Doug Cook RD
Nutrition Demystified. Health Exemplified
Nutrition advice that makes sense. Separating hype from reality.

Oatmeal Wars – Part II. Starbucks & Second Cup

Product: Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal

Manufacturer: Starbucks

The Position: 100% whole grain goodness made-to-order with your choice of brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts. It’s breakfast just the way you like it.

Ingredients: Oatmeal: whole-grain rolled oats (with oat bran), oat flour, dried fruit: dried cranberries, raisins (sulfites), dried blueberries, dried cherries (all with added sugar). nut medley: almonds, walnuts, pecans, brown sugar: brown sugar

Analysis: Starbucks’s oatmeal can be assembled, if you will, with the dried fruit, nut and sugar packets served individually. All in, the Perfect Oatmeal has 370 calories, 60 g carbohydrate, 33 g sugar, 6 g fibre, 7 g protein, 11 g fat, and 110 mg sodium.

Again, most of the sugar content is found in the dried fruit with 13 g, or just over 3 teaspoon’s worth, from the brown sugar mix [which of course is optional, or you could use less if you prefer] . Starbucks’s version has the highest calorie count but it’s important to put this into the context of a day’s worth of energy and stipulate the fact that quality of the calories one eats is extremely important too.

Using the 2000 calorie reference on the nutrition facts table, 370 calories equals 18.5%, or just under one-fifth of a day’s worth of energy requirements which is acceptable. Also, some of those calories, and the higher fat content of Starbucks’s oatmeal, comes from the nut medley pack. Fat from nuts is the healthy kind and need not scare people off.

While Starbucks could not tell me the year they added the oatmeal, I was informed by their customer service representative that it was added to the menu due to it being a healthy option from our pastry selections” [at least they admit, by comparison alone, that their pastry options are not healthy which saves me from having to].

Take it or leave it: again, another good choice given the basic ingredients and the nutritional profile, a far better choice than the scone or muffin, essentially cake, which stares at, and taunts you, from the display case [actually, there, I just said their pastries a poor choice].

 

Product: Summer Berry Oatmeal

Manufacturer: Second Cup

The Position: no official position to speak of

Ingredients: oats, wheat flakes, rye flakes, cranberries, red bran, sultana raisins, brown sugar, almond slices freeze dried strawberries, hazelnuts and vanilla

Analysis: Second Cup offers two flavours of oatmeal. In addition to Summer Berry, they also have Maple Pecan and the nutritional breakdown is essentially the same, it’s really a distinction of flavour.

According to their customer service representative, Second Cup added oatmeal to their line-up last year because they “were looking to add more healthy on the go breakfast choices”. The Summer Berry flavour has 330 calories, 6 g fat, 67 g carbohydrate, 14 g fibre, 12 g sugar, 10 g protein and 0 mg of sodium.

By adding wheat and rye flakes and red bran to the mix, Second Cup’s oatmeal boasts the highest fibre content by far, two to three times as much as its competitors and tends to be slightly lower in sugar, most likely due to less total fruit. Surprisingly, this oatmeal is ‘sodium free’, defined as less than 5 mg per serving; almost all prepared foods typically have some amount of added sodium – this caught me completely off guard!

In the end, the calorie, carbohydrate, sugar, sodium and protein count is essentially the same as homemade if you made it without adding salt (although for me, a little sodium from pinch of salt isn’t an issue), however, unlike the homemade version, the oatmeal form Second Cup has more fibre.

It’s worth noting that their other flavour, Maple Pecan, is made with flax seed although the amount of flax is unknown. Flax seed is a great source of the plant-based form of omega-3 fat but because the nutrition facts table doesn’t itemize those fats, it’s hard to get a sense if the amount of flax used is meaningful.

Take it or leave it: this too is a great alternative to most of the options available to people on the go and for those of whom are looking to increase their fibre intake, this is a great choice.

Alternative: making your own from scratch, adding sweetener, extra wheat bran, plus or minus dried or fresh fruit and nuts

Bottom line: Having to weigh and declare a ‘winner’ is not an easy thing to do. Essentially they are all practically similar in calorie count, carbohydrate, sugar and protein content with minor variation. No one food or meal defines a healthy diet but it’s the consistency of choices over the long run that determines one’s health, positively or negatively. Still, that’s what I’ve been asked to do; declare a winner.

I actually struggled a bit with this, changing my mind a few times. In the end, I put Second Cup’s Berry Oatmeal in first place because it has the lowest sodium content and is the highest in fibre, two nutrients that Canadians struggle to meet the recommendations for. In second is Starbucks’s because I was impressed with the lower sodium content and the decent amount of nuts. In third I put McDonald’s with its lower sodium content and then in last Tim Horton’s because of its relatively higher sodium content.

At the end of the day, it’s down to splitting hairs, and I don’t want people to feel like they have to run out and change their morning routines to get the ‘better’ oatmeal. The sodium content for all of them is acceptable and if you want to boost your fibre intake, keep a small tubberware container at your desk with some chia or grown flax seeds and add a tablespoon or two to the mix!