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The #1 Best Oatmeal to Eat If You Have Diabetes, Says Dietitian

Keep your blood sugar stable with this breakfast option.

Around 34.2 million U.S. adults have diabetes. It's considered the seventh leading cause of death in America, and while everyone should be mindful of what they're eating, those with diabetes have to be even more careful to effectively manage the disease. Being mindful of the food they eat means that diabetics can't just buy any type of food, but they have to consider what will be the best for their blood sugar. When it comes to oatmeal, the overwhelmingly best type for diabetics to eat is steel-cut oatmeal.

Steel-cut oatmeal, also known as Irish oats or coarse oats, differs from rolled oatmeal in that the oats are cut using smaller steel blades, resulting in oats that take longer to cook and have a chewier consistency than rolled oats that you'd find in instant oatmeal.

"[Oats] are complex carbohydrates meaning they are full of fiber," says Leah Johnston, RD at SRW. "It's the beta-glucan fiber in oats that has a significant effect on reducing blood sugar and insulin response. Carbs with fiber take longer to digest and metabolize and, in turn, blood glucose doesn't rise as quickly."

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Not only is steel-cut oatmeal the best option for anyone who has diabetes and is trying to keep their blood sugar low, but they're also one of the healthiest options for oatmeal overall, according to Johnston.

"While oats in any form are truly good for your health, steel-cut oats are the least processed of all the types of oats and therefore offer slightly more nutritional value and a lower glycemic index of about 53," says Johnston.

woman holding bowl of oatmeal
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Johnston says that rolled oats would also be a good option, although they are slightly processed, as rolled oats have been both steamed and flattened, and are just slightly higher than steel-cut oats on the glycemic index, coming in at around 57.

If the flavor of oatmeal isn't enough, there are a host of toppings that can be added to help enhance the taste, while keeping the dish a healthy choice. Johnston says that there are plenty of diabetic-friendly options to help spruce up a morning bowl of oatmeal, including fresh fruit rather than dried fruit, as dried fruit has a higher sugar content and more calories than the same serving of fresh fruit. She also recommends toppings like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.

"[They] will add healthy fats to keep you fuller for longer and help manage blood sugar," Johnston says.

Additionally, Johnston says that they will also add omega-3 fatty acids to the dish. Other healthy and diabetic-friendly additions include unsweetened coconut, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese, according to Johnston.

While there are great oatmeal options for diabetics, Johnston adds that oatmeal is a healthy breakfast option in general.

"Not only will you avoid big blood sugar spikes, but oats also have a little protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals," says Johnston. "There are 24 phenolic compounds found in oats — plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. A polyphenol called avenanthramide is found almost exclusively in oats and helps reduce inflammation in the body. Its anti-inflammatory action may also reduce the risk of known diabetes cardiovascular complications, such as lowered heart disease."

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Erin Yarnall
Erin Yarnall is a freelance food writer. Read more
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