Oatmeal and Diabetes: Dos and Don’ts
Oatmeal can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet to help manage diabetes. Limiting toppings high in sugar or carbohydrates and combining oatmeal with ingredients high in fiber and protein can support healthy blood sugar levels.
When managing blood sugar, it is important to control the amount of carbohydrates consumed in one sitting, as carbohydrates directly affect blood sugar.
It’s also important to choose nutrient-dense, high-fiber carbohydrates over refined and processed carbohydrates with added sugar. Carbohydrate intake targets should be determined individually with the help of your healthcare provider.
This means that what you eat matters a lot. Eating foods high in fiber and nutrients but low in unhealthy fats and sugar can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels as well as improve overall health.
Oatmeal offers a number of health benefits and can be an excellent food for those with diabetes as long as the portion is controlled. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains about 30 grams of carbohydrates, which can fit into a healthy eating plan for people with diabetes.
Oatmeal has long been a common breakfast food. It is made from oat groats, which are oat kernels with the hull removed.
It is usually made from chopped (or chopped), rolled or “instant” oat bran. The more processed the oats are, like with instant oats, the faster the oats are digested and the faster blood sugar can rise.
Oatmeal is usually cooked with liquid and served warm, often with additions such as nuts, sweeteners or fruit. It can be made ahead and reheated in the morning for a quick and easy breakfast.
Because oatmeal has a lower glycemic index, it can be a better alternative to other breakfast options like cold cereals with added sugar, bread with added jelly, or pancakes with syrup.
Those with diabetes can test their blood glucose levels after different types of breakfast foods to see how their blood sugar responds.
Oatmeal can also promote heart health, which is important because people with diabetes are prone to heart disease.
Adding oatmeal to your diet to help manage diabetes has both advantages and disadvantages. The benefits of adding oatmeal to your diabetes meal plan include:
- It can help regulate blood sugar due to its moderate to high fiber content and low glycemic index.
- It is heart healthy due to its soluble fiber content and the fact that it can lower cholesterol.
- It may reduce the need for insulin injections when eaten in place of other high-carbohydrate breakfast foods.
- If cooked ahead, it can be a quick and easy meal.
- It has a moderate fiber content, which makes you feel fuller for longer and helps with weight management.
- It is a good source of long-term energy.
- It can help regulate digestion.
For many people with diabetes, there aren’t many downsides to eating oatmeal. Eating oatmeal can raise your blood sugar if you choose instant oatmeal, loaded with added sugar, or eat too much at once.
Oatmeal can have negative effects for those who also have gastroparesis, which is delayed gastric emptying. For those with diabetes and gastroparesis, the fiber in oatmeal can slow stomach emptying.
Oatmeal can be a great addition to your diet to help manage diabetes. Especially if you’re using it to replace other high-carb, high-sugar breakfast options.
When adding oatmeal to your diabetes meal plan, there are a few things to keep in mind:
There are several things you can add to your oatmeal recipe to increase the positive health benefits of oatmeal.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you should do:
- Eat it with a protein or healthy fat, such as eggs, nut butter, or Greek yogurt. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds can add protein and healthy fats that can further help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Choose old fashioned or steel cut oats. These options are higher in soluble fiber, which helps better regulate blood sugar, and are minimally processed to slow digestion.
- Use cinnamon. Cinnamon is full of antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the risk of heart disease. It can also improve insulin sensitivity and help lower blood sugar levels.
- Add berries. Berries also have good antioxidants and nutrients and can act as a natural sweetener.
- Use low-fat milk, unsweetened soy milk, or water. Using low-fat or soy milk can increase nutrients without adding too much fat to the meal. Water is preferable to cream or fatter milk for those trying to reduce calorie and fat content. However, keep in mind that the amount of milk used must be factored into the total carbohydrate intake for your meal. Eight ounces of regular milk contains about 12 grams of carbohydrates.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you shouldn’t do:
- Do not use prepackaged or instant oatmeal with added sweeteners. Instant and flavored oatmeal contains added sugar and salt. They also have less soluble fiber. Choose a healthy variety of oatmeal.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit. Just one tablespoon of dried fruit can be high in carbohydrates. Watch your portions.
- Don’t add too many caloric sweeteners. People usually add sugar, honey, brown sugar or syrup to oatmeal. They can significantly increase blood glucose levels. You can safely add no or low calorie sweeteners.
- Limit or avoid using the cream. Use either water, soy milk, or low-fat milk to make oatmeal.
In addition to the blood sugar and heart health benefits of oatmeal, it can help with:
- lowering cholesterol
- weight management
- skin protection
- reducing the chances of colon cancer
Unprocessed, unsweetened oatmeal is slow to digest, which means you’ll feel fuller for longer. This can help with weight loss and weight management goals. It can also help regulate the skin’s pH, which can reduce inflammation and itching.
When prepared correctly, oatmeal has many benefits that can be beneficial for anyone. Those with diabetes may benefit from substituting other highly refined, sweetened breakfast cereals. As with all carbohydrate sources, be sure to pay attention to portion sizes.
You can start the day with a meal that regulates blood sugar better and provides a long-term energy source. It will also help improve your heart health. By choosing the right supplements, oatmeal can be a hearty breakfast when living with diabetes.
Always monitor your blood sugar to see how oatmeal affects you. Every person with diabetes is different. Always talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet. Registered dietitians can also help you individualize a meal plan to meet your specific needs.