking ones we tasted have slightly fewer calories than some flavored instants, no sodium, and no added sugar. Those attributes make the unflavored oatmeals a very good nutritional choice. (A tablespoon of brown sugar, about 12 grams, would add about 50 calories.)

Most of the flavored instants scored Good in our nutritional Ratings: They're OK, but most have sodium and lots of sugar, so there are better choices. For more on cereal nutrition, see Breakfast cereals. Our nutrition numbers are for products mixed with hot water, not milk.

All but the organic oatmeals have added vitamins and minerals. Quaker Weight Control might sound better for you, and it has less sugar and more fiber than other flavored instants, but it has more sodium than the rest and as many calories as most.

Bottom line
The longer-cooking oatmeals tasted best, and you can leave out salt and sugar to keep them especially healthful. If you're hooked on flavored instant oatmeal, consider Market Pantry from Target, the best-tasting flavored instant by a narrow margin and just 17 cents per serving. For a flavored instant that's especially low in sodium and high in fiber, consider Kashi.

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Diet & Nutrition