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Is Oatmeal Good for Diabetics?

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Bowl of oatmeal -- Is Oatmeal Good for Diabetics?
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Oatmeal is a popular breakfast choice for many people who want something healthy and relatively fast to prepare to start off the day. But confusion often arises among people who have diabetes when it comes to this food: Is oatmeal good for diabetics? What about the carbs? And what’s the best type of oatmeal to eat? What about Starbucks oatmeal? These are all great questions, so let’s get them answered!

What is oatmeal?

Oatmeal is a hot cereal made from oats, a whole grain. The whole form of oats is called oat groats, and these take a long time to cook. The oats are milled, or ground, steel-cut or rolled, and they are cooked in water or milk to make oatmeal (sometimes called porridge). However, oats are also used to make bread, muffins, cookies and other baked goods.

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Types of oats

The fact that oats are considered a whole grain is a good thing! Whole grains are packed with nutrients and fiber and are shown to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes, as well as inflammation. They also promote healthy digestion.

Types of oatmeal

When it comes to oatmeal, though, choose your oats carefully. Some forms of oats are better choices than others, based on how they are processed. Here’s the lowdown:

Whole oats (groats)

These are the least processed form of oats. The husk is removed from the oat kernel, but the bran and germ layers remain. They can take up to an hour to cook and they have a chewy, nutty flavor.

Steel-cut oats

Also called Irish oatmeal, steel-cut oats are made by taking whole oats and chopping them into two to three pieces using steel blades. The texture of steel-cut oats is coarse and chewy with a nutty flavor. Steel-cut oats are very hearty and will fill you up, but they require a longer cooking time than other types of oats.

Scottish oats

These oats are stone-ground instead of cut. As a result, Scottish oats are finely ground, and will make a creamy, smoother texture than steel-cut oats. Scottish oats are a good choice if you are making bread or muffins.

Rolled oats

Also called “old-fashioned” oats, rolled oats are made by flattening and steaming oat groats rather than cutting them. These oats cook more quickly than steel-cut and Scottish oats. Rolled oats are commonly found in grocery stores and are used often in baking.

Instant (quick) oats

Instant oats, or oatmeal, is the most processed of the oat varieties. To make instant oats, rolled oats are steamed, dried, rolled and pressed, which enables them to cook more quickly than steel-cut or rolled oats. The downside is that instant oats are often soupy and mushy. In addition, flavored instant oats (think Maple & Brown Sugar or Cinnamon & Spice) contain added sugar, sodium and other flavorings.

Oatmeal nutrition

You might be surprised to learn that all oatmeal is nutritious — as long as sugar, salt and other ingredients haven’t been added. One cup of unflavored cooked oatmeal contains:

· 160 calories
· 27 grams of carb
· 4 grams of fiber
· 6 grams of protein
· 3 grams of fat
· 115 milligrams of sodium

This is a pretty decent nutrition profile. And oatmeal scores extra nutrition points in other ways. For example, oats contain a decent amount of B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous, along with polyphenols that may help improve blood pressure and can reduce itching.

The main type of fiber founds in oats is soluble fiber that comes from beta glucan. Beta glucan is thought to help lower cholesterol and blood sugars and can give the immune system a boost. When it comes to blood sugar management, beta glucan (like other types of soluble fiber) slows the movement of food through the intestines. This means that carbohydrate in the food or the meal is absorbed more slowly, minimizing the rise in blood sugar levels.

Another perk of eating oatmeal is its low glycemic index. Glycemic index, or GI, is a ranking of carbohydrate foods based on how much they raise blood sugar. The lower the GI, the less likely that food will cause the dreaded blood sugar “spike” after a meal or snack. Steel-cut and rolled oats have a GI of about 55, which is considered low. But beware: the GI of flavored instant oatmeal can approach close to 70 (which is high) because they are highly processed and contain added sugar.

Here’s yet another benefit to eating oatmeal: weight management. Thanks to the fiber content of oatmeal, you can get full — and stay full longer — which means you’re less likely to snack or overeat at meals later on.

So, CAN you eat oatmeal?

Yes! But choose your oats wisely. And be careful of added ingredients. Here are some tips to make oatmeal a healthy, go-to breakfast for you:

Tips to keep oatmeal healthy

· Stick with steel-cut, Scottish or rolled oats as much as possible. If you must use instant oatmeal, go with the unflavored variety.

· Cook your oats with water, low-fat milk or unsweetened plant-based milks.

· Boost the protein content with a dab of nut butter, a couple of tablespoons of nuts, or a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, which will further satisfy your appetite and help manage blood sugar levels. Or, have a boiled egg or a scoop of cottage cheese on the side.

· Flavor your oatmeal with cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. If you crave more sweetness, use your favorite non-nutritive sweetener. Adding fresh berries, pomegranate arils (seeds) or some chopped apple or pear will also provide sweetness and extra fiber.

· Keep an eye on your portion. Too much of anything — even a good thing — will provide extra calories and carbs that you probably don’t need.

Final tips

· Oats are naturally gluten-free. However, they may be processed with equipment used to process other grains that do contain gluten. If you are on a gluten-free diet, make sure you choose oats that are certified as being gluten-free.

· If you have an instant pot, try using that to make oatmeal. Here’s a recipe to get you started.

· Or, use your slow cooker to make oats. Set it to cook overnight, and your oatmeal is ready to eat the next morning.

· Not a fan of sweet-tasting oatmeal? Try a savory oatmeal, instead.

· If the thought of cooking anything is less than appealing, you might like overnight oats. There are hundreds of recipes for overnight oats on the internet, but here’s a base recipe to get you started.

Fill a Mason jar with a 2:1 ratio of rolled oats to liquid (water, milk or plant milk) and stir it well.

Add a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt or nut butter.

Add a tablespoon of ground flax seed or Chia seeds.

If desired, stir in some cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger. You can even stir in some unsweetened cocoa powder for a chocolatey taste.

Put the lid on the jar and stick it in the fridge; let it sit overnight. The next morning, you’ve got your oatmeal! Eat it as is or heat it up. You can also top it with some nuts or fresh fruit. Experiment with different ingredients and flavors, and you’ll never get bored.

· As with any new or different food that you try, it’s always a good idea to check your blood sugar before and about two hours after eating it – this is the best way to learn how various foods affect your own blood sugar.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” “Top Tips for Healthier Eating” and “Cooking With Herbs and Spices.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

 

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