Whole-grain oatmeal is a good fit with most low-carb diets, and it’s low enough in calories that you can easily put it on the menu and still lose weight. Oatmeal’s fiber satisfies hunger, and its protein helps you feel satisfied after you eat. While you’ll need to be careful about toppings -- and avoid those that are high in sugar, fat, carbs or calories -- there are plenty of flavorful and nutritious options that turn a bowl of oatmeal into a meal.
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Oatmeal Fits a Low-Carb Diet
You have some leeway to choose the amount of carbs in your low-carb diet, but keep these guidelines in mind. Getting less than 130 grams of carbs daily is a low-carb diet, while fewer than 30 grams is a very-low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, reported Nutrition and Metabolism in 2008. During a low-carb diet, the body relies on breaking down fat and protein for energy. While a carefully planned ketogenic diet may sustain energy needs, it can cause side effects, so consult a health care provider before going that low in carbs. Also remember that if you follow an active lifestyle or you participate in endurance sports, a low-carb diet may not be the best weight-loss option.
As long as you’re not following a ketogenic diet, oatmeal definitely has a place in a low-carb menu. One cup of cooked oatmeal has 28 grams of total carbs. Whether you enjoy one bowl or more depends on your carb goal and the amount of other carbs consumed throughout the day. Oatmeal is a good choice for filling your carb quota because it's a whole grain that provides fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Nearly all of the carbs come from complex starches, which you digest slowly to provide long-term energy.
Calories in Oatmeal
Most women can lose weight by following a diet that contains 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily. For men, the range to lose weight is 1,500 to 1,800 calories. A more restrictive low-calorie diet is defined as 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for women and 1,200 to 1,600 calories for men, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Even at the lowest end of 1,000 calories daily, you can still fit oatmeal into a weight-loss diet.
Eating 1,000 calories daily breaks down into two snacks of 100 calories each and three meals that each provide 267 calories. If you omit snacks and only eat three meals, the calories go up to 333 per meal. Either way, the 166 calories you’ll get from 1 cup of regular oatmeal fits into the plan. Flavored instant oatmeal isn’t the best choice for weight loss. Even though one packet of instant cinnamon and spice oatmeal has 155 calories, it only yields a 3/4-cup serving and has 10 grams of added sugar. By comparison, regular unsweetened oatmeal has barely a trace of sugar.
Role of Oatmeal in Weight Loss
Oatmeal is well known as a source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, but you may not know that 1 cup also has 6 grams of protein, or 13 percent of women’s and 11 percent of men’s recommended dietary allowance. Fiber and protein make it easier to eat less because they help make you feel full. Both nutrients also keep blood sugar balanced, which is important for weight loss. Your body strives to keep blood sugar at a specific level, so when it spikes, the excess sugar is stored as fat.
According to a study in Nutrition Research in December 2015, adults who ate oatmeal over the 10-year period of the study weighed less and had a smaller waistline than adults who didn’t eat oatmeal. This study doesn’t prove that oatmeal is the sole reason people maintained a healthy weight. But research published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2013 indicated that people who ate oats lost more weight than other study participants who didn’t include them in their diets. More research is needed to verify the results, however, due to the small number of subjects in the study.
Tips for Using Oatmeal in a Low-Carb Diet
The wrong toppings on oatmeal can ruin your carb and calorie goals, but switching from sweet flavors to savory ones opens the door to a variety of healthy choices. When you go savory, consider using steel-cut oats because their chewy texture works better with vegetable toppings. Try combinations like mushrooms, onions and leafy greens, or zucchini, tomatoes and sprouts. Sliced beets, carrots and sunflower seeds also work well together. After you add the veggies, pull the flavors together with a touch of dressing such as a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or hot sauce, vinegar and lemon juice, and seasonings like garlic, basil and lemon pepper.
To stick with sweet oatmeal, go with toppings like yogurt and fruit, but avoid sweeteners -- even those that seem healthy like honey and agave. And just use a single serving of topping, such as 1/2 cup of fresh fruit, 1/4 cup of dried fruit, 1/2 cup of cooked veggies or 1 cup of raw veggies. For each serving of veggies, you'll add about 5 grams of carbs and 25 calories. Figure on 15 grams of carbs and 60 calories for each serving of fruit. Finally, remember to count up 12 grams of carbs and 90 calories for a 3/4-cup serving of nonfat yogurt.