Oatmeal has long been the comfort food of breakfast meals. There's something about a warm bowl of oats that goes straight to the soul. And thankfully, oats have become the face of weight loss breakfast foods.
Gone are the days of having to rely on fatty Egg McMuffins from Mcdonalds and sugary donuts from Dunkin when on-the-go and famished in the a.m. Fast food breakfast is taking on a whole new persona, and it has the potential to do great things for your beach bod. But hold that thought! We're walking you through your fast food oatmeal options so you can get the most bang (and least cals!) for your buck.
From McDonald's to Wendy's, fast food chains across the nation have joined the movement. Many are excited about this change, hoping that it is another step in the right direction for historically unhealthy American restuarants. But just how healthy are these grab-and-go oatmeals for you? We're breaking it down and sorting through the best and worst fast food oat options. Whether you live a fast-paced lifestyle or you just need a healthy meal on the road, consider this your survival guide for the fast food oat trend.
HOW WE RANKED THEM
How we ranked them: Since cach restaurant offers a host of mix-ins and alterations, we calculated nutritional values based on exactly what you are handed when you order straight off the menu, mix-ins and all! Breakfast is supposed to fill you up and give you endless energy, so we prioritized oatmeals that offer natural, whole foods over the processed stuff. Plus, we looked for oatmeals that are well portioned, low in sugar, and high in fiber and protein for low-calorie, lasting energy. Got some time on your hands? Then your best option will always be at home—and you can make the most of that fact with these 50 Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss! But until then, here are your fast food oatmeals, from worst to best…
Dunkin' Donuts Brown Sugar Flavored Oatmeal
Nutrition: 300 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 470 mg sodium, 61 g carb, 6 g fiber, 28 g sugar, 7 g protein
Unless you're loading up your oatmeal with a variety of healthy fruits, you should be able to list the ingredients on one hand: oats, water, fruit, and brown sugar (if you like a sweetener). You can imagine our surprise—and horror—when we dug up the nutrition information for Dunkin' Oatmeal and found 24 ingredients! Oh, and guess what? It's not fruit! The name says it all: brown sugar "flavored" oatmeal. Along with the alarmingly high carb content (61 g) and scary high sodium content (470 g), Dunkin' Donuts Brown Sugar Flavored Oatmeal is packed with additives like calcium carbonate, thiamin mononitrate, and sulphur dioxide to create a brown sugar "flavored" oatmeal that actually has no brown sugar at all. The point of eating oatmeal is to eat a nourishing, nutritious breakfast made of whole foods, and this is anything but that. So, steer clear of Dunkin' for your fast food oatmeal fix. There are more natural and more weight loss-friendly options out there.
McDonald's Fruit & Nut Oatmeal
Nutrition: 290 calories, 4 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat) 160 mg sodium, 58 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 32 g sugar, 5 g protein
Like Dunkin' Donuts, McDonald's Oatmeal has an ingredient list that's hard to count and even harder to pronounce. Even the apples are coated in an artificial additive! Going head to head, these products are pretty even when it comes to calories, fat, carbs, and sugar. But, sodium is the tie breaker here. McDonald's has a slight edge because it has about a third of the salt content found in Dunkin' Oatmeal. Salt intake is on our list of 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter since sodium causes us to hold on to water weight and has been proven to hinder our fullness signals! Despite the lower salt content, McDonald's Oatmeal should still be avoided when possible. It is extremely high in carbs and sugar in addition to all those artificial ingredients.
Steak N' Shake Perfect Start Oatmeal
Nutrition: 340 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 260 mg sodium, 57 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 30 g sugar, 7 g protein
Steak n' Shake's oatmeal might not be the perfect start it claims to be. This oatmeal is maple flavored—and not with the real stuff from trees. Among its many artificial ingredients is guar gum which is used as a food thickener and, wait for it…a laxative! If this doesn't scare you into choosing an all-natural oatmeal, we don't know what will. In addition to some sketchy ingredients, Steak n' Shake also piles large amounts of sugar and sodium into their oats, making this a not-so-perfect start to your day! With 340 calories, you might be wondering why this isn't placed last. Upon analyzing the ingredients we found that most of the calories are from fat—healthy fats, that is. The saving grace for Steak n' Shake Oatmeal is the use of real nuts for a source of healthy fats. Healthy fats have gotten a lot of press lately for being a positive force in weight loss and crucial for heart health.
