Instant Oatmeal vs Oatmeal: What’s The Difference?


There are many different kinds of oatmeal available for purchase. This can sometimes be confusing about which one to pick. Instant oatmeal is one of those options. Let’s answer, what’s the difference between instant oatmeal and oatmeal?

Regular oatmeal oats are made by steaming oat groats so they’re soft and then rolling the groats into flakes. Instant oats are steamed longer, rolled thinner and dehydrated so they can cook faster. Instant oats cook in minutes while regular oatmeal cooks for 5 minutes. Instant oats are creamier than regular oatmeal.

This article will explain all the differences between the two including their nutrients and glycemic index scores. In addition, I’ll examine their tastes, textures, costs and health benefits.

Disclaimer: Some links in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Are Instant Oatmeal and Old-Fashioned Oatmeal the Same?

Instant oatmeal is sold in packets while old-fashioned, regular oats are sold in containers. Instant oats can be added to boiling water or milk and is ready in one minute. Old-fashioned oats are cooked in water or milk over medium heat for 5 minutes. Instant oats are finely cut and rolled thinner than old-fashioned oats.

There are 4 types of oats:

Old-fashioned

Regular, old-fashioned rolled oats are made by steaming oat groats so they’re soft and then rolling the groats into flakes. Doing this stabilizes the oils and extends their shelf life.

This steaming process also partially cooks the oatmeal flakes so cooking doesn’t take as long as steel cut oats.

Instant Oats

Instant oats are steamed longer, rolled thinner and dehydrated so the cooking time is shorter. They can be plain and unsweetened, but often, they’re sold in flavored packets containing many sweeteners, salt and artificial ingredients. 

Instant oats come in the original, unflavored but also have numerous flavors. The flavored oatmeal has added ingredients, sweeteners and sugar. The original version is the healthiest.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are cut into a few pieces with sharp metal blades and have a nuttier flavor than rolled oats. This kind of oatmeal takes longer to cook than rolled oats, and they have a chewier texture. 

Quick Cook Oats

Many people confuse these with instant. Quick oats are sold in larger containers like the old-fashioned oats and not in packets. Quick oats cook fast and can be finished cooking in one minute.

Pros and Cons of Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal

Instant Oatmeal 

Many people like instant oatmeal because it’s easy to make, fast and tastes good. But not everyone is a fan of instant oatmeal due to the unhealthy ingredients it may contain.

Pros

  • Extremely short cooking time.
  • Good for baking because the oats are so fine.
  • Most instant oatmeal is flavored.  

Cons

  • Processed from their original form. 
  • Higher on the glycemic index. 
  • Flavored instant oats are higher in sugar. 
  • Flavored instant oats often have preservatives and additives. 

Oatmeal 

Old-fashioned oatmeal is great because it tastes good and nutritious. However, it’s not as easy as instant oatmeal to prepare. For this reason, some people prefer instant oatmeal to old-fashioned oatmeal.

Pros 

  • Less processed than instant oats. 
  • Heartier taste and texture. 

Cons 

  • Require a longer cooking time. 
  • Not flavored. 

Check out the pros and cons of overnight oatmeal compared to regular oatmeal in my article, Overnight Oats vs Oatmeal: What’s The Difference? We Compare.

Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal Nutrient Comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients contained in a 40-gram serving of regular oatmeal, instant oats original and instant oats flavored.

  Oatmeal (40 g) Instant Oats (40 g)

(Fortified) Classic

Instant Oats (40 g)

Apples & Cinnamon

Calories 150 142 148
Protein 5 g 5 g 4 g
Carbohydrates 27 g 25 g 31 g
Fiber 4 g 4 g 4 g
Fat 3 g 3 g 2 g
Sodium 0 mg  107 g 148 g
Sugar 0.99 mg  1 g 11 g
Magnesium 40 mg  40 mg 40 mg
Phosphorous 130 mg  185 mg 185 mg
Potassium 150 mg 142 mg 139 mg
Iron 1.5 mg 11.1 mg 1.1 mg
Calcium 20 mg  171 mg 18 mg

Nutrient Resources 1 2

Instant oats and oatmeal contain the same types of nutrients. This causes many people to ask, which is more healthier instant oats or oatmeal?

