Oats and Oatmeal, Wonder Food of the Pantry


If I were to pick the perfect pantry food and emergency food, that would be oats. Let's consider all of the benefits of this flex food. It's an important  food that is part of weight loss, it's heart-healthy, makes you feel full, it stretches your food dollar, and has a reasonably long shelf life. 

Let's talk about the benefits and flexibility of including oats and oatmeal in your pantry.


Health benefits of eating oats and oatmeal

Oats and oatmeal are considered whole grains. Both are well-known to help contribute to a person's daily requirement for fiber. Fiber, according to Mayo Health Clinic, normalizes bowel movements, helps maintain bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood sugar levels, aids in achieving healthy weight, and helps you live longer!

In addition, oats are nutritious! Oats are loaded with important vitamins, minerals and antioxidant plant compounds. According to Healthline, oats and oatmeal "are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat."

oatmeal poured out of jar

Closeup picture of oats.

Important oat and oatmeal facts

What is oatmeal made of? 

Old-fashioned oatmeal and quick oats are both made out of whole grain rolled oats.

What is steel-cut oatmeal made of? 

Steel-cut oatmeal is made out of whole grain steel cut oats.

What is the difference between oats and oatmeal?

Oatmeal is the ground version of oats. 

What's the difference between steel-cut oats and rolled oats?

Oat groats are oat kernels that have had the hulls removed. The hulls are the tough outer shell that protects the seed of the oat plant.

Steel-cut, rolled and quick oats all come from oat groats (the oat kernels with the hulls removed). What makes each of the oat types different are the types of additional processing applied. Steel-cut oats are chopped by steel blades (hence the name) and closer to the original groat product. Both rolled and quick oats are flattened and pressed, quick oats are just flattened more.

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Are quick oats and instant oats the same thing?

Quick-cooking oats and instant oats are not the same thing. Instant oats are rolled extra thin and milled even finer than quick-cooking rolled oats.

What is the difference between overnight oats and regular oatmeal?

Overnight oats and regular oats are the same thing. Overnight oats has liquid added to it (milk or water) and then is placed in a refrigerator overnight to naturally absorb the water and soften the oats. Other grains can be added such as chia or flax seeds. This makes for a quick grab-and-go healthy breakfast in the morning compared to having to take time to cook regular oatmeal.

Overnight oats have gained popularity in recent years due to online platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram. Members of these outlets share their beautifully photographed overnight oats laden with brightly colored fruits, sprinkled with nuts, and drizzled with natural sweeteners. This positive social media trend of showing healthy and creative culinary creations has benefited everyone.

trio of overnight oats meals

A trio of overnight oat meals topped with bananas, coconut, raspberries, and chocolate chips.

Random oat and oatmeal questions

What are Irish oats? 

Irish oats are the same as steel-cut oats.

Is oatmeal better hot or cold?

Serving oatmeal hot or cold is a personal preference. Many people like oatmeal served hot because it is comforting and warming during cold winter months, just as soup is, Serving oatmeal hot also allows the flavors of added milk and sweeteners to blend better. In recent years, "overnight" oats have become popular, served cold. The neutral taste of the oats becomes a backdrop to the sweet-tasting fruits and toppings added to it, allowing the flavors to pop.

Why do you add salt when cooking oatmeal? 

Salt is added when cooking oatmeal to add flavor. Without it, oatmeal would be bland tasting.

Where in the supermarket is oatmeal?

Oatmeal can be found in the cereal aisle of any supermarket or grocery store.

Is oatmeal a diet food?

Oatmeal is a healthy food choice that fits into almost everyone's diet. In terms of losing weight, oatmeal can help people feel full longer and lessens the pangs of hunger, thus helping the person to control weight by eating less.

Is oatmeal a keto food?

Oatmeal is not low-carb or keto-friendly it is very high in carbohydrates. A keto diet (or ketogenc diet) places an emphasis on low carb and high fat diet. 

Gerri, from MyKetoKitchen, was able to come up with a delicious keto porridge recipe that is only 4g net carbs – "which is tiny compared to a regular bowl of oatmeal containing 23g net carbs!" she says. For bulk, the recipe uses flaxseed meal, coconut flour, and chia seeds. Despite oatmeal competing with a delicious dish like this, it still offers multiple health benefits and should remain in a healthy and well-balanced diet.