Burger King Original Maple Flavored Oatmeal
Nutrition: 170 calories, 3 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 260 mg sodium, 32 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 4 g protein
Uh oh! Here we go again with "flavored" oatmeal. But hold that thought. What we like about Burger King's Oatmeal is that it is reasonably portioned—just 198 grams with 170 calories. But what we really like about Burger King's Oatmeal is that they let you choose the toppings, meaning that the product they hand you is much lower in carbs and sugar than many of the oatmeals that get handed to you at other fast food restaurants. However, we can't quite get past its ingredients list. While BK Oatmeal features far fewer artificial ingredients than Dunkin and McDonald's, it is still rife with additives like calcium carbonate which has been linked to side effects like nausea, vomiting, and constipation! All in all, Burger King Oatmeal isn't great. It doesn't offer much nutritionally, but with its low-calorie, low-carb, low-sugar content, it also won't kill you.
Wendy's Steel Cut Oatmeal with Cranberries and Pecans
Nutrition: 330 calories, 12 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 57 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 33 g sugar, 5 g protein
In true fast food fashion, Wendy's unfortunately also hopped on the additive bandwagon. Thankfully, they didn't take it quite as far. Their ingredient list features a much higher number of natural, whole foods including brown sugar that is actually brown sugar. (Imagine that!) What takes Wendy's a step up is the use of steel cut oats and pecans. Steel cut oats are slightly lower in calories, sugar, and fat than the rolled oats found in other oatmeals and pecans are a great source of healthy fats. Healthy fats have gotten a lot of press lately for being a positive force in weight loss and crucial for heart health. Despite these positives, we're still not quite convinced. Wendy's Oatmeal is too low in fiber and too high in sugar for the kind of lasting energy we look for in a good breakfast.
Tim Horton's Homestyle Oatmeal
Nutrition: 220 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 220 mg sodium, 49 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 20 g sugar, 5 g protein
Finally, a fast food joint with real ingredients! Tim Horton's Oatmeal is made fresh every day with no artificial ingredients. However, some of those real ingredients include added sugar and salt. The main issue we have with Tim Horton's Homestyle Oatmeal is the large portion size (308g). We Americans have a serious problem with clearing our plates instead of eating until we are full, which makes this serving size problematic. The result is consumption of excess sugar, which in this case isn't coming from refined sugars instead of natural sources like fruit! Besides, cutting down portion sizes is on our 50 Best Tips for Weight Loss. If you have trouble putting down the spoon, look for another option that will cut the size and cut the sugar.
Panera Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans
Nutrition: 340 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 160 mg sodium, 51 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 6 g protein
Panera markets itself as health food heaven, but this isn't necessarily true. While Panera offers a healthier oatmeal option, it isn't necessarily the healthiest. Again we're dealing with a portion crisis. Due to the large portion size, this dish rings in at 14 g fat, 51 g carbs, and 340 calories (the highest calories of all fast food oatmeals). Plus, when ordered, it automatically comes with the cinnamon sugar topping mixed in, adding unnecessary calories to an otherwise decent meal. We will give Panera major props, though. We love the addition of real ingredients like fresh strawberries and pecans. After all, berries are on our list of 50 Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss—Ranked. The nut-berry combo creates a breakfast that is super high in fiber, rich in healthy fats, and low(er) in sugar!
Caribou Coffee Blueberry Almond Oatmeal
Nutrition: 340 calories, 8 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 54 g carbohydrate, 9 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 16 g protein
When you look at the name of Caribou Coffee's Blueberry Almond Oatmeal, you'd think they took the ingredients right off our list of 25 Foods for a Toned Body! While we like the high fiber and protein content, again we're nervous that it comes at the expense of portion size. Like Panera and Tim Horton's, Caribou has also fallen into the American supersized portion trend. We know, we know. We sound like a broken record! But, the standard serving size for oatmeal is 170g (half a cup), making this serving a double portion of what you should be eating! However, with higher protein to keep you full and lower sugar, these oats beat out Panera and Tim's by an inch.
Chik-Fil-A Multigrain Oatmeal with Toppings
Nutrition: 290 calories, 10 g fat (.5 g saturated fat), 60 mg sodium, 50 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 20 g sugar, 2 g protein
We like what they're trying to do with a combination of whole grain rolled oats, steel cut oats, and flax seeds—especially since flax seeds are on our list of nutritious, high fiber foods. However, from the oats to the nuts, everything in this mix comes pre-sweetened with refined sugar. No amount of flax seeds can make up for that!
