Oatmeal is one of those foods everyone thinks is super healthy. But, is that really the case?
Oats are said to lower bad cholesterol, keep us feeling fuller for longer, as well as being a good source of important nutrients.
Sounds pretty good!
And, if you normally eat Pop Tarts for breakfast, then yes, oatmeal is obviously a better choice.
However, if you think all oats are created equal, think again. There are definitely some oats which should not grace your breakfast table. Ever.
What Are Oats?
If we are to understand how to make a better breakfast choice, it’s important to understand exactly how oats are processed.
Oat groats are the oat kernels with the hulls removed. They can be used to make porridge, however cooking takes a long time.
You won’t normally find the whole form of the oat groats. What you usually buy at the supermarket are steel-cut, rolled, or instant oats.
Steel-cut oats are whole groats chopped up. These take longer to cook, contain more of their original nutrients, and taste nuttier than regular oats.
Rolled oats are steamed groats that have been rolled out and flattened.
Instant oats are rolled, steamed, and precooked oats. These will often have sweet flavorings added, and are the least healthy option.
What Are The Benefits Of Oatmeal?
There are a number of benefits of eating oatmeal, although I’m not overly convinced that you can’t get those benefits from other foods just as easily.
Regardless, they are only a healthy breakfast option, if you make the right choice (more on that later).
Overall, they’re quite healthy
Oats are a good source of fiber, which can help to regulate blood sugar levels. They also contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are a source of protein and complex carbohydrates.
You will often hear that eating oatmeal can help to lower cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of heart disease. This is because of the soluble fiber content.
While I agree that soluble fiber is a very good thing in the diet, you can get soluble fiber from other foods. I don’t think the research confirms you need to get that soluble fiber solely from oats.
So, alternative sources of soluble fiber include fruits and vegetables, as well as oat bran, nuts, flaxseeds, lentils, dried peas and beans, and psyllium.
I am certainly not going to deny that oatmeal can be a healthy addition to your diet. The reality is, however, that most people do not eat plain oatmeal.
If you wake up in the morning to a fresh bowl of plain oats, with absolutely no additives (sugar, syrup, fruit, salt etc), you are in the minority.
On the other hand, if you take old fashioned oats, and adulterate them with lashings of sugar, cream and jam, you should know it’s not really breakfast, but dessert you’re having.
Instant Oatmeal Is NOT Healthy
I can definitely see the appeal of instant oatmeal, when you’re pushed for time in the mornings, and want to make a better choice than sugary breakfast cereals.
But, as I always say, you need to take a look at the package labeling, to see what you are actually eating. Don’t just fall for the “heart healthy” claim on the front of pack.
Take for example, Quaker Oat’s Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal.
It claims to be “heart healthy,” but a brief look at the nutrition label clearly shows it isn’t.
That fact that it contains no strawberries, and 12 grams of sugar, with half the fiber of regular oatmeal, is bad enough.
But, when the nutritional information states ingredients like, ”artificial strawberry flavor,” “partially hydrogenated soybean oil,” and “flavored and colored fruit pieces,” which they admit are dehydrated apples, treated with sodium sulfite to promote color retention — this should be enough to make you seriously question your so-called heart healthy breakfast choice.
Don’t believe me? Check out the Quaker Oats official website to see for yourself.
Seriously, my mind boggles how they can name a produce “strawberries and cream,” when it doesn’t even have an ounce of strawberries in there.
These instant oats are nothing more than a mishmash of artificial colors and flavors, along with too much sugar and salt, and in some cases, high fructose corn syrup, disguised as something that is good for you by extremely clever marketing.
The Glycemic Index Of Instant Oats
When it comes to your blood sugar levels, lower and slower are generally better.
The glycemic index of old fashioned oats is 55 vs 83 for instant oats, so instant oatmeal is significantly higher.
That means that a bowl of instant (or quick-cooking) oats quickly pushes up your blood sugar, so they won’t keep you feeling satisfied as long as rolled or steel-cut oats would.
Instant oatmeal has been processed to cook quickly, which means they are broken down and digested more quickly in the body, and this is why it has a higher glycemic index.
Even though you may not be diabetic, eating a lower glycemic index diet is much better for your health.
As researchers on this topic, from the Boston Children’s Hospital, put it;
When it comes to weight loss maintenance, existing research suggests that low-glycemic-index diets work with the body’s biology to help us to prevent the fall in metabolism that occurs with weight loss and stay fuller longer.