Regular oatmeal is healthier than instant oatmeal due to its lower percentage of sugar and sodium. Regular oatmeal has a lower glycemic index than instant oats which mean less sugar spikes and better digestion. Many instant oats have unhealthy additives while regular oatmeal doesn’t.

If you’re going to choose instant oats, pick the original without added flavor. The flavored instant oatmeal, like the apples and cinnamon listed above contains more sugar, sodium, carbohydrates and flavor additives.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Instant Oatmeal vs Oatmeal: Taste and Texture

It’s not always about the nutrients provided. Many times people choose one food over the other because of its taste or according to their mood.

Since there are some similarities between the two, like both being oats, many people wonder and ask, does instant oatmeal taste like oatmeal?

Instant oatmeal and regular oatmeal have a similar taste. They are both bland and unsweet. Instant oats are thinner which makes them more creamier than the thicker more chewier regular oatmeal.

What does instant oatmeal taste like?

Instant oatmeal has a bland and earthy taste. Adding ingredients or seasonings will add more flavor similar to the addition. Instant oatmeal is creamier and smoother than regular oatmeal due to its thinner flakes.  

Old-fashioned rolled oats have a chewier texture than the smoother instant oatmeal.

I polled some of my readers and people in food groups I belong to. I asked, do you prefer the taste of instant oatmeal or regular old-fashioned oatmeal for breakfast?

  • 52% said they preferred the taste of regular oatmeal.
  • 40% said they preferred the taste of instant oatmeal.
  • 8% said they had no preference.

Find out which had more nutrients, oatmeal or granola in my article, Granola vs Oatmeal: What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare.

a bowl of regular oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries
Regular, old-fashioned, rolled oats oatmeal

How to Cook Oatmeal

Stovetop

  • Bring the water or milk to a boil.
  • Stir in the oats.
  • Cook about 5 minutes over medium heat stirring occasionally.

Microwave

  • Combine milk or water with the oats in a medium microwave-safe bowl.
  • Microwave on high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.
  • Stir before serving.

Since microwaves vary in power, the cooking time may need to be adjusted.

Preparation Tips for Oatmeal

Here are some tips to get you started on preparing oatmeal:

  • Oatmeal can be cooked on the stovetop or in the microwave. The method you choose will depend on your preference and how much time you have in the mornings.
  • Monitor the oatmeal to avoid burning. Keep an eye on the oats as they’re cooking so the mixture isn’t ruined. In addition, avoid using high heat and instead use medium heat to cook the oats gradually.
  • Add enough liquid. Dry oatmeal can congeal after cooling, resulting in an undesirable texture. Using enough milk with the oats will keep them smooth and creamy.
  • Add the toppings after the oatmeal has cooked. This is to prevent the toppings from cooking, burning or losing their crunchiness, texture and taste.

Find out how oatmeal compared to quinoa in my article, Quinoa vs Oatmeal: Which is Better? Let’s Compare.

How to Cook Instant Oatmeal

Stovetop

  • Empty the instant oatmeal packet into a bowl.
  • Bring the water or milk to a boil.
  • Add the milk or water to the bowl containing the oats and stir.
  • Let sit for about one minute prior to eating.

Microwave

  • Empty the packet into a microwave safe bowl.
  • Add the milk or water to the bowl and stir.
  • Microwave on high 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Stir again and let it slightly cool before eating.

Since microwaves vary in power, the cooking time may need to be adjusted. The same cooking tips for regular oatmeal should be followed for instant oatmeal.

Find out if grits or oatmeal has the better satiety in my article, Grits vs Oatmeal: Which is Better? A Complete Comparison.

Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal Glycemic Index

Knowing the glycemic index of food is important especially if blood sugar levels are a concern. Avoiding blood sugar spikes is an important part of consuming healthy food. 

