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Oatmeal Can Be Healthy—but Not if You Cook It Like This

What you add to your bowl of oats really does matter.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Oatmeal is hands down one of the best, healthiest breakfast foods you can choose. For one, oats are full of soluble fiber and high in a specific type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan, which is known to help slow digestion, fill you up quickly, and even help you manage cholesterol and blood sugar.

But while oatmeal on its own is a nutritious breakfast, it also depends on how you prepare your oatmeal and what you include in it. "Oatmeal is an excellent, nutrient-dense, fiber-rich option for a meal or snack," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. "Unfortunately, we make decisions when preparing our oatmeal that can take away from its health value, often unknowingly."

Continue reading to learn about some of the common ways people unknowingly make their oatmeal less healthy, then for more healthy breakfast tips check out Breakfast Habits Aging Your Brain Faster.

Adding too much sugar


Oats on their own don't have a ton of flavor, so it's perfectly natural to want to add some sweetness to them. Adding fruit or other natural sugar sources is a great way to do this, but Best warns that adding too many processed or refined sugars can quickly make your oatmeal more unhealthy.

"Adding some sweeteners, such as refined sugar, brown sugar, heavy creams, and syrups to oatmeal can make it more inflammatory than anti-inflammatory, but natural sweeteners can be used in place of these including fresh or frozen fruit and honey," says Best.

Not choosing the best milk

Another thing to consider when preparing your oatmeal is whether or not you're going to use milk, and what type you choose.

"It can be tempting to add high-fat milk or sweetened plant-based milks when preparing your oatmeal as well. Again, these ingredients can add to the calories, fat, and added sugar content of an otherwise healthy food," says Best.

For example, many people will opt for oat or almond milk to liven up their oats, but reading the nutrition label is important to ensure that your favorite brands aren't sneakily packing in the added sugars.

Oatly is a popular choice for oat milk but just one serving already comes with 10 grams of added sugar and 10 grams of fat. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use it, but it can be helpful to be aware of all the ingredients you're adding to your oats.

The Best Oatmeals to Lose Abdominal Fat—Ranked!

How to make your oatmeal as healthy as possible

woman mixing up bowl of oatmeal

If you want to make a delicious, healthy bowl of oats, Best says, "a helpful rule of thumb is to stick with whole foods and natural sweeteners as ingredients, so using toppings like berries, walnuts, a drizzle of honey, and flaxseed can up the nutrient density of oatmeal rather than deplete it."

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha
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