So, my advice is, if you are going to eat oatmeal, stay away from the instant versions completely.
McDonald’s Oatmeal Is NOT Healthy
I find it very interesting that even mega-corporations like McDonald’s are jumping on the health bandwagon by serving their “Fruit and Maple Oatmeal” all day long.
Incredibly, the McDonald’s oatmeal actually contains more sugar than a Snickers bar. No, I am not kidding you!
How it that possible?
Honestly, I cannot understand why McDonalds would take an ingredient like oatmeal, and basically turn it into junk food.
Does oatmeal really need 21 ingredients to make it edible? What’s wrong with just plain oats?
As Mark Bittman puts it;
A more accurate description than “100 percent natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”
Yes, too true!
You may argue that the McDonald’s version is “convenient,” but this is nonsense.
In the time it would take you to go into McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make your oatmeal at home, while unloading the dishwasher, or getting the kids dressed for school, as it’s cooking.
And, even if you are too busy to eat before you leave the house, you could just put the oats into a container and microwave them when you get to work.
Is Oatmeal Healthy For Diabetics?
Oatmeal is one of those foods frequently recommended for diabetics.
You see, because oats are higher in fiber, they are promoted as releasing their energy more slowly than some other breakfast choices.
However, oatmeal is actually quite rapidly converted to sugar, and even if you leave off the added sugar, dried or fresh fruit, you will still experience high blood sugars.
If you’re diabetic, or have access to a blood glucose monitor, here’s a little test for you to try out.
Eat a bowl of oats with whatever trimmings you normally add, then test your blood sugar after one hour.
Eat two hard boiled eggs, then test your blood sugar after one hour.
Compare the different effects these two breakfasts have on your blood sugar levels. This will give you a good idea if oatmeal really is a good choice for you.
How To Make Oatmeal Healthier
I am by no means anti-oats. In fact, when used correctly, oats can be a fantastic addition to your diet.
However by itself, oatmeal does not comprise a complete balanced meal, which means you need to pair it with other foods to get the balance right.
You can lower the glycemic load of oatmeal by combining it with a little lean protein, such as milk, a half-scoop of protein powder, or some natural yogurt after cooking.
Healthy fats are another fantastic option. Try some chopped walnuts nuts, or a sprinkling of ground flaxseeds.
Cinnamon or nutmeg are also good options to add flavoring, without the sweetness.
Time is always mentioned as a problem at breakfast, and I completely understand that.
However, even if you choose regular rolled oats, they can cook up on the stovetop in as little as five minutes. And, if you choose to microwave them, you’re done in around 2 minutes. The instant stuff isn’t much quicker, if at all.
Personally, I eat oats once or twice each week, along with a little honey, some walnuts and some milk.
I do, however, prefer to have eggs for breakfast, and I certainly notice that I am fuller for longer when I eat two boiled eggs at breakfast time.
Slow Cooker, Apple Cinnamon Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Monica, from The Yummy Life, shares this recipe for slow cooker, steel-cut oatmeal.
This recipe is great because you can make it ahead of time, then store in the fridge until you need it — no need to go for instant oatmeal after all!
2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups milk (or almond milk)
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup uncooked steel-cut oats
1 tablespoon honey
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into 5-6 pieces (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional garnishes: chopped nuts, raisins, additional milk
- Coat inside of 3-1/2 quart (or larger) slow cooker with cooking spray. Add all ingredients (except optional toppings) to slow cooker. Stir, cover, and cook on low for approximately 7 hours (slow cooker times can vary).
- Spoon oatmeal into bowls; add optional toppings, if desired. Store leftovers in refrigerator. Freezes well.
- To reheat single servings: put 1-cup cooked oatmeal in microwave proof bowl. Add 1/3 cup of milk. Microwave on high for 1 minute; stir. Continue cooking for another minute, or until hot.
Another option is to put your steel-cut oats in a pan with water, and bring the water to boil for 1-2 minutes. Then turn off the heat, cover the oats and go to bed.
In the morning, stir the oats, and they will be perfectly soft and chewy, and ready to eat as they are. Or, if you prefer them hot, microwave for a minute or two to warm through.
Oatmeal Skin Mask
If oats for breakfast just aren’t your thing, apparently they are great for skincare, being very good for making us look more youthful! :-)
So, check out Keeley’s recipe in the video below:
So, is oatmeal healthy? What are your thoughts on this topic?