Oats are a healthy diet staple for many good reasons -- they're affordable, endlessly customizable and packed with nutrients like healthy carbs and fiber. They're also a great option when you're trying to lose weight, so you should incorporate them into your weight-loss diet at least a few times a week. How you serve your oats can have a big impact on their weight-loss benefits, though; stick to flavorings that add nutritional value and promote fat loss, and avoid sugary or fatty toppings that add lots of calories.
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Avoid Sugary Instant Oats
Regardless of which texture of oats you choose -- from chewy steel-cut oats to creamier instant oats -- buy plain oats without added flavorings. Packaged flavored oatmeal often comes loaded with sugar, which adds calories without boosting the oats' nutritional value. For example, one packet of a commercially available maple and brown sugar-flavored oatmeal has 158 calories and 13 grams of sugar, while a one-third cup serving of plain rolled oats -- enough to make roughly a half-cup of cooked oatmeal -- has just 102 calories and less than a gram of sugar.
Switching from a serving of flavored oatmeal to plain oats every morning saves you more than 20,000 calories over the course of a year -- enough to lose more than 5 pounds without making any other changes to your diet.
Eat Oats With Fiber-Rich Toppings
Instead of flavoring your oatmeal with sugar, top your oats with healthy mix-ins that help you lose weight. One key nutrient for weight loss is fiber, according to research performed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Fiber helps keep you full, so you're less likely to overeat, and simply adding more fiber to your diet is one of the simplest ways to shed pounds, according to UMass. Boost your oats' fiber content by adding a handful of berries -- raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or strawberries -- for only 25 to 40 calories per half-cup.
Avoid Fatty and Sugary Add-ins
While you might be tempted to sweeten your oats with "healthy" sugars like maple syrup, honey or agave, these sweeteners all count as added sugar and offer little nutritional value. Instead, add sweetness with a spoonful of sugar-free applesauce or banana puree. Or mix a drop of stevia -- a natural, calorie-free sweetener -- into your oats.
You also want to avoid fatty toppings to promote weight loss. Peanut butter, for example, offers some nutritional benefits, but it's also packed with fat and has 188 calories per 2-tablespoon serving, so you could potentially add hundreds of calories to your breakfast if you don't watch your portion size. And making your oatmeal with whole milk could thwart your weight loss efforts, too -- one cup has 149 calories and 8 grams of fat. Make your oats with water instead to keep your calorie intake low.
Ways to Serve Oats to Lose Weight
One of the benefits of oatmeal for weight loss is its adaptability -- you can mix and match toppings, textures and cooking techniques to get a different-tasting bowl each time, so you're less likely to get bored with your diet and quit. Try baking a mixture of steel-cut oats, unsweetened almond milk, banana puree and cinnamon for rich-but-healthy "banana bread" oatmeal. You can bake a big batch on the weekends, then separate it into smaller servings to eat throughout the week. Experiment with different spices to add more flavor -- a dash of cardamom perfectly complements fresh chopped cherries, while a touch of cayenne pepper can work well in cacao-flavored oats.
To make your oats even better for weight loss, stir in an egg white or two as the oats cook; then add your favorite toppings. The egg whites won't significantly affect the flavor of your oatmeal, but they'll add beneficial protein. That's key for shedding pounds, according to the Harvard School of Public Health -- it makes your burn more calories during digestion, and it also keeps you full after your meal, which may help you eat less.