Oatmeal is a popular dish that’s often a go-to choice for many people when it comes to eating a healthy breakfast. Oats are a type of gluten-free whole grain, and there are many kinds available for oatmeal: rolled oats, steel cut oats, quick-cooking oats, and instant oats.
But while oats have many documented health benefits, is weight loss one of them? The short answer? It depends! Read on to learn more about the benefits of oatmeal and what effect, if any, it has on weight loss.
What Is in Oatmeal?
Oatmeal is a highly nutritious breakfast food that can be prepared in a number of ways. From overnight oats to baked oatmeal, many people have found new ways to get creative when eating oats.
So what is it about oatmeal that makes us classify it as a healthy food? And why do some people consider it a good option for weight loss? Here is a breakdown of some of the nutrients present in oatmeal.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in plant foods. As it can’t be digested by the body, it stays mostly intact as it passes through the digestive system. Fiber helps digestion by adding bulk to your bowel movements, making it pass easier through the body and reducing bloating.
Fiber can lower your risk of heart disease, improve satiety, and help regulate blood sugar. Luckily, oatmeal is very rich in fiber. Steel cut oats are minimally processed, so they have a higher soluble fiber content than other oats: eight grams in just half a cup.
Though oatmeal is not a significant source of protein, it does have a small amount of protein content. Steel cut oats contain three grams per half cup.
Protein is an important nutrient for your overall health, as well as for weight loss: it can help build muscle mass, increase feelings of fullness, and can boost the amount of calories you burn.
If you’re eating oatmeal, you may want to add additional sources of protein to your breakfast, such as eggs, seeds/nuts, dairy such as yogurt, or protein powder, to make sure you meet your needs.
A half cup of steel cut oats contains 14 grams of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates from whole grains can be a delicious part of a healthy, weight loss-friendly diet.
Our bodies need carbs for energy and proper digestion. In fact, research shows that carbs from whole grains (including fiber) can help reduce the risk of some diseases, like colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are an important part of our diets. They keep our bodies healthy and functioning like they should. Oatmeal provides many vitamins and minerals in small amounts, including:
- Vitamin B6
Most of the fat content in steel cut oats comes from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, these fats should make up most of the fats that you eat.
These fats can help lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol, and contribute vitamin E to the diet, which many Americans don’t get enough of.
Can Oatmeal Help You Lose Weight?
There seems to be no doubt that oatmeal is nutritious—but can it help you lose weight? Unfortunately, oatmeal doesn’t have any particular weight loss benefits over other foods.
However, whole grains like oats can be included as a part of a well-balanced diet. Some of the nutrients they contain, such as fiber, do in fact support weight loss.
Oats are not a good source of protein, however, which is important for weight loss. Adding more healthy protein sources to your diet, along with whole grains like oats, can be a healthy choice for supporting weight loss.
How to Use Oatmeal to Support Weight Loss
Here are some recommendations for how to make your morning oatmeal a weight loss-friendly food.
Add Healthy Mix-Ins and Toppings
Oatmeal is the perfect canvas for a number of delicious toppings. Instead of adding traditional toppings such as brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey, try whole fruit such as berries, nut butter, or seeds/seed butter!
Fresh fruits are great options that can add more fiber and antioxidants to your breakfast. Chia seeds or nuts are also a heart healthy option that also support weight management.
Here are some examples of healthy toppings to add to your oatmeal:
- Banana slices
- Hemp seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Or, you can even make your oatmeal savory, adding vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, kale, or peppers or top it with an egg for more protein!
Opt For Steel Cut Oats Instead of Instant or Flavored Oatmeal
As we mentioned earlier, steel cut oats are minimally processed and therefore more nutritious. Steel cut oats have more than four times the amount of fiber as a package of instant oatmeal!
Instant oats can also have a higher glycemic index, which can lead to higher blood sugar spikes. Packaged instant and flavored oatmeal often contain added sugar and salt. For the healthiest oatmeal option, opt for steel cut or rolled oats instead.
Regulate Your Portion Sizes
Regulating portion sizes is an important part of any weight loss diet. Research shows that a larger amount of food on your plate or bowl can lead to decreased self-monitoring and unintentional overeating.
A higher serving size of oatmeal can also have an effect on your glycemic response, so try to stick to the recommended serving size. This will depend on the type of oatmeal you are eating, and will be listed on the nutrition facts label of its packaging.
Don’t Skip Breakfast!
Research shows that people who don’t eat breakfast may be more likely to have higher cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease. Skipping breakfast can also have a negative effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Oatmeal can be included as part of a healthy diet and breakfast option. However, if you are opting for a morning bowl of oatmeal, make sure to go easy on the added sugar and boost it with some protein to help keep you satiated, reduce the chance of a glucose spike, and reduce cravings later in the day.
Common Oatmeal Mistakes to Avoid For Promoting Weight Loss
We’ve shown that oatmeal is a nutritious option for breakfast, but if you’re turning to oats for weight loss support, here are some common breakfast mistakes you may want to avoid:
- Adding too much sugar or other sweeteners, which can add extra calories and lead to blood sugar spikes.
- Adding a larger amount of high-fat or whole milk, which can add extra calories.
- Not adding enough protein, which plays an important role for weight loss.
- Eating packaged instant or flavored oatmeal, which is usually highly processed and contains added sugars and salt.
5 Potential Health Benefits of Oatmeal
In addition to supporting weight loss, there are many more health benefits to oatmeal. Here are some of the potential reasons you may want to eat more oatmeal.
1) May Support Balanced Blood Sugar Levels
As we mentioned, oatmeal is a high-fiber food, which has been shown to support balanced blood sugar. Studies also show that steel cut oatmeal may not have a major impact on blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
While this research is promising, it’s important to remember that everyone responds differently to foods. People may tolerate carbohydrates differently - even whole grains like oats. Adding protein to your meal may help regulate blood sugar response.
2) May Support the Immune System
Oats are a good source of many nutrients that support the immune system, including beta-glucans, copper, iron, selenium, zinc, and antioxidants. These nutrients can help strengthen the immune system.
Some of these components may also enhance its response to infections, modulate the innate and adaptive immune system, and/or affect the gut microbiota that influence the immune system.
3) May Support Digestion
Oatmeal, as you know, is rich in dietary fiber. Fiber benefits and supports digestion by influencing the gut microbiome, helping stool pass through the body, decreasing constipation, and lowering your risk of developing hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, and colorectal cancer.
4) May Support Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Studies show that consumption of oats may help lower LDL cholesterol levels and support healthy blood pressure, largely due to their fiber content. Oatmeal also contains polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which can support healthy cholesterol levels.
5) Budget Friendly
Finally, oats and oatmeal are healthy for your wallet. Dry oats are typically relatively inexpensive, making them a budget-friendly choice for your daily breakfast.
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer at Nutrisense, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.