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Are steel-cut oats paleo friendly?

Steel-cut oats are a whole grain food made from sliced whole oat groats. They are less processed than rolled or instant oats, retaining more of the fiber and other nutrients found naturally in oats. Many followers of the paleo diet avoid grains, believing they are harmful and increase inflammation. But views on oats specifically tend to vary among different paleo experts.

What is the paleo diet?

The paleo diet, also known as the paleolithic diet, caveman diet or stone-age diet, is centered around eating whole, unprocessed foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten during the paleolithic era. That means fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, and healthy fats are on the menu, while grains, dairy, legumes, added salt and sugar, and highly processed foods are avoided.

The rationale is that the human body is genetically mismatched with modern processed foods, having evolved to eat the diet of our paleolithic ancestors. Therefore eliminating these foods and sticking to evolution’s original menu will improve health and prevent chronic disease.

Foods encouraged on paleo

  • Lean meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil

Foods discouraged on paleo

  • Grains, including wheat, oats, rice, barley, etc.
  • Legumes like beans, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugar
  • Highly processed foods
  • Vegetable and seed oils
  • Salt

Are oats paleo?

One of the key foods avoided on the paleo diet are grains, including wheat, barley, rye, rice, and oats. This is because grains are a relatively newer addition to the human diet, only becoming commonplace around 12,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture.

Since our genes evolved over millennia eating a hunter-gatherer diet, the theory is that grains like oats contain proteins and anti-nutrients harmful to human health. Proponents argue eliminating grains can improve digestion, reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, and promote weight loss.

However, views on the health of oats specifically are somewhat mixed in the paleo community. Some experts believe oats can be part of a paleo diet while others advise strictly avoiding all grains.

Reasons some paleo followers allow oats

  • Oats contain soluble fiber that benefits gut health.
  • Oats are relatively low in phytates compared to wheat.
  • Some argue oats cause less of an insulin response than other grains.
  • Oats provide important nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and manganese.

Those who consider oats paleo-friendly often recommend sticking with less processed forms like steel-cut, rolled, or even whole oat groats. The logic is these provide more nutrition and fiber compared to instant oats.

Reasons some paleo followers avoid all oats

  • Oats still contain phytates which impair mineral absorption.
  • Even whole oats cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
  • Oats contain proteins like avenin that may be inflammatory.
  • Any form of oats is still a relatively new food in human evolution.

Those who avoid oats on paleo recommend replacing them with paleo-friendly alternatives like eggs, nuts, sweet potatoes, or plantains.

Are steel-cut oats paleo?

Steel-cut oats are simply whole oat groats that have been sliced into pieces rather than rolled. This makes them technically less processed than rolled or instant oats.

However, they are still whole grain oats. So the debate is essentially the same as with regular oats – some paleo followers are okay including less processed forms of oats like steel-cut, while stricter paleo avoidants shun all forms of oats.

Potential benefits of steel-cut oats

  • Higher fiber content than rolled or instant oats
  • Lower glycemic index than instant oats
  • Provide B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium and antioxidants
  • Contain protein and fiber to help keep you full

Potential downsides of steel-cut oats

  • Still contain anti-nutrients like phytates that bind minerals
  • Contain proteins like avenin that may cause inflammation
    and digestive issues in sensitive people
  • Spike blood sugar more than some other paleo breakfasts
  • Not recommended for those with gluten sensitivities or oat intolerances

Ultimately there is no consensus in the paleo community on steel-cut oats. Some nutrition experts believe the potential benefits outweigh the downsides, especially if consumed in moderation. Others advise avoiding all forms of oats to be on the safe side.

How do steel-cut oats compare to rolled oats nutritionally?

Steel cut oats and rolled oats have a very similar nutritional profile. The main differences are:

Steel-cut oats Rolled oats
Fiber 5g per 1/2 cup cooked 4g per 1/2 cup cooked
Protein 5g per 1/2 cup cooked 5g per 1/2 cup cooked
Fat 2.5g per 1/2 cup cooked 2.5g per 1/2 cup cooked
Carbs 27g per 1/2 cup cooked 27g per 1/2 cup cooked
Calories 150 per 1/2 cup cooked 150 per 1/2 cup cooked

As you can see, rolled oats and steel-cut oats are nearly identical in macro- and micronutrients. The only difference is steel-cut oats contain slightly more fiber due to being less processed.

