There's a reason oatmeal is a beneficial part of a weight-loss diet: It's high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, can keep you full and boasts a host of other health-supporting perks. But what is the best oatmeal for weight loss, exactly?
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Here, learn about the benefits of oatmeal, the best oats to eat for weight loss, how to eat them and recipes to try.
All types of plain oats have the fiber and other nutrients needed to help you lose weight, but steel-cut oats have an advantage because of their lower glycemic index.
Weight-Loss Benefits of Oatmeal
Oatmeal isn't just tasty — it also has a number of benefits that can help you lose weight, including:
1. It's Nutrient-Dense
Oats are nutrient-dense grains to include in your diet, whether or not your goal is weight loss. Unlike other common grains like wheat or rice, oats are always processed as a whole grain, which preserves the nutritious bran and germ, according to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council.
Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one 1/2 cup serving of dry Quaker oats contains:
- Calories: 134
- Protein: 5 g
- Fat: 1.1 g
- Carbs: 29 g
- Fiber: 4.8 g
- Sugar: 1 g
- Calcium: 14.4 mg
- Iron: 1.15 mg
- Magnesium: 46 mg
- Phosphorus: 138 mg
- Potassium: 129 mg
- Sodium: 2.8 mg
- Zinc: 1.28 mg
2. It Keeps You Full
Oats are packed with fiber, specifically a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. One of the benefits of fiber is that it can help you feel full. Beta-glucan mixes with water to thicken food in your intestines, which slows down digestion to help you feel satiated longer.
And feeling full can help you eat less overall, which can contribute to weight loss, per the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
3. It Gives You Energy
And oatmeal is a great snack to fuel your workout: Its complex carbohydrates provide a steady stream of energy during a training session, and the low levels of fat won't slow you down or upset your stomach like higher-fat snacks might, according to the AAFP.
Just make sure to eat it an hour or two before your workout and avoid adding high-fat ingredients like whole milk or butter.
Though it may be tempting to reach for a protein-fortified instant oatmeal before your workout, stick to plain oatmeal with naturally protein-rich toppings like nut butter or seeds to avoid excess sugar.
4. It May Help Regulate Blood Sugar
Another benefit of the fiber in oatmeal is that it may help lower blood sugar levels, per the Mayo Clinic. That's because it can slow your body's absorption of sugar to help you avoid sudden blood glucose fluctuations.
High blood sugar can trigger hunger. So keeping your levels in check can help you avoid eating too much and gaining excess weight, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
5. It May Help Lower Cholesterol Levels
Similarly, the fiber in oatmeal may help reduce your cholesterol levels, too, per the Mayo Clinic. Beta-glucan can bind to cholesterol-rich substances in your body and move them through your digestive system until they're flushed out, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
6. It May Help Lower Blood Pressure
Having overweight or obesity may contribute to hypertension, per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. But oatmeal's high fiber content could help lower blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And fiber isn't the only beneficial nutrient when it comes to blood pressure — oats also contain antioxidants called avenanthramides, which may likewise help reduce blood pressure in adults with pre- or early-stage hypertension, according to May 2020 research in Current Developments in Nutrition.
7. It Can Prevent Constipation
The fiber in oatmeal is also good for your digestive health: It can help you have regular bowel movements, increase the bulk of your stool and prevent constipation, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
And while constipation can't cause weight gain, developing beneficial habits like eating plenty of fiber can help you avoid bowel troubles and manage your weight all at once, according to the Mayo Clinic.
How Much Fiber Should You Eat?
Per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim to eat the following amount of fiber per day:
- People assigned female at birth: 22 to 28 g
- People assigned male at birth: 28 to 34 g
The Best Oats for Weight Loss
If you're wondering which oats are best for weight loss, it's important to understand that not all types of oatmeal are exactly the same. Oats are typically processed in three different ways, and although each method retains the whole grain and calorie content, they have slight differences when it comes to your digestion.
1. Steel-Cut Oats
As the name suggests, these oats are made by chopping the freshly harvested oat groats with a steel blade, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The minimally processed steel-cut oats have a lower glycemic response (meaning they take longer to digest), which is better for your blood sugar levels and overall energy, according to an October 2015 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. This makes them the best oatmeal to lose weight.
2. Rolled Oats
These oat groats are steamed and flattened into flakes, making them easier to cook and digest, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
However, the British Journal of Nutrition research mentioned above found that the processing that makes rolled oats easier to cook and digest also raises their glycemic index. And a higher glycemic index can cause your blood sugar levels to rise, which over time can contribute to weight gain, according to the Mayo Clinic. As a result, rolled oats may not be as ideal as steel-cut oats for weight loss.
3. Instant Oats
Instant oats are similar to rolled oats, but they are steamed for longer and flattened thinner so they can cook even faster. And like rolled oats, they have a higher glycemic index that may lead to blood sugar fluctuations, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
When it comes to selecting the best oatmeal to eat to lose weight, though, these plain oats share similar nutritional panels — steel-cut oats are the frontrunner because of their lower glycemic index. Nutrition-wise, eating flavored and sweetened oatmeals runs the risk of adding unnecessary calories and sugar to your diet, which can contribute to weight gain, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Best Oatmeal Brands for Weight Loss
How to Eat Oats for Weight Loss
Now that you know the best oatmeal for weight loss, here are some tips to keep in mind when you eat it.
1. Mind Your Portion Size
The recommended serving size of 1/2 cup of dry oats makes for a low-calorie oatmeal snack. But oats are nutrient- and calorie-dense, so eating larger portions may lead to extra calorie intake, which can get in the way of your weight-loss goals, per the Mayo Clinic.
2. Limit or Avoid Sugary Toppings
While loading your oatmeal with sugar or butter can be tasty, those toppings contain added sugars, trans and saturated fats, which don't support weight loss, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Instead, dress your oatmeal with fresh fruit, nut butters or seeds to add flavor.
3. Skip Flavored Oats
Similarly, skip sweetened or flavored oatmeals and instead opt for plain oatmeal with plant-based toppings. Flavored oats typically contain added sugars that can get in the way of weight loss, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
4. Ease Into Fiber
If fiber isn't already a regular part of your eating habits, ease into it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Too much fiber too fast can lead to gas, bloating or stomach cramping. To avoid these symptoms and give your body time to adjust, add fiber into your diet little by little over the course of a few weeks until you're eating your daily recommended amount.
Recipes and Toppings to Try
Ready for a tasty breakfast or snack? Try these oatmeal recipes:
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Nutrition for Athletes”
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Oats”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Cereals, Oats, Instant”
- British Journal of Nutrition: “Systematic Review of the Effect of Processing of Whole-Grain Oat Cereals on Glycaemic Response”
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Oats"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Current Developments in Nutrition: "Chronic Vascular Effects of Oat Phenolic Acids and Avenanthramides in Pre- or Stage 1 Hypertensive Adults"
- Cleveland Clinic: "My Diabetes Is Controlled — But Why Am I Gaining Weight?"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "High Cholesterol (Dyslipidemia)"
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Glycemic index diet: What's behind the claims"
- Cleveland Clinic: "The Best (and Only) Weight Loss Tips You Need to Know"
- Nutrients: "The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"