With a combination of complex carbohydrates and protein, as well as a low glycemic index, steel-cut oats are a great choice for breakfast when you're trying to lose or maintain weight. This minimally processed whole grain will fill you up and keep you energized all day long.
All types of oatmeal have the fiber and protein you need for losing weight, but steel-cut oats have an advantage because of their lower glycemic index.
Eat Breakfast for Weight Loss
If you're trying to lose weight, giving your body some fuel first thing in the morning is important. The Mayo Clinic emphasizes that breakfast is important for weight-conscious people because breakfast eaters tend to gain less weight and have smaller waist circumferences; additionally, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicates that children who eat breakfast have fewer hunger pangs throughout the day and are more likely to maintain a healthier weight.
But a breakfast isn't going to help your weight-loss efforts if you start the day off eating the wrong thing. A combination of complex carbohydrates and protein will give you the energy you need. Oats, most commonly eaten in the form of hot porridge, deliver both these nutrients.
What’s in Oats?
Unlike wheat or rice, which are often available in refined forms, oats are always processed as a whole grain and never have their bran or germ removed from their endosperm, according to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. This is important because the bran and germ contain many vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Oats are packed with fiber, specifically a type called beta-glucan, which improves blood glucose. Another benefit of this grain is its protein content. With 14 percent of its calories coming from protein, oatmeal has the edge on other grains when it comes to this muscle-building macronutrient.
The calories in oats are minimal for the nutrition they pack. A quarter-cup of Quaker steel-cut oats (40 grams), measured dry, has about 150 calories with 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber (of 27 grams of total carbohydrates), per the USDA.
The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council lists many vitamins and minerals that can be found in oats: Oats are high in potassium, low in sodium, and they have B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate and pantothenic acid. Their mineral content includes iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium.
Lose Weight With Oats
The great combination of fiber and protein makes oatmeal a superb choice for weight loss. According to a November 2017 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, a high-carbohydrate diet with plenty of fiber and reduced amounts of saturated fat and total fat, when followed in a way that reduces overall calories, can be conducive to losing weight and preventing diabetes. With complex carbohydrates and very little fat, oatmeal falls into this eating plan.
Fiber is especially important for weight control because, per the American Academy of Family Physicians, it helps with satiety, so you eat less overall. Adults should consume between 21 and 38 grams of fiber depending on their age and gender.
The protein in oats also accounts for their potential weight loss benefits. A June 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition observed that higher-protein diets, specifically those with 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal, were effective in improving appetite, managing weight and improving overall health outcomes.
Even more support exists for the combination of fiber and protein in an October 2018 study in Nutrition. Though a small sample size, in this study 14 obese adults spent 12 weeks consuming 35 grams of fiber and 0.8 grams of lean protein per kilogram of their ideal body weight.
By striving to attain both these nutritional aspects, the test subjects ended up reducing their calorie intake, improving the overall quality of their diets and — maybe most important — losing weight.
Best Oats for Weight Loss
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If you're looking for the best oats for weight loss, it's important to understand that not all types of oatmeal are exactly the same. Oats can be processed in three different ways, and although each method retains the whole grain, and the oats' calories are the same regardless, they have slight differences when it comes to digestion:
- Steel-cut oats: As the name suggests, these oats are made by chopping the freshly harvested oat groats with a steel blade.
- Rolled oats: The oat groats are steamed and flattened into flakes, making them easier to cook.
- Instant oats: Similar to rolled oats but steamed for longer and flattened thinner so they can cook even faster.
According to an October 2015 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the processing that makes rolled and instant oats easy to cook in boiling water also raises their glycemic index when digested. The minimally processed steel-cut oats have a lower glycemic response, meaning they are better for your blood sugar levels and overall energy. That could potentially make them the best oats for weight loss.
Still, when it comes to its nutritional panel, any plain oatmeal is the best oatmeal for weight loss. The calorie, carb, fiber and protein amounts are all the same for steel-cut oats, rolled oats and instant oats. It's when you start looking at flavored and sweetened oatmeal that you run the risk of adding unnecessary calories and sugar. Oats' calories aren't high naturally, but when you add a lot of junk, they can add up.
A packet of Quaker instant oatmeal flavored with cinnamon and spices, for example, has 166 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 3.6 grams of fiber and 11.4 grams of sugar. That's only 16 more calories than 40 grams of plain oatmeal, but it's where the calories are coming from that matters: The flavored oatmeal has more sugar and less protein.
For lifters who are wondering about the best oats brand for the gym, some brands, such as Quaker, produce protein-fortified instant oatmeal, but there's another option for those who are trying to watch their sugar intake while adding whole-food protein sources — making your own. Start with plain oatmeal and add almond butter or peanut butter, milk, seeds or even an all-natural protein powder.
Athletes can rest assured that oatmeal is a good choice because the complex carbohydrates will provide a steady stream of energy during a training session or competition, and the low levels of fat will help them avoid the upset stomach that they risk when eating fatty or greasy food.
Oatmeal makes an easy breakfast, but you don't have to limit it to your morning meal. Try having it as an afternoon pick-me-up or a late-night snack before bed — it's a great option whether you're trying to lose weight or just increase your consumption of whole grains and overall nutrients.
- Journal of Nutrition: “A High-Carbohydrate, High-Fiber, Low-Fat Diet Results in Weight Loss Among Adults at High Risk of Type 2 Diabetes”
- Nutrition: “A Nonrestrictive, Weight Loss Diet Focused on Fiber and Lean Protein Increase”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Fiber: How to Increase the Amount in Your Diet”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Nutrition for Athletes”
- Mayo Clinic: “Why Breakfast May Be Key to Trimming Your Belly”
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance”
- Nutrition Reviews: “Dietary Fiber and Satiety: The Effects of Oats on Satiety”
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Oats”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Cereals, Oats, Instant”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Steel Cut Oats”
- British Journal of Nutrition: “Systematic Review of the Effect of Processing of Whole-Grain Oat Cereals on Glycaemic Response”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Breakfast: Key to Growing Healthy"