Oatmeal and Ketosis

A steaming bowl of oatmeal in the morning makes for a great start to the day, but if you're on a keto diet, this soothing hot cereal may be off the table. To get into ketosis, you need to keep your carb intake very low, and the carbs in oatmeal may cause you to exceed your daily limit. However, you don't have to go without, once you know the secret to making "keto oatmeal."

Oatmeal doesn't work well with a keto diet. (Image: Arx0nt/iStock/GettyImages)

Keto Diet Details

The ketogenic diet strays from widely accepted healthy eating patterns, prescribing a diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein and very low in carbohydrates. The maximum amount of carbs allowed each day is 50 grams, according to registered dietitian Barbara Gordon. However, many keto diets recommend much less than that. For example, the Atkins 20 diet limits daily carb intake to 20 grams of net carbs.

The goal of severely restricting carbs is to get the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. In the absence of an immediate supply of carbs, your body will start breaking down fats. The breakdown of fatty acids produces substances called ketones, which your body and brain can use as an alternate source of energy.

The ketogenic diet has historically been used to help people with epilepsy manage their condition. There is some evidence that it may be helpful for Alzheimer's disease and other disorders of the brain, as well as diabetes, but research is nascent. The same goes for its efficacy as a weight-loss diet, for which it has become increasingly popular in the last several years.

Tip

Net carbs include fiber and sugar alcohols, which are both types of carbohydrates that have little to no effect on blood sugar. Therefore, most ketogenic diets count only sugars and starches — the amount left over once fiber and sugar alcohols are subtracted from the total carbs.

Dedicated keto followers claim the diet encourages more and faster fat loss and is more satisfying and filling than other diets. Just a handful of the other claims made about the benefits of the keto diet include:

  • Improved focus, memory and cognition
  • Better digestive and gallbladder health
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Increased energy and deeper sleep
  • Prevention of heart disease
  • Improved fertility and women's hormone balance
  • Improved kidney and liver function
  • Enhanced exercise performance

While there is some evidence that supports some of these claims, it is very limited says Gordon, and much of the research has been done on animals, not humans. As for weight loss, a primary contributor may simply be the fact that the ketogenic diet prohibits consuming a lot of unhealthy carbohydrate foods such as sweets, soda and snack foods. This naturally helps people control their calorie intake, so they may lose weight.

Oatmeal on Keto

Oatmeal isn't one of those unhealthy carbs. Oats are a whole grain, meaning that the milling process has not removed their germ, bran and endosperm — as well as their beneficial nutrients. They're a rich source of dietary fiber, as well as phosphorus, magnesium, thiamine and zinc, reports the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

But they typically aren't considered a ketogenic food because the carbs in oatmeal are high. According to the USDA, three-fourths cup of cooked oats contains 21 grams of carbs. Minus 3 grams of fiber, the net carb count is 18 grams. That's nearly the daily limit for a lot of keto diets, as well as Atkins 20.

The amount of carbs that can be consumed daily to remain in ketosis differs from person to person. While one person may need to strictly limit her intake to 20 grams of net carbs per day, another dieter may be able to have up to 50 grams per day. If you fall into the latter category — and you love oatmeal — you may be able to eat a small amount, depending on the other foods you eat throughout the day.

Staying in Ketosis

Whether you can eat oatmeal and still get (and stay) into ketosis is a case of trial and error. On the keto diet for beginners, it will be easier to tell if your carb intake is low enough (and your fat intake high enough), because there are some telltale signs — none of them very enjoyable. These include:

  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rash
  • Constipation or diarrhea

These are some of the signs that your body is producing ketones and adapting to a very low carb supply. Almost everyone who tries the keto diet experiences at least a few of these effects. If you aren't "feeling" it, you're probably not "in" it (ketosis, that is).

If you're already in ketosis and you've made it through the adjustment period, it will be harder to tell if you've fallen out of ketosis by adding oatmeal to your diet. Again, the effects of ketosis are anecdotal at best; it will largely depend on whether you observe any differences in the way you feel.

Other Oatmeal Options

If oatmeal doesn't work in your keto diet, don't fret. There are tons of "keto oatmeal" recipes on the internet using seeds and other keto-approved ingredients that, when cooked correctly, promise a similar texture and flavor. They'll also match — or beat — the nutrient content of oats.

For example, combine hemp hearts, flaxseed meal, chia seeds and coconut milk, which are all nutritional powerhouses that will keep you in ketosis while giving you the nutrients you need to stay energized. You can also add coconut flour and heavy cream to the mix. For both of these recipes, preparation is simple: Just add all the ingredients to a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened.

A bowl full of seeds and nut flour can be a little boring, though. Give your breakfast a little oomph by adding fresh raspberries, which are a low-carb fruit option. You can also add keto-approved nuts such as pecans and a dash of cinnamon.

Gotta have a little sweetness? Add some erythritol — a natural sugar alcohol — to the pot, or toss in some dark chocolate chips made with stevia. You can also find sugar-free versions of brown sugar and maple syrup to give your "oatmeal" a more traditional maple-pecan or brown sugar and cinnamon flavor.

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