Glycemic index comparison

Steel-cut oats have a lower glycemic index than rolled oats. This means they cause a slower, more gradual rise in blood sugar levels.

Oat Type Glycemic Index
Steel-cut oats 55
Rolled oats 59

However, both steel-cut and rolled oats have a medium glycemic index. So the difference is quite small compared to a food with a high glycemic index like instant oatmeal, which is 83.

Are there any differences in taste or texture?

Steel-cut oats have a chewier, more toothsome texture compared to rolled oats. Rolled oats have been steamed and pressed between rollers to flatten them, so they cook up creamier and softer.

In terms of taste, steel-cut oats tend to have a nuttier, grainier flavor. Rolled oats are milder in flavor. Some people prefer one or the other, while others enjoy both varieties for different uses.


Steel-cut oats Rolled oats
Texture Chewy Creamy, soft
Flavor Hearty, nutty Mild
Cooking time 20-30 minutes 5-10 minutes
Best uses Hot cereal, granola, cookies Oatmeal, baked goods

How to cook steel-cut oats

Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than rolled oats, about 20-30 minutes. But cooking them is easy.

On the stovetop

Combine 1 cup steel-cut oats with 4 cups water or milk in a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and creamy. Remove from heat and serve.

In the slow cooker

Add 1 cup steel-cut oats and 4 cups liquid to a slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir before serving.

In the Instant Pot

Combine 1 cup steel-cut oats with 4 cups water or milk in an Instant Pot. Cook at high pressure for 5 minutes then allow 10 minutes for natural release. Quick release any remaining pressure and stir before serving.

Overnight method

For an easy breakfast, combine oats and liquid the night before and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, just stir and gently heat on the stovetop until warmed through.

Paleo-friendly ways to serve steel-cut oats

While opinions differ on whether oats themselves are paleo, you can still make steel-cut oatmeal more paleo-friendly by avoiding unhealthy toppings. Here are some ideas:

  • Fresh berries like strawberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Bananas or apples, sliced or mashed
  • Almond butter or cashew butter
  • Chopped nuts or seeds like almonds, walnuts, pecans, etc.
  • Shredded unsweetened coconut
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, or other spices
  • Full-fat coconut milk or nut milk
  • Raw honey or maple syrup to sweeten (in moderation)

Avoid refined sugars, unhealthy vegetable oils, and excessive syrups or sweeteners. Stick to whole food toppings to get the most nutrition from your steel-cut oats.

Healthier paleo alternatives to oatmeal

If you prefer to avoid all oats, here are some grain-free paleo breakfast options:

Paleo breakfast bowl

Sauté vegetables like spinach, peppers, and mushrooms. Add eggs or sausage. Top with avocado.

Veggie hash

Dice and sauté potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, onions, etc. Season with herbs and spices.

Baked eggs

Crack eggs into a greased ramekin or muffin tin. Bake until set. Add paleo-friendly toppings.

Fruit and nut smoothie

Blend frozen fruit, avocado, nut butter, milk of choice. Sweeten if desired.

Chia pudding

Mix chia seeds with coconut milk and refrigerate overnight. Top with fruit and nuts.

The bottom line

Whether to include less processed forms of oats like steel-cut oats in a paleo diet is a source of debate. While potentially healthier than refined grains, oats still contain proteins and anti-nutrients not considered paleo-friendly.

Many paleo followers avoid all oats to be safe. But some nutrition experts believe steel-cut oats in moderation are fine, especially if tolerated well. It’s a personal choice based on your health goals.

Overall steel-cut oats provide more fiber and nutrients than rolled or instant oats. But many delicious paleo breakfasts are grain-free, so you have options if avoiding oats altogether.