UPDATE: I have received numerous comments on this post from angry folks telling me I’m crazy, that there’s nothing wrong with oatmeal. PLEASE READ THE ENTIRE POST BEFORE YOU MAKE A COMMENT. I mention in the post that I don’t have any problem with regular, plain oats as long as they work for your body (and I explain how to know if they do or don’t). Thank you for reading! Now, back to our regularly scheduled content.
We all grew up with the USDA food pyramid telling us oatmeal and cereals were a healthy, fiber-filled breakfast fortified with vitamins and minerals. As kids we were bombarded with images of happy tigers or other costumed and cartooned people/animals dancing around, happily chomping on breakfast “foods” in shades of color that don’t exist in nature. And that turned your skim milk bright blue and pink when you ate it.
The food industry is marketing these fun fake foods to your children (and to you as busy parents), so your kids grow up thinking that Fruit Loops are actually “food.” What they really contain is a bunch of GM corn flour, refined grains, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. That is not food, folks. Please don’t feed it to your kids. Big Food has created an entire world of easy-to-grab overly refined “food” products that offer no nutritive value other than calories. They’re engineering these foods to taste good and marketing them to you based on convenience and ease. (source)
But oatmeal is still healthy, right? I mean, it’s just oats! And it keeps you super full for hours! Until you crash at your desk from the carb hangover.
Why Oatmeal Doesn’t Work for Every Body
One of the most common things I see in my practice is new clients proudly handing over their food journals, thinking their diets are healthy for the most part, so they’re confused about why they can’t lose weight and/or why they’re feeling tired and bloated. Many of these folks are eating the instant oatmeal in the packets because who has time to cook in the morning?! It’s fast and easy.
1 packet of Quaker Oats Maple & Brown Sugar instant oatmeal has
- 157 calories
- 2 grams of fat
- 4 grams of protein
- 32 grams of carbohydrate ( incl 3 g fiber / 13 g added sugar)
Similar in macronutrient profile to
- 4 Twizzlers, or
- a cup of Kellogg’s Scooby-Doo! Berry Bones breakfast cereal, or
- 2 fat Free Fudgesicle bars, or
- a York Peppermint Patty, or
- a Klondike, Slim-a-Bear Chocolate Sandwich, or
- a cup of Kellogg’s SpongeBob SquarePants breakfast cereal
There is very little protein (or enough calories to keep you full, for that matter) in this “meal,” but a lot of carb and refined sugar action.
Here is what happens when you eat a grain-based meal with refined sugar: because there is little protein and fiber in this meal, the grains break down quickly into sugars, and the refined sugar is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, raising blood glucose levels, and triggering the pancreas to release insulin to move the glucose into cells so blood sugar doesn’t rise too high.
Since only so much glucose is needed in the cell, the rest is converted to fat and stored. You only need around 2 teaspoons of circulating glucose in your bloodstream, so the excess is stored as fat if you don’t burn it off. This is why sugar makes you fat. Even if you do burn all that sugar off, you’re still not going to be burning any stored fat, because you have a steady supply of glucose to burn, so higher carb diets are not ideal for weight loss. Click here to read my post on how many carbs are right for you.
But I’m not eating instant oatmeal in the packet, you say.
Back to regular oatmeal. Let’s say you’re eating the regular stuff and making it yourself, avoiding the instant kind. While that’s a better step, it’s still not for everyone (caveat below). 1 cup of cooked oatmeal has 28 grams of carbs and 6 grams of protein. You’re probably not eating it plain, so let’s say you’re adding a banana and some honey to it. That is an additional 44 grams of carbs for the banana and a tablespoon of honey. That puts your breakfast at 72 grams of carb and about 32 grams of sugars. That’s 8 teaspoons of sugar for breakfast! And we know what happens to all that sugar, right?
If you have sugar sensitivity (meaning you crave sugar, are prone to binging on it, struggle with weight and have energy fluctuations, especially the 3pm crash), a grain-based breakfast is NOT for you. Grains are high carb/low protein and can potentially cause an energy crash a few hours after eating. Additionally, this physiology type has a higher need for protein and fat to keep their blood sugar levels stable. Higher carb meals just don’t make them feel as good. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
If you struggle with GI issues like bloating, reflux, IBS, Crohn’s, or other inflammatory conditions, oatmeal and grain-based breakfasts are not for you, either. Grains can be very irritating to your GI tract due to the lectins and phytic acid, which contribute to more inflammation. Gut irritants like grains and legumes may contribute to flares.
If you suffer from the 3pm energy crash (or the mid-morning crash), a grain-based breakfast isn’t for you. The higher carb meals = zzzzzzz.
Unfortunately (because I like oatmeal) this is what happens to me when I have oatmeal (or any higher carb breakfast) for breakfast. It’s filling, but I crash a couple hours after. Also curious is how I *feel* full, but not satisfied. This means there’s not enough protein for me. Now if I had oatmeal for dinner (but I’m really never in the mood for oatmeal for dinner), I’d probably sleep well! Oatmeal is relatively high in tryptophan, another reason it makes some people sleepy.
If any of the above sound like you, focus on protein and vegetables for breakfast, or if you’re in a hurry, try a protein smoothie. Oatmeal and grain-based refined cereals lack certain key macronutrients. If you’re going to eat food, make it count; focus on the biggest nutritional bang for your buck: antioxidants, proteins, beneficial fatty acids. If you really miss your oatmeal, there are tons of grain-free porridge recipes out there that won’t give you a crash. This one is keto-friendly and made with cauliflower (don’t knock it til you try it). I have quite a few on my pinterest breakfast board. Or here are some alternative breakfast suggestions for you.
To be clear, I am not demonizing carbohydrates! It’s just that we all have different physiologies and carb needs. Foods that make you feel good won’t work for your neighbor and visa versa. The majority of Americans are overdoing carbs, especially refined carbs (think bagels, bread, pastries, pasta).
HERE IS THE CAVEAT: If none of this sounds like you (you’re not trying to lose weight, you have stable energy, no GI issues, and no sugar cravings), and you don’t crash after eating a bowl of oats, you’re ok eating oatmeal for breakfast! I myself am a fan of overnight oats occasionally. I add collagen peptides or protein powder to mine and make it with almond or coconut milk. I don’t add sugar to it (the protein I use has stevia). You can soak the oats (hence overnight oats) for better digestability and add a little apple cider vinegar to neutralize phytic acid.
In general, I don’t recommend daily grain-based breakfasts, because there are far better nutrient dense options out there, like protein and veggie-based meals that provide you with adequate protein, good fatty acids, and plenty of antioxidants to fuel you for your day. If you do choose oatmeal, I recommend adding protein powder (<–vegan option, or non vegan option) or an egg to it for added protein. Don’t load it up with excess fruit sugars or sweeteners. Berries are a good option because they are a low sugar fruit. Walnuts add some great fats. I also add chia seeds to my overnight oats.
That said, please avoid boxed convenience cereals, bars, instant packaged oatmeal, at breakfast. This is not real food, having been refined, adulterated, and pumped with synthetic ingredients your body doesn’t recognize, not to mention the added sugar.
It’s a simple choice: just eat real food. Understand that the food industry is a profit-driven industry just like any other for-profit business, and they don’t have your best interests at heart. Keep eating the food your body was designed to eat: food in its natural state.
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