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 the benefits of oats for weight loss though; stick to flavorings that add nutritional value and promote fat loss, and avoid sugary or fatty toppings that add lots of calories.
Fiber to Reduce Appetite
Oats are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which is a key nutrient for weight loss. Adding more fiber to your diet is one of the simplest ways to shed pounds, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Fiber is low in calories and helps keep you full longer so you're less likely to overeat.
A packet of Quaker regular instant oatmeal contains 4 grams of fiber, which slows digesting and take longer to break down in your body so you have less room for foods that are not as nutrient-dense, such as refined carbohydrates. 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.
A study published in Nutrition Journal in 2014 concluded that oatmeal, in both instant and old-fashioned form, is more effective for satiety than ready-to-eat cereals. By starting your day off with a hot bowl of oatmeal, you may be able to resist snacking and keep your total daily calorie count to a minimum.
Read more: 19 High-Fiber Foods — Some May Surprise You!
Avoid Sugary Instant Oats
Regardless of which texture of oats or oatmeal you choose — from chewy steel-cut oats to creamier instant oats — buy plain oats without added flavorings. Packaged flavored oatmeal is often 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, according to the USDA.
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.
Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss
Avoid Fatty, Sugary Add-Ins
Instead of flavoring your oatmeal with sugar, top your oats with healthy mix-ins that help you lose weight. 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.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
Eating Oats for Weight Loss
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 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.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cereals, Oats, Regular and Quick, Not Fortified, Dry"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cereals, QUAKER, Instant Oatmeal, Maple and Brown Sugar, Dry"
- UMass Medical School: "When it Comes to Diets, One Simple Change can be Effective"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Nutrient List"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Protein, Carbs and Weight Loss"
- My Food Data: "Nutrition Comparison of Peanut Butter Chunk Style With Salt and Whole Milk"
- My Food Data: "Nutrition Comparison of Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Cereals, QUAKER, Instant Oatmeal Organic, Regular"
- Nutrition Journal: "The Role of Meal Viscosity and Oat β-glucan Characteristics in Human Appetite Control: A Randomized Crossover Trial"