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Nutritional Difference Between Oatmeal & Packaged Oatmeal

By Aglaee Jacob

A bowl of oatmeal is a good way to start the day, providing important nutrients your body needs to get started. When shopping for oatmeal, it can be difficult to choose the best option given the variety of individual packaged instant oatmeal and regular bulk oatmeal. Understanding the nutritional difference between the different types of oatmeal can help you make the best choice for your health.

Sugar Content

Instant oatmeal packets are usually flavored and contain added sugar, while regular oatmeal found in larger bags is sugar-free. For example, a single packet of flavored oatmeal has an average of 10 grams of added sugar, which corresponds to almost 3 teaspoons of extra sugar, while plain oatmeal has none. Most Americans consume too much sugar and choosing plain oatmeal can allow you to better control how much sugar you add to your oatmeal, if at all. Some packets of oatmeal are labelled sugar-free and are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. While artificial sweeteners do not contain any calories, they can prevent you from getting rid of your sweet tooth and can contribute to your sugar cravings.

Sodium Content

Almost all instant oatmeal found in packets contain added sodium, or salt. A packet contains an average of 200 milligrams of sodium. If you eat more than one packet at a time, oatmeal could constitute a significant hidden source of sodium in your diet. Even plain oatmeal packets contain added sodium. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that you restrict your sodium intake to below 2,300 milligrams a day for most people or below 1,500 milligrams a day if you have high blood pressure. Select plain bulk oatmeal if you want to avoid adding extra sodium to your diet.

Food Additives

Regular bulk oatmeal is natural because the only ingredient it contains is oat flakes of different sizes. On the other hand, packaged instant oatmeal is processed and contains many food additives to enhance its flavor and shelf life. If you want to clean up your diet and improve your health, choose the oatmeal that contains the fewest ingredients.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index allows you to figure out how quickly the carbohydrates in food are broken down to sugar and to what extent they can disrupt your blood sugar levels. The oat flakes found in instant oatmeal packets are smaller and faster to digest, which gives them a high glycemic index. High glycemic index carbohydrates can trigger cravings and hunger and contribute to weight gain. On the other hand, larger bulk oat flakes, such as old-fashioned oat flakes and steel-cut oats, take longer to digest, which gives them a lower glycemic index and can help you keep your blood sugar levels more even.

Additional Nutrition Facts

Additional nutrition facts vary slightly between instant packets of oatmeal and regular bulk oatmeal. Old-fashioned oatmeal and steel-cut oats contain more fiber and protein compared to instant flavored oatmeal packets. A packet of flavored oatmeal provides approximately 140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein, while either 1/2 cup of dry old-fashioned oatmeal or 1/4 cup of dry steel-cut oats have 150 calories, 2.5 to 3 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.

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