Diabetes is a metabolic condition that affects how the body either produces or uses insulin. This makes it difficult to maintain blood sugar, which is crucial for the health of those with diabetes.
This means that what you eat matters a great deal. Eating foods that are high in fiber and nutrients but low in fat and sugar can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, as well as improve your overall health.
Oatmeal offers a host of health benefits, and is often thought of as a great go-to food for those with diabetes.
Oatmeal has long been a common breakfast food for many. Oatmeal is made of oat groats, which are oat kernels with husks removed. It’s typically made of steel cut (or chopped), rolled, or “instant” oat goats.
Oatmeal is cooked with liquid mixed in and is served warm, often with add-ins like nuts, sweeteners, or fruit. It can be made ahead and reheated in the morning for a quick and easy breakfast.
Because oatmeal has a low glycemic index, it can help maintain glucose levels. This can be beneficial for people with diabetes, who especially need to manage their blood sugar levels. Oatmeal in its pure form may reduce the amount of insulin a patient needs. Oatmeal can also promote heart health, which is important because diabetes patients are prone to heart disease.
Adding oatmeal to your diet to help manage diabetes has both pros and cons. The pros of adding oatmeal to your diabetes diet include:
- It can help regulate blood sugar, thanks to the high fiber and low glycemic index.
- It’s heart-healthy and can lower cholesterol.
- It may reduce the need for insulin injections, or the amount of insulin injections needed.
- If cooked ahead, it can be a quick and easy meal.
- It’s high in fiber, making you feel full longer and helping with weight management.
- It’s a good source of long-term energy.
- It can help regulate digestion.
For most patients with diabetes, consuming the right kind of oatmeal does not have a lot of cons — unless you choose to eat certain versions of oatmeal that are laden with sugar and artificial flavoring.
Oatmeal can have negative effects for those who also have gastroparesis, which is delayed gastric emptying, and it can be severe. For those who have diabetes and gastroparesis, the high fiber in oatmeal can be harmful.
In general, for diabetes patients without gastroparesis, the biggest cons of adding oatmeal to your diet include:
- Bloating, due to the high fiber content. This can be reduced by drinking water as you eat.
- Flatulence due to the fiber content. Drinking water while eating can also help to reduce flatulence.
- The add-ins can work against you. Some people will add or buy instant packets that contain extra sugar, sweetener, or added flavorings that are harmful to a diabetes diet and can cause more harm than good.
Do’s and Don’ts
Oatmeal can be a great addition to a diet to help manage diabetes, but only when it’s prepared correctly.
When adding oatmeal to a diabetes diets, there are several things you should or shouldn’t do to maintain the health benefits it offers.
There are several do’s you can add to your oatmeal preparation list to increase and maintain the positive health benefits of oatmeal.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you should do and why:
- Add nuts. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds can add protein and healthy fat, which can further help stabilize blood sugar.
- Choose Irish or steel cut oats. Irish or steel cut oats have a higher amount of soluble fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar.
- Use cinnamon. Cinnamon is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease. It may also improve sensitivity to insulin and may help lower blood sugar levels.
- Add berries. Berries also have antioxidants and good nutrients, and can act as a natural sweetener.
- Use low-fat milk or water. Using low-fat milk can increase nutrients without adding too much fat to the meal, though water is preferable to cream or higher fat milk for those trying to reduce fat content.
Just as there are several great choices that those with diabetes can make when preparing oatmeal, there are several choices that can be detrimental to those with diabetes.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you should not do and why:
- Don’t use prepackaged or instant oatmeal. Instant and flavored oatmeal often comes full of added sugar and salt, neither of which is good for a diabetes diet. They also have less soluble fiber. Choose a variety listed above in the do’s section.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit. Just a small amount of dried fruit like cranberries can have a high amount of carbohydrates.
- Don’t add too much sweetener. People commonly add sugar, honey, brown sugar, or syrup to oatmeal, but this combats the health benefits oatmeal offers to those with diabetes.
- Don’t use cream. Use either water or low-fat or skim milk to make oatmeal.
In addition to the blood sugar and heart health benefits that oatmeal offers, it can help with:
- lowering cholesterol
- weight management
- skin protection
- reducing chances of colon cancer
Oatmeal is slow to digest, meaning that you’ll feel full longer. This can help with weight loss and weight management goals. It can also help to regulate the skin’s pH, which can reduce inflammation and itching.
When prepared correctly, oatmeal has a host of health benefits that can be beneficial to anyone, but especially to those with diabetes. You can start the day with a meal that regulates blood sugar and provides a long-term source of energy, as well as improves your heart health. By choosing the right add-ins, and avoiding the wrong ones, oatmeal can be an ideal breakfast for those with diabetes.
Always make sure to monitor your blood sugar to see how oatmeal affects you individually. Each patient with diabetes is different, so always consult your doctor before making any major dietary alterations. Qualified nutritionists can also help with this.