Winter is, without a doubt, peak oatmeal season. Sure, it’s the go-to breakfast for many year-round, but a warm, nutrient-dense bowl is especially appreciated when the temperature dips below 40 degrees.
But not all oatmeals are created equal. Besides the different types—steel-cut, rolled, instant—the extras that are mixed in vary widely (some good, like protein-rich seeds, and some bad, like sugar).
To determine which oatmeals are serving up spoonfuls of awesomeness right now, I was tasked with trying every single oatmeal I could get my hands on, from the budget-friendly Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365 offerings to specialty oatmeals from brands like Wildway and Purely Elizabeth—and of course good ol’ Quaker and McCann’s. To keep the comparisons as fair as possible, all the oatmeals tested and vetted were the brands’ original, unflavored picks, and all were cooked on the stove (when possible!) as opposed to the microwave.
“Nutritionally, it doesn’t matter if it’s steel-cut or rolled, but I try to stay away from the instant, which aren’t as nutrient-dense.”
Once I honed in on the most-delish (least gruel-esque) options, NAO Nutrition founder and holistic nutritionist Nikki Ostrower, MS, evaluated the ingredients on the labels. The end result? A definitive list of the top breakfast contenders.
While all the oatmeals and hot cereals on this list are pretty darn good for you, Ostrower has a few key takeaways to keep in mind. “Nutritionally, it doesn’t matter if it’s steel-cut or rolled, but I try to stay away from the instant, which aren’t as nutrient-dense,” she says. Go for organic and non-GMO, and then choose one you actually like. (Mornings are hard enough as it is.) “The protein and fiber content is pretty similar across the board, so the important thing is to go for one that tastes good so you actually eat it!” she says. After all, those extra superfoods like chia and hemp don’t matter if the box is going to sit on your shelf.
Grab your bowls—here are the 5 tastiest, most nutritious oatmeals out there.
The biggest thing I learned through taste-testing oatmeal is that it’s all about texture—which, unfortunately, is a very personal preference. Some of the brands with superfoods, like chia seeds and hemp, are pretty crunchy. Rolled oats tend to be fluffy in texture, which I (personally) like more than steel-cut, which are heartier.
This one from Nature’s Path is made from rolled oats and had the fluffiest texture of any I tried—and I loved it. Ostrower is a big fan too: “Nature’s Path is organic and non-GMO—a big win in my book,” she says. “I always advise looking for organic, because then you can guarantee it’s not sprayed with any herbicides, fungicides, or pesticides, and it’s not genetically engineered.”
The only ingredients listed are organic rolled oats and sea salt—simple, but still pulling in eight grams of protein and six grams of fiber per serving. (The average oatmeal has six grams of protein and five grams of fiber.) Nature’s Path was the clear winner when it came to taste and nutrition, but it’s by no means the only good oatmeal out there.
Made with gluten-free oats, flax seeds, quinoa flakes, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and puffed amaranth (all organic), Purely Elizabeth features one of the most nutrient-dense oatmeals on the market. “It’s loaded with protein, heart-healthy fatty acids, fiber, vitamin B6, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium,” our expert rattled off—meaning a lot of health benefits in one bowl.
The flavor profile is more complex than your average oatmeal—the seeds give a satisfying crunch and savory slant, but the texture is still on the fluffy side. Purely Elizabeth’s 6-Grain Ancient Cereal was also part of the taste-test, but it was a bit too grainy. (Plus, Ostrower points out that while the 6-Grain variety is a cereal, it’s not technically an oatmeal.)
Like the Purely Elizabeth oatmeal, this cereal from Qi’a (a subdivision of Nature’s Path Organic), is loaded with superfood extras.
Real talk: It looks a lot like bird seed. But while the texture is crunchy, the savory blend isn’t too overwhelming. Many oatmeals serve as a bland base for add-ins like fruit and sweeteners, but this one is satisfying all on its own.
While it’s definitely a winning breakfast choice, it slides in at number three for being not as nutrient-dense as the Purely Elizabeth oatmeal or as tasty as the Nature’s Path Organic. Still, Ostrower is a fan. “Again, this one isn’t technically oatmeal, but it has omega-3 fatty acids, which act as a powerful anti-inflammatory and brain food,” she says. “It also has zero sugar and salt, and is gluten-free.”
McCann’s is a massive oatmeal brand—you probably grew up with it in your house (and maybe in your grandparents’ kitchen, too)—and for good reason. This is exactly what oatmeal should taste like, I thought to myself two spoonfuls in.
Light in texture, it doesn’t have that stuck-in-your-mouth feeling that some oatmeal has. And since the only ingredient is literally rolled oats, it serves as a good base for whatever toppings you’re into.
So why is it only coming in at number four? While it’s non-GMO, it isn’t organic—a major factor for Ostrower. Also, she isn’t a fan of the “ready in five minutes” thing. “It’s a little more processed, which means the body breaks it down more rapidly,” she says. “For people who have blood sugar issues or are diabetic, they’ll want to go for something slower-cooked.” So that rules out all those “instant” oatmeals, too.
With walnuts, ground flaxseed, cashews, coconut flour, pecans, dried dates, and vanilla bean, this cereal tastes delicious. It’s got some sweetness (thanks to the coconut flour, dates, and vanilla bean), while the cashews make it super-creamy.
Ostrower points out that it has seven grams of protein and eight grams of fiber—more than the average oatmeal. But there is one thing on the label that she takes issue with: the sugar content. “There are five grams in here, while the other brands hardly have any,” she says. That said, this hot cereal is sweet enough that you can skip adding extras like fruit and honey, if that’s your regular habit.
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