What's in Your Oatmeal Cup?

Get the goodness of whole grains without all the sugar

oats with illustrated cup Photo: Getty Images, iStock

The most important attributes when choosing a breakfast are that it’s healthy and quick to prepare, according to a 2020 survey from the market research firm Mintel.

Single-serve oatmeal cups—most just require adding hot water or a zap in the microwave—satisfy the need for a speedy breakfast and also seem like a healthy choice, touting whole grains or “superfood oats.” But do you sacrifice nutritional benefits when you opt for instant oats over longer-cooked ones? After evaluating 24 cups from popular brands, our experts have tips on what to look for on the label before you pop the top.

Note the Kind of Oats
All types of oats are whole grains. Instant oats are processed into thinner flakes than steel cut or rolled oats, which means they're digested more quickly and can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. Look for brands that specify steel cut or rolled oats on the package, such as Better Oats Steel Cut Maple & Brown Sugar Cup and Nature’s Path Organic Hot Oatmeal Maple Pecan.

More on Healthy Eating

Check for Added Sugars
The amount of added sugars in your cup matters more than the type of sugar it contains. Coconut sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, or maple sugar may sound healthier than plain table sugar, but they offer no health advantages. And 10 of the 24 oatmeal cups we looked at had a whopping 10 to 18 grams of added sugars—that’s 2½ to 4½ teaspoons. Three of the cups contained no added sugars (such as the Mush and RXBar RX A.M. cups shown below). But if you like a little sweetness, pick a cup that has no more than 9 grams per serving.

Scrutinize the Ingredients List
Think twice about picking a product with pea protein, soy protein isolate, or chicory root fiber. Those are highly processed ingredients, and it’s better to get nutrients from whole foods. Instead, check the label for healthy boosts such as additional whole grains. For instance, Purely Elizabeth's cup contains amaranth and quinoa, as well as nuts and seeds, which add fiber, and healthy fats.

Below are the oatmeal cups we evaluated, divided into "healthier choices" and "others in our tests," and listed alphabetically by product name within each category.

Healthier Choices
Mush Overnight
Oats Apple Pie
  • Calories 230
  • Total fat 8 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 34 g
  • Added sugars 0 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 110 mg
Nature's Path Organic Hot Oatmeal Maple Pecan
  • Calories 220
  • Total fat 6 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 36 g
  • Added sugars 8 g
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 105 mg
Purely Elizabeth Apple Cinnamon Pecan Superfood Oats
  • Calories 230
  • Total fat 7 g
  • Saturated fat 2 g
  • Carbohydrates 37 g
  • Added sugars 3 g
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 65 mg
Real Made Apple & Coconut Overnight Oats
  • Calories 235
  • Total fat 6 g
  • Saturated fat 2.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 42 g
  • Added sugars 0 g
  • Fiber 7 g
  • Protein 5 g
  • Sodium 5 mg
RX A.M. Maple Oats
  • Calories 250
  • Total fat 8 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 35 g
  • Added sugars 0 g
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 12 g
  • Sodium 95 mg
Soulfull Brown Sugar Pecan Multigrain Hot Cereal Cups
  • Calories 300
  • Total fat 12 g
  • Saturated fat 1.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 40 g
  • Added sugars na
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 160 mg
The GFB Gluten Free Oatmeal Maple Raisin
  • Calories 240
  • Total fat 7 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 35 g
  • Added sugars 7 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 10 g
  • Sodium 160 mg
Others in Our Tests
Better Oats Steel Cut
Maple & Brown Sugar
  • Calories 210
  • Total fat 3.5 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 40 g
  • Added sugars 13 g
  • Fiber 4 g
  • Protein 5 g
  • Sodium 270 mg
Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Brown Sugar & Maple Oatmeal Cup
  • Calories 240
  • Total fat 5 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 42 g
  • Added sugars 9 g
  • Fiber 7 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 310 mg
Brekki Overnight Oats Apples & Cinnamon
  • Calories 220
  • Total fat 8 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 30 g
  • Added sugars 10 g
  • Fiber 4 g
  • Protein 6 g
  • Sodium 90 mg
Dave's Naturals Overnight Oats Cinnamon Raisin
  • Calories 220
  • Total fat 3.5 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 43 g
  • Added sugars 11 g
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 8 g
  • Sodium 80 mg
Del Monte Oats To Go Maple & Brown Sugar Crunch
  • Calories 270
  • Total fat 8 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 40 g
  • Added sugars 8 g
  • Fiber 7 g
  • Protein 10 g
  • Sodium 240 mg
Del Monte Fruit & Oats Apple Cinnamon
  • Calories 180
  • Total fat 2.5 g
  • Saturated fat 0 g
  • Carbohydrates 36 g
  • Added sugars 9 g
  • Fiber 4 g
  • Protein 4 g
  • Sodium 220 mg
Ernest Eats Superfood Oatmeal Maple + Almond + Cinnamon
  • Calories 250
  • Total fat 8 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 37 g
  • Added sugars na
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 8 g
  • Sodium 85 mg
Kodiak Cakes Power Cup Maple & Brown Sugar
  • Calories 230
  • Total fat 3 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 37 g
  • Added sugars 12 g
  • Fiber 4 g
  • Protein 14 g
  • Sodium 200 mg
Love Grown Apple Cinnamon
  • Calories 240
  • Total fat 3 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 47 g
  • Added sugars 11 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 6 g
  • Sodium 10 mg
McCann's Quick & Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal Maple Brown Sugar
  • Calories 200
  • Total fat 1 g
  • Saturated fat 0 g
  • Carbohydrates 44 g
  • Added sugars 18 g
  • Fiber 3 g
  • Protein 4 g
  • Sodium 340 mg
Modern Oats Vermont Maple Premium Oatmeal
  • Calories 230
  • Total fat 4.5 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 43 g
  • Added sugars 12 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 7 g
  • Sodium 0 mg
Quaker Real Medleys Super Grains Maple Pecan Raisin
  • Calories 330
  • Total fat 7 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 48 g
  • Added sugars 10 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 6 g
  • Sodium 230 mg
Quaker Overnight Oats Raisin Walnut Honey
  • Calories 330*
  • Total fat 9 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 55 g
  • Added sugars 10 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 9 g
  • Sodium 190 mg
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cups Lower Sugar 50% Less Sugar Cinnamon & Pecan
  • Calories 160
  • Total fat 5 g
  • Saturated fat 1 g
  • Carbohydrates 26 g
  • Added sugars 5 g
  • Fiber 3 g
  • Protein 4 g
  • Sodium 135 mg
Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cups Maple & Brown Sugar
  • Calories 180
  • Total fat 2.5 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 37 g
  • Added sugars 14 g
  • Fiber 3 g
  • Protein 4 g
  • Sodium 290 mg
Think Thin Protein & Probiotics Hot Oatmeal Maple Pecan
  • Calories 200
  • Total fat 4 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 35 g
  • Added sugars 9 g
  • Fiber 6 g
  • Protein 10 g
  • Sodium 210 mg
Trader Joe's Organic Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal
  • Calories 220
  • Total fat 3.5 g
  • Saturated fat 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates 41 g
  • Added sugars 7 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Protein 6 g
  • Sodium 200 mg
* Made with 1/2 cup skim milk.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.


Trisha Calvo

I've covered health and nutrition my entire career, so I know how to separate science from hype. Whether it's about food labels, sunscreen, or food safety, my goal is to deliver information that makes following a healthy lifestyle easier. Healthy cooking is a favorite hobby, and friends think I'm crazy, but I can happily spend hours grocery shopping. Follow me on Twitter. (@TrishaCalvo)