Is Oatmeal THE Key to Your Heart?
A Bite-Size Read for Your Health and Your Waistline
Do you like to spend lots of time cooking breakfast? Yeah, me neither! Making breakfast in the morning can seem like quite the chore and trying to create a healthful well-balanced meal can be even more daunting. Oatmeal has been labeled for years as one of the best heart-healthy breakfasts you can have (it is heart health month, after all), but is it really our best busy-morning go-to?
The first part of answering that question requires us to read the labels and look at the types of oatmeal. First up: instant oatmeal. This is our quickest oatmeal breakfast option and in the flavor most of us liked best as kids, maple and brown sugar (just me?). Instant oatmeal has 33g of carbs, 3g of fiber, 4g of protein, and (because this is the maple and brown sugar flavor) 12g of sugar. That gives us 30g of net carbs. OOF! Hello spike of blood sugar, fat storage mode and mid-morning crash.
Next up we have one-minute oats and old-fashioned oats. Believe it or not, both have the same nutrition content on their labels. They have 27g of carbs, 4g of fiber, 5g of protein, and 1g of sugar despite not being a sweet flavor. This might be shocking for some. Even the old-fashioned oats give us 23g of net carbs, more than double the single-digit number we want.
Lastly, we have steel-cut oats. These have 27g of carbs, 4g of fiber, and 5g of protein. Still 23g of net carbs but no sugar (yay!).
Looking only at the above, it seems like maybe it doesn’t matter what type we choose. Not so fast! Nutrition facts and labels can’t give us the whole picture. The way food manufacturers cut and process the oats can greatly affect their nutritional value. Instant, rolled, & old-fashioned oats are steamed and flattened. This causes the oats to lose the structure of the grain, and as a result, lose their nutritional value along with most of their bran and fiber. The more processed the oats, the less fiber they have and the faster our bodies turn the oats into sugar.
Steel-cut oats, on the other hand, are (drum roll please…) cut by steel blades. This maintains more of the structure of the grain and therefore more of its nutritional value. About 10% of your daily iron intake and small amounts of other nutrients, such as zinc, vitamin E, folate, and selenium can be found in steel-cut oats. When cooking, steel-cut oats take FOREVER…okay, maybe not forever, but definitely longer than a minute or two. Because steel-cut oats are closer to the whole grain, they absorb water less quickly.
So where does the so-called “heart health” come in? Steel-cut oats are loaded with beta-glucans and resistant starches. This helps your body regulate and stabilize blood sugar, and it can act as a prebiotic promoting healthy gut bacteria. This isn’t really the case for the instant, quick-1-minute or even old-fashioned oats. The type of oat we eat really matters. Less processed oats are better for metabolic health and therefore better for the heart.
Let’s go back to those busy mornings…steel-cut cook time does not work if your mornings are anything like mine. Here’s your life hack: One night each week, make a pot of oats while making dinner, then divide into single-serving containers, and pop them in the fridge. Each morning you can just heat the portion you want, in about the same time it used to take to heat the highly processed oatmeal! Then add berries for added fiber, some walnuts for quality fat and a little protein, maybe plain greek yogurt or some eggs for more protein to help blunt the impact of the high-glycemic carbs.
Getting bored of your oats? Play with them to satisfy your craving. Add berries maybe with some honey and it’s a yummy, sweet breakfast. Or go savory by adding spinach, some cheese, even top it off with eggs and everything bagel seasoning. The possibilities are endless! So bottom line, oats can be a heart-healthy option, but it requires us to be savvy consumers and smart meal-builders.