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As a kid, I loved instant oatmeal. The quickness. The sugary globs of fruit. Sometimes I wouldn’t stir up the mix, so I could get all that sweetness in one bite, which sounds a bit gross now, but I loved it.

And even as we get older, something about oatmeal is comforting and enjoyable. Even better, we’re told this breakfast choice is a good one, a healthy one. So we continue to eat it. And often we grab the instant kind because, like, we’re really busy, right?

I know. Especially when you hear that steel-cut oats take 30 minutes to cook on the stove. That’s a long time!

But, yes, those instant packs are often stuffed with too much sugar and salt and other not-so-good-for-you ingredients. And you can actually make regular oatmeal much quicker than you might think.

Some things you need to know about instant oatmeal (including truly healthy product picks) …

What is instant oatmeal?

First, let’s start with oat groats. These are the whole grain form of an oat, but rarely are they sold as is. Instead, you find steel-cut, rolled or instant oats, and all are pre-cooked to some degree.

  • Steel-cut oats = oat groats cut into pieces.
  • Rolled oats = the same thing as longer cooking oats but are steamed longer and rolled a bit thinner.
  • Instant oatmeal = rolled oats that are cut into small pieces and pre-cooked by steaming.

Is instant oatmeal a healthy choice?

Oats are one of the healthiest grains you can choose, so they can be a healthy choice. They are high in fiber, which can reduce bad cholesterol and help you stay full longer. They also enhance the body’s immune response and stabilize blood sugar; plus, they’re gluten free.

But consuming oats comes with some problems, too. When most people eat oatmeal, they aren’t eating it plain, especially not the instant kind. People add sugar, milk (or dairy-free milk) and other add-ins, which make oats more like a dessert.

With instant oatmeal, the packages often have loads of added sugar and salt and artificial coloring. Read the labels and see what you’re getting. Another thing with instant, is that it tastes differently than rolled or steel-cut oats. The flavor is more bland and not as textured.

Instant oatmeal without all the added bad ingredients can be healthy, but the more whole grain you eat, the slower it will be digested, helping you stay fuller longer. Also, the glycemic index of old fashioned oats is 55, while the GI of instant oats is 83, so instant or quick-cooking oats push up your blood sugar — something of particular concern to diabetics and people with other blood sugar issues.

Ways to make oatmeal healthier

  • Soak your oats. Soaking oats, like soaking other grains, reduces antinutrients and helps unlock the nutrients. To soak oats, mix together 1 cup of rolled or steel-cut oats (not instant) to 1 cup warm, filtered water with a Tbsp of apple cider vinegar or lemon or yogurt or kefir and let sit, covered, for at least 12 hours although 24 is best.

  • Add oat and/or wheat flour. Some products have oat flour added or you could add a little oat flour to regular oats yourself before cooking. Doing so will increase the fiber and protein content slightly. Wheat flour helps neutralize the antinutrients.

  • Combine it with a little lean protein or healthy fat. Add a scoop of protein powder or some chopped nuts or ground flaxseeds, which will lower the glycemic index and help you stay full longer.

  • Add spices and fresh or dried fruit. Add a little healthy spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg.

Ways to make oatmeal a fast food without opting for instant

  1. Make overnight oats. Overnight oats can be made in a jar or in a pot on the stove. Soaking the oats will aid in digestion and increase nutrient absorption, as mentioned above. Put steel-cut or rolled oats in a pan with water, bring the water to boil for 1 to 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let them sit overnight. Or you can add the oats with water or milk (and maybe some yogurt) and fruit and spices (if you want) to a jar and let it sit overnight. Also, add a little lemon or apple cider vinegar to both methods.

  2. Make oatmeal in advance and reheat. Steel-cut oats can be made on the stove in 30 minutes, and rolled oats take as little as five minutes on the stove. You can reheat oatmeal without losing any nutritional benefits.

  3. Make crock-pot oats. Make steel-cut or rolled oats in a crockpot overnight.

And if you still want the instant stuff, at least choose healthier options …

How to choose healthy instant oatmeal

Some things to look out for in instant products:

  • Less than 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Six grams or less of sugar per serving. Although no sugar would be best.
  • At least three grams of fiber per serving. Some brands add extra fiber from isolated fibers like inulin or maltodextrin. These aren’t harmful but may not actually do much for you.

Click NEXT for our picks for instant oats.