Few breakfast foods are more popular or inviting than oatmeal. With an estimated $5.3 billion-dollar market size, people love that the dish is filling, inexpensive, and easy to prepare. Made by heating raw oats with water or milk to make a porridge, oatmeal has a rather bland taste on its own but is frequently spiced or sweetened with toppings like sugar, cinnamon, honey, or fruits like apple slices, blueberries, strawberries or bananas.
Some people also use pumpkin spice, chocolate chips, brown sugar, shredded carrots, nutmeg, maple syrup, chopped nuts, coconut flakes or even a fried egg and splash of sriracha to liven up or put a savory spin on the meal.
Of course, such ingredients either make the dish more nutritious or less, but oatmeal has plenty of health benefits on its own.
What are the health benefits of oatmeal?
Oatmeal is a well-balanced meal and a good source of folate, copper, iron, zinc, and several B vitamins. "It's also an excellent source of beta-glucan, which can help with heart health," says Shelley Rael, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in Albuquerque New Mexico. She adds that eating oatmeal is also a great way to get more complex carbohydrates in one's diet. "Complex carbohydrates fuel the brain, muscles and cells," she says.
The American Heart Association praises oatmeal for lowering cholesterol and for being a rich source of the mineral manganese - which plays important roles in immune health, blood clotting and the way blood sugar is metabolized.
Perhaps best of all, "among grains, oatmeal contains some of the highest amounts of protein and fiber," says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “Calm Your Mind with Food." Dietary fiber is crucial in preventing constipation and maintaining gut health and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Protein is important for energy, muscle and bone growth, and in helping the body produce hormones and enzymes.
Is there a downside to eating oatmeal?
But it's not all good news for oatmeal. "While oatmeal is sold as a healthy option for some things, it does have an impact on our metabolism, and I advise caution" in eating too much, says Naidoo.
Oatmeal is also known to cause gas and bloating, which can be especially problematic if you have gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome.
One of the other downsides of eating oatmeal is its aforementioned bland flavor. This causes many people to add large amounts of white or brown sugar to sweeten it. The daily value limit of added sugars, as recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is only 50 grams -about 12 teaspoons. It's not uncommon for people to put a quarter of that amount on a single serving of oatmeal. "Be mindful of how you prepare your oatmeal and what you add to it," advises Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and registered dietitian at Piedmont Health. "Oatmeal can quickly become a higher calorie and sugar food if you aren't careful."
Is oatmeal good for weight loss?
On its own though, oatmeal is considered a low-calorie meal option since a one-cup cooked serving has just 166 calories. This is one of the reasons oatmeal is frequently touted as helping with weight management. Another is that oatmeal can be quite filling. "Foods like oatmeal that contain higher amounts of fiber may help aid with satiety and can reduce the risk of overeating," says Smith.
But again, she stresses the importance of not offsetting such benefits by loading up your bowl of oatmeal with too much sugar or other high-calorie toppings. "Try preparing plain oatmeal and adding fresh fruits for a natural, sweet flavor," she advises. "And be cautious of some flavored oatmeals as they can contain substantial amounts of added sugar."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is oatmeal good for weight loss?