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Many foods fall in and out of favor as health trends come and go. Not oatmeal. This whole-grain powerhouse has been packing serious nutrition and hearty flavor into breakfast for generations. It’s one of the few comfort foods that are as good for you as they are just plain good.

To get the most out of this super food, be a bit particular.

Some packets of instant oatmeal, for example, are loaded with sugar -- as much as 8 teaspoons per serving -- and high in sodium. Always check the label to see what you're getting.

Great oatmeal starts with plain rolled oats, or steel-cut oats, cooked in a little water or milk, and topped with wholesome ingredients. It's a feel-good start to the day, and if you make it a habit, it can do your health some favors.

If you're on a gluten-free diet, look for oats that are certified gluten-free. Though oats themselves don't contain gluten, they can get tainted with gluten when they're being processed or growing, according to the Whole Grains Council.

Top Health Perks

Oatmeal’s most enduring claim to fame is its proven ability to curb bad (LDL) cholesterol. Chalk that up to a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan.

Eating oats is linked to an average 7% drop in LDL cholesterol, research shows. Many other things also affect your heart's health (like what else you eat, how active you are, and whether you smoke), but oatmeal is a simple heart-smart start.

The fiber in oatmeal also helps you feel full and eat less later on during the day. Fiber also eases constipation and helps control blood sugars.

Instant, Rolled, Scottish, or Steel-Cut?

When you shop for oats, you'll see several types on the store shelves. They're all based on "oat groats," which are the whole oat kernel.

  • Instant oats: Oat groats that have been steamed and flaked.
  • Rolled oats (also called regular or old-fashioned oats): Oat groats that have been steamed and rolled into flakes that are thicker (and thus take longer to cook) than instant oats.
  • Steel-cut oats (also called Irish oats): You get the whole oat kernel, cut up. These take about 20 minutes to cook.
  • Scottish oats:These are like steel-cut oats, but instead of being cut, they are ground.
  • Oat groats: This is the whole oat kernel -- no cuts, flakes, or grinding. They take longer to cook than other oats. Give them 50-60 minutes to cook, after you bring the water to a boil.

You can cook oatmeal on your stove top, in your microwave, or in a slow cooker.

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