Starbucks Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal
Nutrition: 220 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 125 mg sodium 43 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 13 g sugar, 5 g protein
If you have a sweet tooth, Starbucks is a danger zone. They lure you into ordering that caramel frappuccino, encourage you to add whip, and coax you into pairing it with a large slice of pound cake. But good news! Starbucks offers a better way to get your sweet fix in the morning without ruining your weight loss progress. Starbucks oatmeal comes with a mix of whole grain rolled oats and whole grain steel cut oats, fresh blueberries, a nut and seed medley, and agave syrup. Agave syrup is a natural sweetener with a low glycemic index, making it a favorable alternative to brown sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index overwhelm your body with excessive glucose and insulin, which in turn triggers fat storage (and causes you to crash a few hours later). So, eating a breakfast filled with natural sugars like blueberry and agave is a sweet way to get your sugar fix. Plus, thanks to the nuts and seeds, Starbucks has a higher level of fiber and protein per gram compared to other oatmeals, making it a powerful morning fuel to start your day.
Bonus: Swap out your coffee for one of these 22 Best Teas for Weight Loss to cut more calories and rev your metabolism!
Jamba Juice Organic Steel Cut Oatmeal
Nutrition: 180 calories, 2.5 g fat (.5 g saturated fat), 15 mg sodium, 35 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 8 g protein
We're getting closer to the good stuff, but we're not quite there yet. Jamba Juice Oatmeal consists of two ingredients: steel cut oats and soy milk. The rest is up to you! With a variety of fresh selections on hand, Jamba Juice enables you to sweeten your oats with natural sugars from fruit. This oatmeal also packs in 8 grams of protein to its mere 180 calories, the highest protein count for all fast food oatmeal. With its low sugar, low sodium content, we're ready to fall head over heels for Jamba Juice Steel Cut Oatmeal. However, we're a little hesitant about the addition of soy milk. The jury is still out on the nutrition of soy as it has been linked to as many health benefits as it has side effects. But while we could argue about soy forever, one thing can't be denied: Jamba Juice Oatmeal is a much better alternative to most of the fast food oat products on the market.
Cosi Steel Cut Oats
Nutrition: 149 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 47 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
The name says it all—because that's all that's in them! Cosi uses those steel cut oats that we've learned to love and leaves the toppings up to you. Instead of added artificial flavoring or sugar, customers can choose toppings from a buffet of fresh ingredients. These oats are low in calories and carbohydrates, making them a great on-the-go option. So, why isn't Cosi oatmeal number one? Some fast food oatmeals today have added nutritional bonuses like healthier grains and fibrous seeds. Keep reading to see what fast food chains have taken that extra step.
Pret A Manger Five Grain Oatmeal
Nutrition: 240 calories, 8 g fat (.5 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 54 g carbohydrate, 9 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 9g protein
Mmm. Welcome to superfood heaven. We're obsessed with the ingredients in Pret A Manger's five-grain oatmeal. In addition to steel cut oats, you can find superfoods like quinoa, chia seeds, flax seeds, and amaranth. Quinoa and amaranth make it on our list of 25 Best Carbs That Will Uncover Your Abs for their high fiber and protein content. Quinoa is also a great source of B vitamins while amaranth has high levels of magnesium, a nutrient linked to weight loss. We could go on and on about these grains, but let's not forget about the little guys! Despite their size, Chia seeds and flax seeds make a big contribution to this oatmeal bringing major fiber and minor calories. If it wasn't for the added cane sugar and large serving size, Pret would definitely be our #1.
AND THE #1 BEST FAST FOOD OATMEAL IS… AU BON PAIN SUPERFOOD BLUEBERRY CHIA HOT CEREAL
Nutrition: 180 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 60 mg sodium, 26 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 6 g protein
We'd drive way out of our way to get some Au Bon Pain oatmeal. Why? Because Au Bon Pain goes out of their way to make their oatmeal the healthiest and most nutrient packed. Their Superfood Blueberry Chia Hot Cereal features those fat-torching grains we rave about (like quinoa and amaranth) and those small-but-mighty chia seeds that make all the difference. Not only is one chia seed packed with fiber, but it's a great source of protein, antioxidants, and healthy fats. The cherry (er, blueberry?) on top: The oats are served as a decent-sized portion that won't have you consuming any unneeded calories, which is why Au Bon Pain comes in at #1! For more recipes with chia seeds, check out our 50 Best Chia Seed Recipes For Weight Loss.