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Oatmeal is a great complex carb and a ubiquitous part of a bodybuilding diet. Complex carbs allow a slow and sustained energy bum, but oatmeal, in
particular, with its high fiber content, packs in great nutritional value and gives you an enduring source of energy. Many bodybuilders add protein
powder to their oatmeal to create a nutritional powerhouse. Since there is so much nutritional potential in oatmeal, it's important to make sure
you're getting the most bang for your buck, and that you're not undermining your own program with the added sugars found in many prepackaged oatmeals.
First, let's clear up the basic differences between the three most common types of oatmeal. Any kind of oatmeal is whole grain, whether it's rolled, quick or instant. The whole grain is what makes oatmeal such a healthy food - it contains fiber, vitamins and minerals that refined grains (such as white flour) don't. Old- fashioned oats are steamed and rolled, but not cut, and cook in two to five minutes. Quick oats are cut into smaller pieces and are also steamed and rolled for faster cooking. They cook in one minute and are commonly used in baking. Instant oats (which come in single-serving packets) follow the above procedure, but are steamed a second time for an even shorter cooking time -just add boiling water.
To get at the true differences between oatmeals, we need only to turn to the ingredients lists. A half-cup serving, measuring 40 grams (g), of a typical brand of old-fashioned or quick oatmeal has 150 calories, four grams of fiber (two grams soluble and two grams insoluble), no sodium, one gram of sugar, five grams of protein and 27 g of carbs. The ingredient is pure and simple - rolled oats.
Now, to the instant oats. First, the serving sizes of instant oats are usually much smaller. To match the health/fiber benefits of 3/4 cup (dry) of regular oatmeal, you'd need to eat three packets of most instant brands, which can get expensive. One common brand of regular instant oatmeal has 100 calories, three grams fiber, four grams protein and 19 g carbs. It also has added salt, various harmless additives, and is fortified with B vitamins. It's not very different from the others, except for the added salt, but why not stick to the natural stuff and save yourself some money?
Flavored instant oatmeals are another story. The second ingredient in almost any of these is sugar; they also contain salt and other additives. Not only does the added sugar jack up the calorie count, it replaces some of the healthy whole grain you could be eating. The added sugars are empty calories that don't add anything to your nutritional program. And, while we're on the subject, don't pour tons of brown sugar on your oatmeal. A better idea is to make old-fashioned or quick oatmeal and add fruit to it, like raisins, bananas or chopped apples. If you really need it sweeter, add just a very small amount of whatever sweetener you like.
Here are a few of the instant "Best Bites" rated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in their March 1998 edition of Nutrition Action: Erewhon Instant Oatmeal with Added Oat Bran; Mother's Instant Oatmeal; Quaker Instant Oatmeal, regular; Arrowhead Mills Instant Oatmeal, regular; Quaker Quick 'N Hearty Oatmeal, regular; and Arrowhead Mills Instant Oatmeal, flavored. (In addition to these instants, any brand of rolled, quick or steel-cut oats are Best Bites.)