Is oatmeal healthy? Your grandmother or mother might have told you as a kid to eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast because it would stick to your ribs. Oatmeal has long held the reputation of being a hearty and filling breakfast to start your day off on the right foot. And there’s a good reason for that.
Most versions of oatmeal contain a big dose of fiber, which helps keep you fuller for longer. By starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal, you may prevent yourself from overeating. But that’s not all you’ll get from a bowl of oats. There are tons of body-boosting nutrients in many oatmeal varieties.
But not all oatmeal mixes are created equal. When you get into the instant varieties, there may be more added sugar than you realize.
To help make the best choice for your morning bowl, we turned to Nutrisystem Registered Dietitian Courtney McCormick, MPH, RDN, LDN, to find out what nutritional benefits oatmeal dishes out, and her best advice on selecting a healthy oatmeal.
The Nutritional Benefits of Oatmeal
One of the biggest nutritional benefits of oatmeal is its fiber content, as we mentioned before. This is, of course, how it got a reputation for being so “hearty.” Courtney explains that oatmeal contains both soluble and insoluble fiber—both of which are critical to your health. She also relays that oats contain more soluble fiber than other grains, leading to slower digestion, increased satiety and suppression of appetite.
McCormick says that oatmeal is a good source of many vitamins and minerals including manganese, phosphorous, copper, B-vitamins, iron, selenium, magnesium and zinc. Oats even contain more protein and healthy, unsaturated fats than most other grains.
If you want to give your oatmeal even more of a protein boost, McCormick suggests making it with fat free milk instead of water. Mixing in nut butters—like almond butter—will give you even more protein. And our recipe for Easy Oatmeal Pancakes takes sweet, delicious Brown Sugar Oatmeal and adds a splash of egg whites for this protein kick—making for a seriously satisfying stack. Getting enough protein in your diet is especially important when trying to lose weight since it powers your body’s fat burning abilities while protecting its calorie-burning lean muscle.
What to Look For
When opting for an instant oatmeal, look for a version that has whole grains. The first ingredient on the list should be a whole grain, such as oats, says McCormick. You also want to make sure that your oatmeal contains at least three grams of fiber per serving, as this will make your morning bowl a good source of your overall daily intake. Courtney recommends keeping a stash of Nutrisystem Brown Sugar Oatmeal on hand, since this delicious morning meal contains 150 calories and two grams of fat, while also dishing out three grams of fiber and four grams of protein.
While plain, unsweetened oatmeal, is an amazingly healthy option, McCormick says she knows that most people—including herself—prefer to add some flavor. Her suggestion is to flavor oatmeal by adding fresh fruit or nut butters in order to naturally sweeten it.
“But if you choose an instant flavored variety—which, of course, are the most convenient—choose a variety that contains seven grams or less of added sugars,” McCormick continues. “Read the ingredient list to check whether the sugars are coming from natural sources like dehydrated fruits, added sugars like maple syrup or honey, or a combination of the two. All Nutrisystem instant oatmeal packets contain seven grams or less of added sugars.” (Ever had the Apple Walnut Oatmeal? It’s pretty fantastic if we do say so ourselves!)
In addition to sugar, McCormick says you should also look at the sodium content of the oatmeal you’re choosing as some varieties contain a lot of sodium in order to boost flavor. As a rule of thumb, seek out varieties with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving.
The Bottom Line
Oatmeal can definitely be the staple of a healthy morning breakfast. With so many nutritional benefits, including the ability to help keep you fuller for longer, healthy oatmeal has a ton of potential to set your day off on the right foot. Just be careful that you’re selecting versions that don’t have too much added sugar or sodium. And always, always seek an oatmeal that has a whole grain as its first ingredient.