Oatmeal is a hot cereal made from broken-down oat groats. People eat it mixed with hot water or milk to give it a smooth and pleasant consistency.
They have to be aware of foods rich in carbohydrates, as these foods quickly break down into sugars. This could lead to glucose and insulin spikes in the blood. This is one reason people with diabetes often look for alternatives to carb-rich cereals.
Oatmeal from whole grain oats may be a helpful addition to the diet of someone with diabetes.
Oatmeal has a low glycemic index (GI) score, and the soluble fiber and beneficial compounds in oats may help people control markers of diabetes. There are a number of ways to add oats and oatmeal to the diet.
Oatmeal might have several benefits for people with diabetes, even though it is a high-carb food.
Low GI score
The glycemic index (GI) is a way to estimate how foods will raise the blood glucose. The higher the number, the higher the food raises blood glucose.
Foods with lower GI scores are ideal for helping to keep blood sugar stable. These foods will typically not raise the blood glucose as far or as fast as high-GI foods.
Oat foods — such as oatmeal and muesli made from steel-cut or rolled oats — are low-GI foods, with a score of under 55. In comparison, other breakfast cereals, such as puffed rice or corn flakes, have a GI score of above 70.
Fiber plays an important role in digestion, especially in someone with diabetes. Dietary fiber may help slow down the breakdown of sugars in the body. This may help prevent spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels.
Eating fiber-rich foods like oatmeal throughout the day may make it easier for people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar stable.
The American Diabetes Foundation note that adults should eat at least 25 to 30 grams (g) of fiber each day, but most adults do not even come close.
A serving of oatmeal adds 8 g of fiber to the diet, making it much easier to reach dietary recommendations.
Lower blood sugar
Oats are special in that they contain specific types of fibers called beta glucans.
A systematic review posted to the journal Nutricion Hospitalaria found that eating beta glucans was enough to help lower blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
The review noted that this would not help blood glucose levels reach normal levels in and of itself, but it may be a helpful supplement to other healthy diabetes practices.
People with diabetes may also need ways to control other conditions, such as high cholesterol.
Oats may be especially helpful for them, thanks to the healthy beta glucans.
As a study posted to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes, adding three or more grams of beta glucans from oats to the diet helps reduce bad cholesterol levels while keeping good cholesterol levels the same.
Fiber-rich foods like oatmeal may also help keep the body feeling satisfied for longer.
This may make it easier to avoid snacking throughout the day, which may help with overall blood sugar balance.
Temporary increase in insulin sensitivity
Eating oats may also help improve insulin sensitivity in each meal.
A systematic review posted to the journal Nutrients noted that a person with type 2 diabetes who ate a meal of oatmeal had a better glucose and insulin response than a person who ate a similar control meal.
It is important to note that this is a modest change, and simply adding oats to the diet is not enough to improve insulin sensitivity permanently.
There are many ways to make oatmeal, but the most basic form of oatmeal is oats cooked in hot water.
According to The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, the typical serving size of 1/2 cup of oats contains the following nutrient profile:
- calories: 304
- protein: 13 g
- fats: 5 g
- carbohydrates: 52 g
- total fiber: 8 g
Oats also contain helpful minerals, such as:
- calcium: 42 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 4 mg
- magnesium: 138 mg
- phosphorous: 408 mg
- potassium: 335
- zinc: 3 mg
Oats are naturally low in sodium and sugars. This, too, may be helpful for people with diabetes who are looking for more healthful food choices overall.
As these numbers show, oatmeal is still mainly a source of carbohydrates. People who use carb counting to help control their blood sugar may not like what they see at first, as 52 grams of carbohydrates is still quite a lot.
However, it is important to consider that about 8 of these grams come in the form of dietary fiber, which may help to prevent spikes of glucose in the blood. With that in mind, it is still important to eat oats in moderation and follow a meal plan that is suitable for diabetes.
Oatmeal can be a tasty and nutritious addition to both sweet and savory dishes, but, to get all the nutrition, it is important to use whole oatmeal.
Oatmeal in its most basic form is simply oats and water. This may be healthy, but it is also bland. Luckily, there are a few safe ways to add flavor to simple oatmeal and make it more enjoyable.
- Spices: Cinnamon is a sweet spice that brings out the earthy flavor of the oats to makes the meal more interesting.
- Sweeteners: For added sweetness, some people use sweeteners, such as sucralose, stevia, or monk fruit sweetener.
- Milk: Some people cut back on the serving of oats and replace those carbs with milk, by mixing it with the water during cooking or adding it at the end. This gives the oatmeal a richer flavor.
- Fruit and nuts: Blueberries or crushed nuts can add texture and flavour.
So long as the person keeps their total carbs or GI scores in mind, there are a number of ways to make basic oatmeal outstanding.
Some breads contain oatmeal. Processed white breads are unsuitable for many people with diabetes, but some bread options have better GI score because they contain whole grains and fiber.
Breads that contain whole oats may be within reach for many people with diabetes.
For people who want to make their own healthful breads, muffins, or pancakes, adding oats can be a great starting point.
A little cooked oatmeal can make the perfect addition to a smoothie for breakfast on the go.
It adds helpful fibers and gives extra thickness. This may help the person feel more satisfied and energized throughout the day.
The risks of eating oatmeal are mostly minor, but people should be aware of some things when choosing them, including:
Allergies: Some oats may be contaminated with wheat gluten or other flours. Anyone with potential allergens should look for certified gluten-free oats.
Minor side effects: Excess fiber may cause minor side effects like gas and bloating.
Added ingredients: Oats and muesli that contain added ingredients may be harmful for people with diabetes, especially if they contain dried fruits or added sugars. Always check the labels and seek out whole grain oats.
Still high in carbs: Oatmeal is still high in carbohydrates, and people with diabetes should enjoy it in moderation.
Gastroparesis: People with gastroparesis may want to avoid oats, as it may make symptoms of their condition worse.
Oatmeal versus instant oatmeal
It is important to understand that whole grain oats offer the most nutritional value. Steel-cut or rolled whole-grain oats retain all the fiber and nutrients that make oatmeal so beneficial.
In this way, instant oatmeal is not the same as oatmeal from whole grain oats.
Many instant oatmeal blends are a mix of oats and flours that have an abundance of added sugar and have had their fibers stripped away. Oatmeal in this instant form is a high GI food. It and may raise the blood sugar quickly.
When choosing oats, always pick whole grain rolled or steel-cut oats, and avoid packages of instant oats.
In moderation, oats can be a healthful regular addition to a diet for people with diabetes.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all diet for diabetes, and people should monitor their blood sugar levels when eating oats to decide if they are the right choice.
Steel-cut or rolled whole grain oats are best. Be sure to watch out for any added ingredients.
Finally, although they are healthful, oats are not a treatment for diabetes.
They may help manage symptoms when incorporated into a diabetic meal plan, but nothing will replace a proper medical treatment for diabetes.