Oatmeal is a favorite breakfast staple in my home and as a registered dietitian I recommend it to my patients on a regular basis. Not only does this great grain provide soluble fiber to lower cholesterol, it has also been found to reduce post-meal hunger for up to four hours! That’s great news for those of us who get hungry soon after eating breakfast. One study found that people who ate oatmeal were less hungry later than those who ate cold cereal. Both groups were served the same number of calories, but it’s likely that the oatmeal with soluble fiber and more protein than the other cereal helped stave off the morning munchies.
With so many choices lining the cereal aisles, what do you need to look for when making a healthy choice? Whether you select slow cooked or instant, plain or flavored, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s taste buds, nutrition goals and even match one’s morning schedule (some of us would rather not spend 20-30 minutes slow cooking oats on a busy work morning). Check out these things when reading food labels.
First look for the number of calories per serving. Most plain oatmeal with a standard one cup cooked serving size has 150 calories. Flavored oatmeal in packets or single-serve microwavable cups run the gamut for calories ranging from as low as 100 calories to a high 260 calories per serving.
In general oatmeal is not high in sodium unlike dry cereals that can contain upwards of 300 milligrams! In fact old fashioned oats have no sodium, while a packet of instant oats can have between 240-350 milligrams. It’s ideal to get the lowest amount of sodium possible, less than 100 milligrams per serving, especially if your medical needs require that you keep your sodium count low as part of a healthy eating plan. Generally people with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes need to keep sodium below 1,500 milligrams a day. Speak with your registered dietitian to find out how much daily sodium you need.
Further down the list of nutrients are total carbs and sugars. If you are trying to be carb-conscious you will notice that whether you prefer plain oats or flavored, there are about 30 grams of carbs per serving. The exception is some of the “new” single serve cups (ex. Quaker® Real Medleys) that contain closer to 50 grams of carbs (and 260 calories). If you have diabetes you may need to watch carbs more closely. A registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator can work with you to match carbs for your personal meal plan to help manage your blood sugars.
- Dietary Fiber: Aim for at least three grams total dietary fiber per serving. This is fairly standard however some cereals can have as much as six grams of fiber. That’s more fiber bang for your buck and we know that fiber helps with fullness- another great reason to choose oatmeal as a breakfast of champions!
- Soluble Fiber: If you are trying to lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol by as much as three to seven percent, it takes three grams of soluble fiber to clinically do that. Slow-cooked oats have a clear advantage over the instant kind. You need 1 ½ cups slow- cooked oats (equal to 3/4 cup dry) compared to three packets of instant to reach this soluble fiber goal. That’s a big bowl of oats! The downside to slow-cooked oatmeal is it takes longer to cook and if you’re like me, trying to get out the door in the morning, it’s far more convenient to cook the instant for 1 ½ minutes in the microwave. Tip: if you plan ahead you can cook some the night before in a crock pot so it’s ready to eat when you wake up.
Sugar is an important component on labels of all cereals and oatmeal is no exception. If the sugars exceed eight grams per serving put the box back on the shelf! You will not find more than one gram of sugar in slow-cooked oats. The 100 calorie packets of OatFit by Better Oats® also has zero grams of sugar as well. My personal favorite is Quaker® Weight Control Oatmeal with one gram of sugar. The above mentioned flavored cereals are sweetened with artificial sugars keeping the sugar count low. Quaker® Lower Sugar flavored oatmeal has 4 grams of sugar and Quaker® Higher Fiber Oatmeal has seven grams of sugar. Most packets of flavored oats contain at least nine grams of sugar per packet. That’s one whole teaspoon worth!
Whether you go plain or flavored, there’s no such thing as a “boring” bowl of oats. If you want to “spice” it up here are some ideas for delicious mix-ins:
- Fresh or frozen mixed berries
- Chopped walnuts and sliced bananas
- Raisins or dried cranberries and sunflower seeds
- Sliced almonds and chopped dried apricots
- Diced pear and ground cinnamon
- Chopped dates and pecans
I couldn’t properly end this blog on my favorite breakfast food without sharing what I like to mix in. For crunch and texture I add about a teaspoon of nuts, either chopped pecans or walnuts and for a natural sweet flavor I throw in a handful of mixed berries. That’s what I call a great bowl of oatmeal! It leaves my taste buds buzzing and I’m satiated all morning.
How do you like your oatmeal? Please share your comments.