Question about Quaker Oats

Is Quaker Oats the same as oatmeal? Quaker Oats is the same as oatmeal. It has become synonymous with the name oatmeal.

Is there sugar in Quaker oats? There is no sugar in old-fashioned, rolled, or steel-cut oats. There is sugar in prepackaged, single-serve microwavable packages and containers that have dried fruit and flavoring added.

Where is Quaker Oats manufactured? Quaker oats are manufactured world-wide. A special shout-out to the Quaker Oats manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since I am from Iowa and have relatives and friends who live in Cedar Rapids, I have partaken in a few local discussions of the food plant, which is an important employer to many in the Midwest city.

One older gentleman I know whose father worked at the Cedar Rapids plant, remembers getting to try out samples of new products as a young boy.  Anyone who worked  at the Quaker Oats plant and had kids, was invited to partake in an informal testing by taking samples home to families. He recalls his father bringing home samples to try out of the now popular "Captain Crunch" cereal before it was available to the public.

food made from oatmeal

Foods made with oatmeal.

Why is it called porridge?

"The word “porridge” can be traced back on the one hand to the expression ‘pottage’, a variation of the French word ‘potage’ – a name for soup – and on the other hand to the word ‘pot’, the saucepan... the word “porridge” was not used until the 17th century... the cooking of cereal-like grasses was already done about 12,000 years ago and that it was accompanied by the development of mankind from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled farmers." -reprinted from Verival Bio-Frühstük.

Porridge is any grain (oats, corn, rice, etc.) that is cooked and boiled in water or milk until it has a creamy, thick consistency. Porridge is a universal dish found in every country, with regional versions. British or English porridge is basically just oatmeal. In April Bloomfield's English Porridge recipe, she uses half rolled and half steel cut oats. A special emphasis is put on reaching the perfect, creamed consistency.

Is oatmeal a cereal or soup? Is oatmeal a stew?

Oatmeal is a cereal, it is not a soup or stew.

Moving on, I had no idea how heated this discussion is. I feel a bit embarrassed dedicating only a brief section to the question is oatmeal a cereal, soup or stew. There are very passionate people out there writing entire pages to the subject. I can only imagine that there is miscommunication because of cultural differences in describing things. 

I have to laugh, because MyRecipes equated this to the same debate "is a hotdog a sandwich?" By the way, I vote "sandwich." After the mention of porridge above and its almost chameleon possibilities, I can see the confusion. Furthermore, porridge is thick like a stew, but not a stew.

What is a good substitute for oatmeal?

Cream of Wheat and Malt-o-meal are breakfast cereal name brands, both similar to oatmeal. Both are made with farina or milled wheat and served hot  with milk like oatmeal. Malt O Meal has a coarser texture than Cream of Wheat, which contributes to feeling full longer. If you're looking for other good substitutes for oatmeal, you can go down the porridge route and cook just about any grain into a creamy consistency for a morning breakfast.

Another similar grain dish, "grits" is made of white or yellow ground corn. This hugely popular Southern United States food is not only a favorite for breakfast, but has made its way onto lunch and dinner plates. Grits status as a side dish would be equivalent to serving rice, potatoes, or noodles with a meal. Grits would be considered an important pantry staple in the Southern United States. The first time I ever had the pleasure of true southern grits was visiting a Waffle House in Mississippi - I crossed off two American experiences on my bucket list at the same time!

A close relative to grits is the food known as "polenta." Polenta is made from a different type of corn and ground coarser, but is basically the same idea as grits. Polenta is a favorite of Northern Italy. I'm sure that I'm just scratching the surface of oatmeal substitutes. The fact is, grain-based soft food, served-warm, is universally found in all cultures. 

Does oatmeal cause aging?

Oatmeal is not a food that causes aging. Oatmeal is in a family of food that relieves inflammation. This whole grains groups also includes whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, and quinoa.

eating healthy

Eating a healthy, well-balanced meal.

Healthy benefits of oatmeal

Which is healthier old fashioned oats or quick oats?

