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Ask JJ: Healthy Oatmeal

Oatmeal carries a healthy aura, and for many health-minded folks it makes a substantial breakfast choice.
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Bowl of oatmeal with blueberries on rustic dark chopping board.
Bowl of oatmeal with blueberries on rustic dark chopping board.

Dear JJ: I love warm oatmeal on a cold winter morning, but so many experts share conflicting info about this beloved breakfast staple. Some say it's too high in carbs, while others claim it makes a perfectly healthy meal. Where do you stand?

"You're about two steps away from turning it into the equivalent of an adult cupcake," I recently told a friend, pointing to oatmeal drowned in bananas, raisins, and brown sugar on the hotel restaurant menu's well-intended-but-massively-flawed "healthy" section.

Oatmeal carries a healthy aura, and for many health-minded folks it makes a substantial breakfast choice.

"Oatmeal has a place on virtually everyone's 'best foods' list," writes Dr. Jonny Bowden in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. "It's the Muhammad Ali of food--everybody loves it, no matter where you stand in your dietary philosophy. Even those who are stringent about keeping carbs low soften a bit when it comes to oatmeal."

Among its benefits, Bowden notes oatmeal provides fiber, protein, cardiovascular-protecting beta-glucan, and anti-inflammatory antioxidants like avenanthramide, all while carrying a very low glycemic load.

The key becomes quality. Opt for pure steel-cut or rolled oats for the lowest sugar impact. Flavored instant oatmeal are always a bad choice; they're just reservoirs of added sugar.

"The type of oatmeal you buy makes all the difference in the world," writes Bowden. "Forget about the instant packs; they are not even in the ball game. They're usually sweetened, making their potential benefits for diabetics disappear. The less processing, the higher the fiber, the lower the glycemic load (sugar impact), and the better the oatmeal is for you."

Beware too that gluten sneaks into naturally gluten-free foods like gluten. Oats are not a grain so they shouldn't contain gluten. While pure oatmeal doesn't, commercial brands often become cross-contaminated in the facilities where they're made, so they can contain little bits of wheat, barley, or rye.

Read those nutrition labels too. Ideally oatmeal (like any processed food) should contain no more than five grams of added sugar per 100 calories. You'll quickly find most varieties, especially flavored or fruit-added ones, don't make that cut.

How you prepare oatmeal makes all the difference too between a nutrient-loaded breakfast and a sugar bomb that leaves you hungry late-morning hankering for those sticky buns your coworker brought in.

Dial up oatmeal's nutrition value with these seven strategies:

1. Make "power oatmeal" (see below) by adding in non-soy, non-dairy plant- or animal-based protein powder.
2. Freshly ground flaxseed is delicious sprinkled into oatmeal (after cooking). Just two tablespoons add five grams of fiber.
3. Coconut milk makes a more filling, satisfying, healthy fat boosting alternative to water.
4. If you've got to add something sweet in your oatmeal, opt for berries rather than bananas, dates, or raisins.
5. Almonds and other low-roasted or dehydrated nuts boost nutrients, protein, healthy fats, fiber, and crunch factor.
6. Zing it up with cinnamon. Dr. Joseph Mercola says just half a teaspoon of cinnamon a day can significantly reduce blood sugar levels, triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
7. If you need sweetness, skip the honey or brown sugar and sprinkle a little bit of stevia or other natural sweetener alternatives into your oatmeal.

Power Protein Oatmeal

Gluten-free oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts)
1 scoop vanilla protein powder, liquefied in 1⁄4 cup or unsweetened coconut milk

Directions

Prepare oatmeal as directed for one serving. Toward the end of cooking, add cinnamon.
Remove from heat and add chopped nuts and liquefied protein powder. Stir well.
Add more water or coconut milk if needed for desired consistency.

If oatmeal lands among your must-have breakfast list, what's your favorite recipe? Are you aware of oatmeal's potential sugar impact? Share your thoughts below, and keep those fab questions coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.

Additional References

Bowden, Jonny (2007-01-01). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth about What You Should Eat and Why. Creative Publishing International. Kindle Edition.