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 3. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 4

Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:

  • Low-GI foods: 55 or under
  • Medium-GI foods: 56-69
  • High-GI foods: 70 or over

How blood sugars levels are affected:

  • Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
  • Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.

Having more knowledge of the glycemic index of food and how it raises blood sugar, many people ask, does instant oatmeal or oatmeal have a higher glycemic index?

Instant oatmeal has a higher glycemic index than regular oatmeal due to the extra processing of the instant oats. Instant oatmeal has a glycemic index of 83 while rolled regular oats have a glycemic index of 55. 

Steel-cut oats have a lower GI because they are the least processed. Rolled oats are a little higher because they’ve been partially cooked. Quick oats or instant oats have been steamed and rolled into thinner pieces to cook quicker. This process increases their GI.

Find out how oatmeal compared to brown rice in my article, Brown Rice vs Oatmeal: Which is Better? Let’s Compare.

Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal Costs

It seems every time I check out at the supermarket the price is higher than the last time. Not only that but it also seems I have less groceries in my shopping cart.  

The cost of food certainly matters to most people. The price may sway your decision about which one to use in your meals more often. Therefore, which costs more, instant oatmeal or oatmeal?

Instant oatmeal costs more per serving than regular oatmeal. The average price for instant oatmeal is $0.26 per 1/2 28 gram serving. The average price for regular oatmeal is $0.20 per 40 gram serving. 

I decided to conduct a search of various different stores to compare the price of both.

I checked Shoprite supermarket for the prices of instant oatmeal and oatmeal:

  • Quaker old-fashioned regular 
    • $4.19 per 18 oz container (13 servings) equaling $0.32 per 40 g serving
  • Quaker instant oatmeal – Original
    • $4.49 per 12 0.99 oz packets (12 servings) equaling $0.37 per 28 g serving

It’s important to note the regular oatmeal servings are larger than the instant oatmeal making them even more affordable.

I then checked Walmart for instant oatmeal and oatmeal prices:

  • Regular oatmeal (Store brand)
    • $2.58 per 42 oz container (30 servings) equaling $0.09 per 40 g serving
  • Instant oatmeal (Store brand)
    • $3.12 per 20 1.05 oz packets (20 servings) equaling $0.15 per 30 g serving

Again, the regular oatmeal servings are larger than the instant oatmeal servings making them even more affordable.

Check out Amazon for oatmeal products. Their prices are often more affordable with free shipping.

Find out how oatmeal compared to Cream of Wheat in my article, Cream of Wheat vs Oatmeal: What’s The Difference? We Compare.

How To Store Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal

Whichever you choose or have on hand, proper storage is crucial. How you store oatmeal can affect how long they last before going bad and how they taste. Therefore, how do you store oatmeal?

Store unopened instant oatmeal and oatmeal in a cool, dry place away from the heat and sun. Opened regular oatmeal should be tightly covered in its original container, glass or plastic container or resealable bag. Opened, instant oatmeal packets should be transferred to a sealed container. 

Cooked instant or regular oatmeal should be refrigerated in a sealed container up to 3-4 days.

Opened, resealed oatmeal can be stored up to one year. Always check the dates on the packaging. Typically, the “best if used by date” is a quality suggestion 5.

The Health Benefits of Instant Oatmeal and Oatmeal

If you’re seeking a healthy breakfast option, you really can’t go wrong with any kind of oatmeal, except for the flavored instant oats. Always stick with the original, unflavored instant oats for the most benefits.

Oats are whole grains and are great sources of fiber and plant-based protein. The nutrition content of oats only varies slightly between instant oatmeal, steel-cut and quick oats, except the sugar and sodium content of flavored instant.

The following are the benefits received from the nutrients contained in oatmeal.

Find out if there is a difference in benefits between steel cut and regular oatmeal in my article, Steel Cut Oatmeal vs Oatmeal: Which Is Better? Let’s Compare.

Fiber

Both oatmeals are high in soluble fiber, which is helpful for many reasons 6. What makes fiber soluble is it dissolves in water. 