Old fashioned oats are healthier than quick oats because they are closest to the original whole grain form than quick oats are. Quick oats go through more processing than old fashioned oats - the process is just a manual way to break down the oats so they can cook quicker, thus the name "quick oats." Breaking down the oats takes that away from the person eating - the process of digestions

Is plain instant oatmeal healthy? 

Instant oatmeal, known as "quick oats" is a healthy food option because it's made from whole grain oats. Compared with old fashioned oats and quick oats, it has gone through more processing.

What is the healthiest instant oatmeal?

The healthiest instant oatmeal has not sugar added.

Which type of oats is healthiest? 

The steel-cut oat is the healthiest because it is the least manufactured and closest to the original oat groat state.

Are oats gluten free?

Oats are gluten free. The problem is that they can get contaminated with gluten if they are processed with equipment that is also used for processing grains with gluten (like wheat). Also, oats can become contaminated if they are grown in fields next to wheat. 

Is oatmeal healthier with milk or water? 

Adding milk to oatmeal provides additional calcium (oatmeal already has some calcium), making oatmeal with milk is healthier than oatmeal only made with water.

If the question revolves around weight loss and calories, then there may be a reason to choose water instead. Also, the option of using skim milk may be more desirable for weight loss goals.

Is oatmeal healthier than toast? 

Oatmeal can be just as healthy as toast if the toast is made out of whole-grain.

Souper Sage did a nutritional comparison of whole wheat bread vs. oats. Their conclusion:

  • Both whole wheat bread and oats are high in calcium, calories, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, iron, potassium and protein.
  • Oat has more thiamin and pantothenic acid, however, whole wheat bread contains more niacin and Vitamin B6.

Both food types contribute to a healthy diet. To add variation and interest to your meal plans, add both and enjoy!


Oatmeal and health conditions

Are oats inflammatory?

Oats are considered an anti-inflammatory food, which means they are NOT inflammatory.

Is oats good for arthritis? 

Oats are good for arthritis because they are anti-inflammatory.

According to Arthritis.org, "Whole grains lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. CRP is a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Foods like oatmeal, brown rice and whole-grain cereals are excellent sources of whole grains."

Does oatmeal cause joint pain?

According to WebMD, whole grains like oatmeal are linked to lower levels of inflammation. Oatmeal doesn't cause joint pain, it relieves it.

Is oatmeal good for high blood pressure?

Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast choice for heart health since it can lower blood pressure, and reduce choesterol levels thanks to the high fiber content. However, Everyday Health reports that oat bran is the better choice because it is higher in fiber than oatmeal.

Which oats is good for diabetes? 

According to Everyday Health, "Steel-cut oats are best for type 2 diabetes because they are the least-processed version of oat groats." In the same article Leah Kaufmam, RD, CDE is cited as saying “Rolled oats have a higher glycemic index than steel-cut oats as they actually have been partially cooked, making them increase your blood sugar faster."

Family saving money on groceries.

Family saving money on groceries.

Hair and skin benefits of oatmeal

Are oats good for skin? 

Oatmeal has long been used as a home remedy for dry and itching skin. An oatmeal bath made with colloidal oatmeal (oatmeal already ground up into power form) is still a reliable remedy. If you don't have colloidal oatmeal, you can grind up your own off-the-shelf oatmeal. Scatter about 1 cup in warm bath water. The recommended time to soak in the oatmeal bath is between 15-25 minutes. Hot water and more soak time is not recommended when treating itchy skin conditions because you don't want to dry out the skin.

In addition, oatmeal can be used to treat sunburns, bug bites or stings. Simply make up a paste with the powdered oatmeal and apply to a small area. Allow to dry, and then gently remove with water. The oatmeal helps draw out the toxins from the affected areas and aids in soothing and healing.

Is oatmeal good for wrinkles and face? Can I use Quaker oats on my face?

According to DermCollective,

  • Oats contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, vitamins and minerals that protect skin from UV and environmental damage.
  • Oatmeal face masks help repair skin damage, heal wounds and skin conditions like acne, rosacea and atopic dermatitis.
  • An oatmeal face mask moisturizes, tones, lightens skin and enhances elasticity to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Oatmeal is good for wrinkles and daily facial care. Oatmeal is a frequent ingredient in skin health care products because of the benefit. A facial mask made out of oatmeal can be made using the same Quaker oats from your pantry.

