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How to Build a Better Bowl of Oatmeal

by
author image Mike Roussell
Since 2002 Mike Roussell has written for publications both mainstream and academic ranging from "Men's Health" magazine and "Men's Fitness" magazine to the "Journal of Clinical Lipidology" and "Nutrition in the Treatment and Prevention of Disease." Dr. Roussell holds a B.S. with high honors in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University.
How to Build a Better Bowl of Oatmeal
Blueberries work with the fiber in oatmeal to reduce cholesterol levels in your blood. Photo Credit iStockPhoto.com

Overview

If you want a high-performance, energy-producing, cholesterol-lowering breakfast, oatmeal is tough to beat.

What you consume at breakfast directly impacts how your brain functions, and unlike its counterparts in cartoon-covered boxes, oatmeal is a slow-digesting, high-fiber option that leads to better focus and mental performance throughout the day. While refined breakfast cereals with added sugar provide a short-term boost of energy, the payback is a crash that produces hunger pangs and leaves you feeling sluggish.

Oatmeal, whether steel cut or the old-fashioned Quaker version (though not the one-minute “instant” stuff), sets the metabolic stage for you to have a healthy and productive day. After breakfast, the body is metabolically primed so that when you consume your next meal that day, your blood sugar levels are better controlled. Maintaining control of blood sugar levels is key for those looking to lose weight.

The so-called “second meal effect” causes your body to take more of the carbohydrates you eat at lunch and store them as energy in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Increasing glycogen stores is another big benefit for hard-training athletes looking to improve performance.

While plain old oatmeal is a great option for both serious athletes and regular Joes and Janes, it can be made even better with a couple of simple tweaks. Here’s how you can leverage oatmeal’s strengths into an even more ideal breakfast.

Upgrade with Protein

Breakfast typically is a carbohydrate-focused meal, but adding a protein source - such as Greek yogurt, scrambled eggs, or a scoop of protein powder – to your oatmeal offers three distinct benefits.

1. Kick Start Protein Synthesis – Your body uses protein to rebuild itself as you sleep, so come morning you’re in need of a protein boost. Just 20 to 30 grams of protein is enough to “flip on” your body’s muscle-building switch and maximize your its ability to stack amino acids into protein and muscle. The morning is an especially good time to do this since your body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated (cortisol runs on a circadian rhythm and is higher in the morning). Adding protein to your breakfast will stimulate protein synthesis, counteracting cortisol’s muscle degradation mechanism.

2. Make Better Choices – Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center discovered that an interesting rewiring of our brains occurs with higher protein breakfasts. In a small pilot study, they found that people who ate a high protein breakfast (versus those who ate low-protein morning meals or skipped breakfast entirely) experienced decreased activity in the part of the brain associated with reward-driven eating behaviors. These changes persisted for several hours after breakfast – indicating that a higher-protein breakfast helps you better control food cravings later in the day.

3. Feel More Satisfied – Protein has a satiating effect by controlling blood sugar and stimulating the hormone CCK (Cholecystokinin), which acts on the brain to increase feelings of fullness. This is especially beneficial for those looking to lose weight. Researchers at Purdue University found that dieters who increased protein at breakfast enjoyed sustained feelings of fullness after breakfast, though not at other meals.

Add In Antioxidants

The last tweak to our oatmeal makeover is the addition of high-octane antioxidants –namely blueberries. The antioxidants in these delicious little blue gems complement the blood sugar-controlling effects of a protein-rich breakfast by improving your body’s ability to store and process carbohydrates.

Blueberries also form a powerful pair with oatmeal’s fiber, which reduces your blood cholesterol levels and in turn lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease. Research shows that daily consumption of the antioxidants found in blueberries can help lower blood pressure, another major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Even if your breakfast consisted of a cup of oatmeal on its lonesome, your day would be off to a great nutritional start. But by pairing that high-fiber carb and combining it with muscle-boosting protein and antioxidant-rich blueberries, you’ve given yourself perhaps the best start possible.

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