A warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning is a soothing, satisfying breakfast that's sure to get you going and keep you going until lunch. But if you're following one of the many low-carb diets out there, the carbs in oatmeal may mean it's off limits.
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However, the verdict is still out on whether low-carb diets work better than any other diet for weight loss. Oatmeal and other whole grains offer proven weight-loss benefits, so continuing to eat oatmeal might be a better choice than striking it from the menu.
Oats are not on the list of low-carb foods. Some low-carb diets will allow you to eat oatmeal even though it is high in carbs. Oatmeal may have benefits for weight loss due to its protein and fiber.
Low-carb diets require that you limit your intake of carbohydrate foods such as starchy vegetables, grains and grain products and sugary foods and beverages. The requirements of different low-carb diets vary significantly.
Whether or not you can eat oatmeal on a low-carb diet and whether or not it will help you lose weight are two separate questions. If you're set on adhering to a low-carb diet, either because you believe that it will help you lose weight or because you've already seen good results from the diet, the type of diet you're following will dictate whether or not you can eat oatmeal.
Liberal Low-Carb Diets
The minimum recommended intake for carbs is about 130 grams per day, according to the National Academy of Medicine. That means that technically anything below that is low-carb.
These diets typically aim for 100 to 150 grams of carbs daily, according to Dr. Anthony Gustin, DC, MS. The primary goal is to cut out unhealthy, simple carbs from junk foods, refined grains, sweets and soda.
Moderate Low-Carb Diets
The second tier of low-carb diets recommends intakes between 50 and 100 grams of net carbs. Depending on where your carb intake is along this spectrum, you may or may not be able to fit in a serving of oatmeal each day.
Strict Low-Carb Diets
Diets that restrict carbohydrate intake to fewer than 50 grams of net carbs per day are considered very low-carb diets. For example, on a keto diet 50 grams is usually the maximum amount each day, but to remain in ketosis it is recommended to aim for closer to 20 to 30 grams of net carbs.
Net carbs are the total carbs minus those from fiber and sugar alcohols.
Carbs in Oatmeal
There's no such thing as "low-carb grains," but oatmeal is lower in net carbs than many other grains, according to Daisy Whitbread, MScN. A regular serving size is usually 1/2 cup of dry oats, according to Healthline. One serving of natural, whole-grain oatmeal provides 28 grams of carbs and 24.5 grams of net carbs, according to the USDA Nutrient Database. Plain, instant oatmeal is slightly lower in carbs, with 27 total grams and 23 net grams.
Flavored oatmeal can be higher in carbs due to the addition of sugar and fruit. For example, instant oatmeal with apples and cinnamon has 31 total carbs and 27.5 grams of net carbs.
How Oatmeal Fits In
If you're following a liberal carbohydrate diet and eating 100 to 150 grams of net carbs each day, one serving of plain instant oatmeal would make up 15 to 23 percent of your daily carb intake. As long as you manage your carbs, one serving of oatmeal is totally doable.
If you're following a stricter diet of 50 to 100 grams, that bowl of oatmeal will comprise 23 to 46 percent of your carb intake. That's going to make fitting in oatmeal challenging, but not necessarily impossible, depending on the other carbs you eat throughout the day.
If you are on a very-low carb diet and restricting your intake to 20 to 50 grams of net carbs, a serving of oatmeal will provide more than half your daily carb needs or exceed them altogether.
Weight Loss Benefits of Oatmeal
If you're following a liberal or moderate low-carb diet, it's worth fitting in oatmeal on a regular basis as it may have specific weight-loss benefits from its fiber and protein contents. One serving of instant oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber and 6.5 grams of protein.
Oats are a particularly good source of one type of fiber called soluble fiber, which attracts water and becomes viscous in the stomach, according to a study in the journal Nutrients in 2016. This can provide feelings of fullness and satiety that will help you control your calorie intake. Soluble fiber can also slow stomach emptying, so you feel fuller longer, reports a 2016 study in Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Protein has similar effects, helping to modulate energy metabolism, appetite and energy intake, according to a 2015 review of research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In a 2018 study in the journal Nutrition, even participants who did not restrict their calorie intake lost weight simply by increasing their intake of fiber and protein.
How Much Fiber You Need
The National Academy of Medicine's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fiber is 38 grams daily for men and 25 grams for women. In the Nutrition study, the goal for the participants was to increase daily fiber intake to 35 grams. It might be even better for women to aim for a higher intake than the RDA.
As for protein, the Nutrition study and the National Academy both recommend 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. If you weigh 145 pounds, for example, you should aim for a daily protein intake of 53 grams.
If you decide to skip the oatmeal, there are plenty of low-carb foods that can help you increase your fiber and protein intake. Low-starch vegetables such as celery, spinach, kale, broccoli and cabbage are packed with fiber and other beneficial nutrients.
Most animal sources of protein are low in carbs like beef, chicken, fish and meat. Nuts, seeds and tofu are lower carb sources of plant protein, and they also provide fiber.
Read more: The "Do Not Eat" List for Low-Carb Diets
- Tufts Now: New Study Suggests That Eating Whole Grains Increases Metabolism and Calorie Loss
- National Academy of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Perfect Keto: 12 Low Carb Diets Compared: A Complete Guide
- Healthline: Does the Oatmeal Diet Get Real Weight Loss Results?
- USDA: Full Report (All Nutrients): 45210506, Natural Oatmeal, UPC: 812169002944
- USDA: Basic Report: 08640, Cereals, Quaker, Instant Oatmeal Organic, Regular
- USDA: Basic Report: 08124, Cereals, Quaker, Instant Oatmeal, Apples and Cinnamon, Dry
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance
- Nutrients: Soluble Fiber With High Water-Binding Capacity, Swelling Capacity, and Fermentability Reduces Food Intake by Promoting Satiety Rather Than Satiation in Rats
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Impact of Soluble Dietary Fibre on Gastric Emptying, Postprandial Blood Glucose and Insulin in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes
- Nutrition: A Nonrestrictive, Weight Loss Diet Focused on Fiber and Lean Protein Increase
- MyFoodData: Grains Low in Net Carbs