Make a quick oatmeal mask: grind 2 teaspoons of oatmeal in a grinder an add 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Add enough water to make a paste; apply to a clean dry face and leave on for 10 minutes. Rinse off.

There are many variations of oatmeal masks, including ones that add honey. Have fun trying a different one each time!

Are oats good for hair?

Oatmeal soothes an itchy scalp and helps heal it. Oat powder can be added to regular shampoo to reap the benefits. Again, the colloidal oatmeal can be found in the skin care aisle of a pharmacy or store. You can grind your own oatmeal that doesn't contain other ingredients. The colloidal version is just handier to use because it is more finely ground,

Does oatmeal make hair grow?

According to emedihealth, 
"Oats have exfoliating properties that can aid in unclogging pores. This action promotes hair growth and helps thicken your hair. Oats are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids that can assist in fixing hair damage... Oatmeal is filled with nutrients such as zinc, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), iron, and fiber, which are all great for your hair. When used regularly either in the form of hair products or remedies, it can help nourish and stimulate your hair follicles to produce long, strong hair."

Can oatmeal remove dark spots?

According to AARP, a website for seniors, points out in an article about age spots, that oatmeal acts as an exfoliant. "The oatmeal exfoliates, the honey moisturizes and the milk works to remove the dark spots." Although oatmeal contains antioxidants that can reverse skin damage, there is no scientific evidence that it removes dark spots. The AARP article is careful not to claim that oatmeal can remove dark spots. The hopeful thought that it could doesn't stop erroneous information from circulating on the Internet.

How do I make oatmeal paste?

To make an oatmeal paste, the oatmeal should be ground into a fine consistency and mix in just enough water to make a paste. Colloidal oatmeal (oatmeal already finely ground into power form) can be found in stores for non-food use in the beauty aisle of stores. If grinding your own oatmeal for skin or hair treatments, start with a packaged oatmeal that has no other ingredients added. 


Oatmeal and intestinal issues

Does oatmeal make you poop?

Oats contain insoluble fiber that prevents constipation. The fiber works with the water in your digestive tract to add bulk to and soften your stool to help with regular bowel movements.

Does oatmeal clean your colon? Does oatmeal detox the body? 

Oatmeal is considered a safe and gentle cleanse for your colon, due to its high fiber content. Oatmeal aids in cleaning the bowels, 

How do you stop gas after eating oatmeal? 

Oats can cause gas and bloating. To minimize side effects, start with a low dos

According to Healthline, "whole grains such as wheat and oats contain fiber, raffinose, and starch. All of these are broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, which leads to gas. In fact, rice is the only grain that doesn’t cause gas."

making granola bars with oatmeal and honey

Making granola bars with oatmeal and honey.

Oatmeal recipe options

Another good reason to have oatmeal in your pantry are there are LOTS of tasty foods to make with it. Here is just a short list:

  • breakfast oatmeal
  • overnight oats
  • granola bars
  • granola
  • trailside cookies
  • cookies
  • crisps (apple, blueberry, peach, etc)
  • smoothies
  • soup (can substitute for barley)
  • meatballs (acts as bonding agent)

Oatmeal for hunger and diet and portions

Is 1 cup oatmeal too much? A 1 cup serving size is perfectly fine to eat, even if the recommended serving size on the box is 1/2 cup.

Note that a 1/2 cup serving of rolled-cut oats delivers 4 grams of dietary fiber, which is around 13% to 16% of your daily recommended intake, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). It would be natural to assume that doubling the daily serving would be a successful way to get more fiber into your diet.

However, there is a price to pay. Oatmeal can cause bloating and abdominal discomfort, especially in large amounts. Even at a daily serving of 1/2 cup, it is recommended to work your way up to it if you are not accustomed to eating that much fiber. It is also recommended to include other sources of fiber into your diet besides oatmeal.

