Steel-Cut Oats: Are They Healthy?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on March 20, 2024
7 min read

Steel-cut oats are the inner kernels of whole oats that have been cut down into 2 or 3 pieces using a steel blade. You might also hear them referred to as Irish oatmeal.

Steel-cut oats are chewy and have a slightly nutty flavor. They can be used in place of other types of oats in just about any recipe, or as a satisfying, fiber-rich breakfast option. 

Steel-cut oats vs. old-fashioned oats

Steel-cut oats and old-fashioned oats, also known as rolled oats, are both oat kernels, but they're processed differently. Steel-cut oats are cut into pieces while old-fashioned oats are steamed and rolled flat, which makes them cook faster.

Steel-cut oats take 15 to 20 minutes longer to cook than old-fashioned oats and require more water for cooking. They contain similar types and amounts of nutrients, but steel-cut oats have slightly more fiber.

Steel-cut oats also take longer to digest. This helps you stay full longer and doesn't cause as much of a rise in your blood sugar.

Steel-cut oats vs. quick-cooking oats

Quick-cooking oats are old-fashioned oats that have been rolled even flatter so they can cook faster, in about 3 minutes.

Steel-cut oats have a much more coarse and chewy texture than quick-cooking oats.

The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in steel-cut oats can boost your health in many ways:

Healthy digestion. The fiber in steel-cut oats helps move food through more easily through your digestive tract so you don't get backed up, or constipated. 

Strong immune system. Fiber can also improve your gut health, which can make your immune system stronger and help lower your risk of diseases like cancer.

Support weight loss. Fiber slows the movement of food through your digestive tract, which helps you feel fuller after eating. This can help you avoid overeating if you're trying to lose weight.

Control diabetes. Steel-cut oats are a low-glycemic index food, which means they won't raise your blood sugar if you have diabetes. Research shows that regularly eating oats improves type 2 diabetes. 

Manage cholesterol. The fiber in steel-cut oats--especially a type of fiber called soluble fiber -- can help to lower your cholesterol. One study showed that eating 3 grams of soluble fiber from oats (about one-fourth-cup serving) every day lowers total cholesterol.

Are steel-cut oats gluten-free?

Because oats do not contain gluten, they are a safe alternative if you have celiac disease. Because there may be a risk of cross-contamination with wheat products, you should read product labels to make sure the oats are truly gluten-free.

While oats have many benefits, there are a few things to be aware of when adding them to your diet:

  • If you suddenly start to eat a lot more fiber than usual, it could cause gas, diarrhea, cramping, or bloating. It's best to increase fiber gradually.
  • If you buy prepackaged flavored oats, they might contain a lot of sugar. Choose plain steel-cut oats and fresh fruit for sweetness.
  • If you have celiac disease, oats are naturally gluten-free but could be contaminated during processing. This means it’s important to buy oats that are certified as gluten-free.

Steel-cut oats are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals

Nutrients per serving

One-third cup dry steel-cut oats contains:

Portion sizes

Steel-cut oats are low in fat and high in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. One serving is usually one-fourth to one-third cup of dry oats, which contains 150 to 170 calories. You may choose to have more or less than this depending on your calorie needs and what other foods you eat with your oats. 

Steel-cut oats are often found in the breakfast aisle of many grocery and health food stores. They may also be available in the gluten-free aisle. They take a bit longer to cook than regular oats, but they're still very easy to make.

On the stovetop, add oats, a pinch of salt, and water, milk, or a combination of the two, to a pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes or until the oats have thickened. If they are still too firm for your taste, add one-fourth cup liquid and continue to cook until they reach your desired consistency.

To give steel-cut oats a deeper, more complex flavor, toast the oats in a dry pan before cooking.

Steel-cut oats water ratio

Most steel-cut oats call for a 3-to-1 ratio of liquid to oats, but this varies. You can adjust the ratio to your liking or based on the package instructions of whichever brand of steel-cut oats you choose.

Microwave steel-cut oats

Combine oats and water in a large, microwave safe bowl. Cook on high power for 2-5 minutes, then carefully remove the bowl from the microwave and stir. Return to the microwave and continue to cook in 2-3 minute intervals, stirring between, until water is absorbed and oats are cooked to your liking. Adjust the cooking intervals so the oats don't boil over. The oats should cook in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Instant pot steel-cut oats

A pressure cooker provides a hands-off way to cook steel-cut oats in about 25 minutes. Combine 1 cup steel-cut oats, 3 cups water, and a pinch of salt in a 6-quart pressure cooker. Cover, seal, and cook on high pressure for 4 minutes. Allow pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes, then stir and serve with your favorite toppings. The oats will thicken as they cool. If you prefer softer oats, you can increase the cooking time.

Steel-cut oats in rice cooker

A rice cooker senses when the liquid is absorbed and stops cooking, making steel-cut oats a breeze. You may have to try out different liquid ratios to find what works best for your rice cooker, but start with 1 cup of steel-cut oats and 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups water. Set the rice cooker to the porridge setting if it has one, and start cooking before you go to bed or about 2 hours before you plan to eat.

Steel-cut oats in slow cooker

Cook your steel-cut oats overnight in the slow cooker and breakfast will be waiting for you in the morning. Combine 1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats and 6 cups liquid (water, milk, or a combination) along with a pinch of salt in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours or high for 4 hours. 

Jazz up a plain bowl of oats with toppings of your choice. Some ideas to try:

  • Fresh, frozen, or dried fruit
  • Chopped nuts, like pecans, almonds, or peanuts
  • Nut butter
  • Spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom
  • Cream, milk, or butter
  • Yogurt
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Cocoa powder
  • Dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs
  • Jam
  • Sautéed mushrooms or greens
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Savory steel-cut oats

Steel-cut oats make a great base for savory dishes. Try topping cooked oats with sautéed shrimp, mushrooms, hearty greens, tomatoes, onions, eggs, butter, salt, or cheese.

Overnight steel-cut oats

To cut down cooking time, or even eliminate it, mix up your bowl of oats, cover it, and store it in the refrigerator overnight without cooking. In the morning, the oats will have absorbed the liquid and you can enjoy it cold or warmed up in just a few minutes with your favorite toppings.

Steel-cut oat bread

Steel-cut oats can be a hearty addition to homemade bread. Soak the oats in just-boiled water for about 30 minutes to soften them. Some recipes use leftover cooked steel-cut oats rather than soaked oats. You can add steel-cut oats to sourdough or yeast breads, making the bread extra tender and flavorful.

Steel-cut oat pancakes

Amp up your pancakes with steel-cut oats. Combine cooked steel-cut oats with flour, baking soda, baking powder, egg, milk, and a sweetener like honey or agave. Cook the pancake batter on a griddle or pan and enjoy with maple syrup or fruit.

Steel-cut oats have a heartier and more complex flavor than other types of oats and make for a healthy meal any time of day--just add sweet or savory toppings of your choice. They are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, making them a great option if you are watching your weight or if you have diabetes or high cholesterol. Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats, but there are many simple ways to cook them, including in an instant pot, rice cooker, or overnight in a slow cooker.

Are steel-cut oats better for you than rolled oats? 

Steel-cut oats and rolled oats have about the same nutrition, but steel-cut oats have a bit more fiber. They also have a lower glycemic index and take longer to digest, keeping you full longer. 

Are steel-cut oats hard to digest? 

Your body digests steel-cut oats slowly, but that doesn't mean they're hard to digest. It's actually better to digest slowly because it doesn't cause your blood sugar to spike.

Is it OK to eat steel-cut oats every day? 

Yes, as long as you aren't allergic to oats, you can eat steel-cut oats every day.