If you think of oatmeal as something for babies and old folks, it's time to reconsider. This hearty grain is an easy option you're going to want to adopt into your routine. Oatmeal has nutrition benefits that are great for weight management, digestion, cholesterol and other aspects of wellbeing.
Oatmeal is a whole-grain option that has plenty of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals to keep you powered throughout the day. It's a great option for people who are trying to lower their cholesterol or lose weight.
Read more: Is Oatmeal Fattening?
Start the Day Off Right
Traditionally considered a breakfast food, oatmeal is a cereal grain in the same family that contains wheat, barley and rye, of which the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults get between six and eight servings, depending on their age and gender. Oats are among the few grains to never go through a refinement process, wherein the healthy bran and germ are removed, so any version of oats counts as a whole grain.
Many people prepare oatmeal as a hot cereal to enjoy for what has come to be known as the most important meal of the day. Per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, breakfast is good for reducing hunger pains later in the morning, and children who eat breakfast have better concentration and muscle coordination. Eating a nutritious breakfast can even help adults avoid weight gain.
Oatmeal and Nutrition
The reason oatmeal is a great choice for breakfast (or any meal of the day for that matter) is that it has lots of carbohydrates for energy, along with some protein and healthy fats. Oats have fiber, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. Oats also have properties that are good for the immune system and for antioxidation.
The fiber in oatmeal is known as soluble fiber, which stops cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream and ultimately lowers your low-density lipoprotein, commonly known as your LDL cholesterol (or "bad cholesterol").
Because oatmeal is a great source of fiber, it is good for satiety. The fiber makes you feel full and slows your digestion so you feel full longer. This is especially helpful for people who are trying to lose weight.
Oatmeal comes in several different forms depending on how it is prepared. The most basic are oat groats, which are the kernels when they are harvested and have had their hulls removed. These groats, which take the longest out of any oat form to cook, are used to make the other various forms of oatmeal.
Steel-cut oats, as their name suggests, are those groats cut up by steel blades into smaller pieces. When the groats are steamed and rolled into small flakes, they are old-fashioned rolled oats. If they are steamed longer and rolled into thinner flakes, they become even easier to cook and are thus known as instant oats or quick oats.
Each form of oatmeal is considered a whole grain and has a similar nutritional panel. Oatmeal calories are in similar amounts to other grains: A recommended half-cup serving of Quaker quick oats has about 148 calories, 3.8 grams of fiber and 5.5 grams of protein. Oats nutrition for a 100-gram serving would be about 371 calories with 9.4 grams of fiber and 13.7 grams of protein. Steel-cut oats and rolled oats nutrition facts are practically identical.
As a grain, oatmeal is frequently considered a carbohydrate. About 70 percent of its calories come from complex carbohydrates. Of the remaining oatmeal calories, about 14 percent come from fat and 15 percent come from protein.
While few people would consider oatmeal a protein source similar to meat or tofu, it does have a decent amount of protein — in fact, a study published in April 2012 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition noted that oats "are distinct among cereals due to their considerably higher protein concentration."
The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council also points out that oats have more fat than other grains. This fat, mostly unsaturated, comes from the endosperm and the germ part of the grain.
Watch Out for Added Sugar
Although steel-cut oats, rolled oats and instant oats all have similar nutritional profiles, don't assume that every box of oatmeal on the market is the same. Instant oatmeal that comes flavored and sweetened often has a ton of added sugar.
For example, a packet of Quaker maple and brown sugar instant oatmeal (about 43 grams, or 1.5 ounces) has 33.1 grams of total carbohydrates and 12.9 grams of sugar, up from the 27 grams of total carbs and .6 grams of sugar in the half-cup of plain oatmeal.
Furthermore, most individual packets of flavored oatmeal are larger than 1 ounce. A packet of Quaker cinnamon and spice oatmeal has about 166 calories with 11 grams of sugar. However, the flavored oatmeal does have one advantage: Because it is fortified, it has more iron and calcium.
Name brands of oatmeal on the market include not only Quaker but also Bob's Red Mill, McCann's and Mom's Best Naturals. Check the nutritional label and ingredient list for added sugars and any fortified vitamins and minerals to make an informed oats nutrition choice.
If you really want the most control over oatmeal calories how healthy your oatmeal is, buy the plain stuff and flavor it yourself with fruit, nuts, cinnamon and a small amount of honey or maple syrup.
Eat More Oats and Grains
If you're trying to be healthier by incorporating more oats and other whole grains into your diet, there are plenty of options to try. Oatmeal makes a great easy breakfast or snack, but if it gets boring to eat the same thing every day, you could try mixing it up with other hot cereals like whole-grain cream of wheat or whole-kernel grits.
There are also many ready-to-eat cereals that are a healthy alternative — just be sure to check the ingredient list to make sure whole grains are listed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers creative tips for adding oats to what you're already eating: Use oats or oat flour in recipes when you're baking cookies or muffins, or try out oats as breading for meat and vegetables when you prepare them.
Last but not least, there's the increasingly popular option of overnight oats, which helps you avoid the rush of trying to let your cereal cook while you're getting ready in the morning. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has some good ideas.
It's time to stop thinking of oatmeal as boring food and start thinking of it as a powerhouse that's great for long-term health.
- Mayo Clinic: “Cholesterol: Top Foods to Improve Your Numbers”
- Iowa State University: “News You Can Use”
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: “All About the Grains Group”
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: “Why Is It Important to Eat Grains, Especially Whole Grains?”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet”
- Mayo Clinic: “Why Breakfast May Be Key to Trimming Your Belly”
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Types of Grains”
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Oats”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “5 Whole Grains to Keep Your Family Healthy”
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Quaker Instant Oatmeal Maple And Brown Sugar Dry"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Quaker Quick Oats Dry"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Proteins in Oats; Their Synthesis and Changes During Germination: A Review"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "TIPS: Make Half Your Grains Whole Grains"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Overnight Oats"