Is 2 cups of oatmeal a day too much? Two cups of oatmeal in one day is too much if you are concerned about the side effects of bloating and abdominal discomfort. In addition, those food calories should be distributed to include a more balanced diet that includes proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

Is it ok to eat oats every day? What happens when you eat oats everyday? It's fine to eat oats every day, in an appropriate serving size. Oats are a good source of fiber, which everyone should have. Oatmeal is one good way to meet the daily requirement in addition to eating healthy fruits and vegetables. When you eat oats everyday, it helps you have regular bowel movements.

oatmeal for hunger and diets

Oats and oatmeal are part of healthy food diets.

What is the difference between oatmeal and oat bran? According to Foods for Anti-aging, "The primary difference between oat bran and oatmeal is how each is made. Oatmeal is a whole grain while oat bran is the skin of the grain leftover after the grains have been processed."

Is a bowl of oatmeal enough for breakfast? A bowl of oatmeal is a good serving for breakfast, but alone it won't you remain full. Protein and fat is what is needed to feel full. "Fatty" milk like whole milk will help you stay full longer. Adding nuts like chopped walnuts or pecans can increase the feeling of satisfaction, feeling full longer. Stirring in peanut powder, protein powder, or peanut better are other good ways to get the most out of your bowl of oatmeal. For a complete meal, adding fruit is a nice touch.

What is the best time to eat oatmeal? Oats are a great food to feel satisfied and fueled to start the day. However, it's also a good strategy to get a good night's sleep by eating oatmeal before bedtime. According to Healthline, oatmeal contains both carbohydrates and melatonin that help you feel sleepy.

Why does oatmeal hurt my stomach? Some people experience stomach upset eating highly processed oatmeal, such as the kind that comes in the individual, highly sugar-added packets. Also, there is a limit to how much oatmeal someone can eat in a day. Oatmeal can cause bloating, which contributes to stomach discomfort. Because of the high fiber content of oatmeal, one should start with smaller serving sizes if you are not a regular consumer of oatmeal.

Oatmeal can also hurt your stomach if you are have a history of a sensitive colon or have celiac disease. Celiac disease is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Abdominal pain is one of the many side effects of Celiac disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "oats may not be harmful for most people with celiac disease. However, oat products are frequently contaminated with wheat."


Oats and oatmeal shelf life

Oats in its most original form (not processed) will have the longest shelf life. Uncooked rolled (known as old-fashioned oats), quick or steel cut oats will typically last at least 12 months and up to 2 years of the package is unopened and stored in an airtight container.

The exciting thing is that oats will store for 30 years in long-term storage if packaged in a sealed oxygen-free container that includes an oxygen absorber in the container. Not all oat types have the same shelf life. ReadySquirrel has a nice chart that outlines the shelf life of different forms of oats.

For example, your little individual flavor packets of oatmeal only  have a shelf life of 6-9 months. The regular canister containers from the store last up to 2 years if kept sealed. How easy is that? Make a point to throw one of these in your food emergency stash.


Oats and oatmeal storage

Do oats have mold?

Oats can develop mold. This is highly unlikely if the oats have been processed using the steamed application and "toasted lightly in order to stabilize the grains. After the oats go through this processing, the oils in the grains will stay fresh for longer" according to MyRecipes.If dry oats are exposed to moisture while stored, they’ll be more susceptible to mold growth.

If you keep an eye on "best if used by" dates, and keep the oatmeal stored properly, oats will enjoy a long storage. However, if you've poured oat the oats, notice a rancid smell, clumping of the oats, or dark spots, you likely have moldy oats and they should be tossed out. This applies to all grains, but especially to grains that have not gone through a stabilization process.

moldy buckwheat

Moldy buckwheat.

What can I do with expired oats?

Expired, moldy, or rancid oats should be thrown out or put into a compost bin. They should not be fed to birds or other animals.

Proper storage of oatmeal

For uncooked oats, you’ll want to make sure they stay as dry as possible. Minimizing exposure to light and oxygen can help, too.

Store them in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry or cupboard. After their original packaging has been opened, transfer them to a water- and air-tight container, such as a glass, stainless steel, or ceramic jar, to help keep them fresh.

When storing cooked oatmeal, opt for a container with a tight seal, and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to eat. It shouldn't be kept longer than 3-4 days. If you’re freezing it, make sure you store it in a container that’s air-tight to prevent freezer burn. You can safely store it in the freezer for up to 3 months.

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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