Soluble fiber is known for the following:

  • Help overall digestive health.
  • Decrease the risk of diabetes by managing the blood glucose levels.
  • Helps avoid constipation and have a more regular stool.
  • Aids greatly in weight management because it allows you to feel full faster and eat less. 

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided by instant and regular oatmeal include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Digestion.
  • Nerve function.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Brain function.
  • Energy levels.

A lack of B vitamins has been associated with oxidative stress and neural inflammation. In a study released in 2018 32 healthy adults were given B vitamin supplementation for six months. The results indicated preliminary evidence B vitamin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and inflammation 7.

Is oatmeal better than eggs? Find out in my article here, Eggs vs Oatmeal – Which Is Better? Let’s Compare.

a bowl of creamier instant oatmeal with banana
Creamier instant oatmeal with banana

Calcium

Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 8.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Helps nerve function.
  • Help the muscles to function properly.
  • Build and maintain strong bones.

Potassium

Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 9.

Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 10.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 11. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.

Magnesium

The magnesium provided by oatmeal helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 12.

Magnesium helps control the following:

  • Muscle
  • Blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Blood sugar
  • Nerve function

In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 13.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:

  • Muscle recovery and contraction.
  • Help the body store and manage energy.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.
  • Help the kidneys remove waste.

Gluten-Free

Oatmeal and instant oatmeal made from just oats are naturally gluten-free and might be a great substitute to other gluten-heavy items of a similar taste. Even those who don’t have a completely gluten-free diet may benefit from cutting down on their gluten.

Even though oats are gluten free, there is some cross contamination risk. See the following note.

Important: Although oats and granola made from just oats and honey are gluten free, they may come in contact with gluten-containing grains in storage or during transportation. Most of the Quaker oat products have solved this issue and label those products gluten free. Always check the label of your oatmeal or granola products to determine if its gluten free.

Iron

Much higher in iron than other grains, oatmeal is an excellent choice if you need getting your daily value of iron. Iron is essential in the creation of red blood cells and is a necessary part of any healthy diet. 

Iron is also vital for growth and development, as some hormones need iron to be appropriately balanced 14. 

Additional Article Resources 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Read Next – More Oatmeal vs Food Articles!

Muesli vs Oatmeal – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Oatmeal vs Rice: Which Is More Healthy? (We Find Out)

Oatmeal vs Cereal – Which is Better? Let’s Compare

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. USDA: Cereals, oats, regular and quick, unenriched, cooked with water (includes boiling and microwaving), without salt[]
  2. USDA: Rolled Overnight Oats[]
  3. Harvard Health Publishing: Glycemic index for 60+ foods[]
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes[]
  5. Michigan State University: Dry oatmeal needs careful handling[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention[]
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial[]
  8. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  10. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  11. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  13. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  14. National Institutes of Health: Iron[]
  15. Quaker: Quaker Instant Oatmeal Original[]
  16. Quaker: Quaker Instant Oatmeal Apples & Cinnamon[]
  17. Quaker: Quaker Oats Old Fashioned[]
  18. Quaker: Old Fashioned & Quick Oats[]
  19. Quaker: The Difference Between Steel Cut, Old Fashioned, Quick Cook and Instant Oats[]
  20. Bob’s Red Mill: What’s The Difference Between Quick Cooking Rolled Oats and Instant Rolled Oats[]
  21. Wikipedia: Rolled oats[]
  22. Quaker: How does Quaker make Gluten Free Oats?[]
  23. Harvard T.H. Chan: Oats[]
  24. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Instant Oatmeal Increases Satiety and Reduces Energy Intake Compared to a Ready-to-Eat Oat-Based Breakfast Cereal: A Randomized Crossover Trial[]
  25. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity: when gluten free is not a fad[]
  26. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Oatmeal-Containing Breakfast is Associated with Better Diet Quality and Higher Intake of Key Food Groups and Nutrients Compared to Other Breakfasts in Children[]
  27. Oldways Whole Grains Council: Whole Grains A to Z[]
  28. University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Oatmeal – Whole Grain Goodness[]
  29. Iowa State University: Nutrition Education: Oatmeal[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

Recent Posts