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Do you know your daily carb count? If you have diabetes (and even if you don’t), you probably should. Monitoring carb intake is an important part of managing blood sugar and avoiding the dreaded hanger pangs.

Here are the basics:

The glycemic index (GI) is a scale used to measure how quickly the carb content of a food raises blood glucose. Foods with a low GI are better for managing blood sugar levels.

The glycemic load (GL) is another score that factors in the GI and the serving size of carbs in a food, making it a more accurate predictor for how a food will affect blood sugar levels.

How does oatmeal rank?

Oatmeal is considered to have a low GI, rated at 55 or less (depending on the type). Other breakfast cereals like corn flakes score above 70, which is considered high on the index.

One cup of oatmeal has a GL of 11.5, meaning it has a moderate effect on blood sugar.

Bottom line

Consider oatmeal a diabetes-friendly option when eaten in moderation and in small portion sizes.

But plain oatmeal is SOOOO basic

Props to those who don’t need a little somethin’ somethin’ to choke down their oatmeal. But we’d wager most people prefer to add nuts, fruit, or other sweeteners.

Be careful…

Add-ins like dried fruit can push the GI score well past 70. Instant versions often come infused with all these extras, meaning they’re a sure way to sugar spikes.

But if you’re careful with portions, consuming oatmeal may reduce the amount of insulin you need, and can also improve heart health.

What are oats exactly?

Oat groats (say that three times fast!) are hulled, whole grain, oat kernels that are broken down through boiling into oatmeal — a nutrient-dense hot cereal.

Here’s the nutritional breakdown on a 1/2 cup of oats:

  • calories: 303
  • protein: 13 g
  • fats: 5 g
  • carbohydrates: 52 g
  • total fiber: 8 g
  • calcium: 42 mg
  • iron: 4 mg
  • magnesium: 138 mg
  • phosphorous: 408 mg
  • potassium: 335 mg
  • zinc: 3 mg

Scrolling through Pinterest and confused by the many aliases of oatmeal? You’re not alone.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • Steel-cut oats: These are the least broken down, which is why they have a chewier texture than rolled oats. They’re basically just sliced groats and are sometimes called “Irish oats.”
  • Rolled oats: Sometimes labeled as old-fashioned oats, are steamed and rolled groats. The process helps them cook up faster.
  • Instant oats: These are the most processed and unfortunately lose much of their nutritional value in the process. Quick oats are barely a step above instant oats. When possible, opt for rolled or steel-cut if you want all the benefits.
  • Overnight oats just refers to the preparation method of soaking in water overnight. Typically rolled oats are used for these recipes.

Congrats on completing Oatmeal Crash Course 101! Your certificate is in the mail…

Lowers blood sugar

Oats are less likely to spike blood sugar than other cereals, since they have a low glycemic index and the carb content comes primarily from fiber (not starches and sugars).

Lowers cholesterol

People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease and should monitor cholesterol levels. Oats contain beta glucans, a form of soluble fiber that studies have shown helps reduce bad cholesterol levels while maintaining good cholesterol levels.

Reduces the need for insulin injections

Because of their low GI and GL, oats may reduce the need for insulin injections for those with diabetes when eaten in place of other carb-rich foods.

Helps manage weight

The moderate fiber content in oats make you feel full longer, which can reduce the urge to snack or overeat later.

Boosts energy

Oats are a good source of long-term energy. That’s because they’re packed with B vitamins, iron, and manganese, which help power the body’s natural energy production system.

Digestion

Fiber-rich foods help regulate digestion. Remember those beta glucans that help reduce cholesterol? They also boost the growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract.

Overall, oatmeal is a good addition to a diabetes-friendly diet, so long as you’re a little picky about which kind you buy and keep the portions small. But there are still potential drawbacks.

The high-fiber content of oatmeal can lead to bloating and gassiness. If this happens to you, try drinking water with your oats.

Warning

If you have gastroparesis in addition to diabetes you should avoid oatmeal, since the high fiber content can cause harmful side effects.

A few other risks to consider include:

  • Allergies: Some oats could contain wheat gluten or flour, so those who are allergic or sensitive to gluten should look for the certified gluten-free label.
  • Unwanted additives: Read the label. You’ll want straight-up whole grain oats, without added sugars or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  • Carb content: Oatmeal still contains a lot of carbs, and thus a lot of calories. Watch your portions!

DO

  • Choose Irish or steel-cut oats to maximize nutritional benefits.
  • Add cinnamon, which may further help lower blood sugar.
  • Incorporate protein and healthy fat to stabilize blood sugar and balance your energy sources.
  • Add fresh berries to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten and boost the antioxidant content.
  • Add low-fat milk or almond milk to improve nutritional content.
  • Add oatmeal to your protein shakes or smoothies.

DON’T

  • Don’t purchase prepackaged, instant oatmeal with added sweeteners. The convenience doesn’t make up for the loss in nutrients and the blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t add dried fruit, sweeteners, and cream, as these will raise the glycemic index.

Muesli

These uncooked oats contain resistant starch — a type of starch that doesn’t break down during digestion. Resistant starches have been shown to improve gut health and insulin resistance, since fewer carbs end up in the bloodstream during digestion.

Whole-grain English muffins

These convenient, freezer-friendly gems can be defrosted and heated in the toaster. Add a tablespoon of peanut butter, almond butter, avocado, or low-fat ricotta cheese.

Greek yogurt

The most popular yogurt in the fridge, Greek yogurt has more protein and fewer carbs than traditional yogurt. Make sure to choose a variety that doesn’t have a lot of hidden sugar, like FAGE.

Cottage cheese

If you like a savory breakfast, add a tablespoon of nuts to cottage cheese for a fast and balanced morning meal.

Hard-boiled eggs

Running late? Hard-boiled eggs might be a good option. You can batch-boil them at the start of the week and then grab one each morning on your way out the door. Dietary recommendations suggest that eating fewer than six eggs a week won’t significantly affect your cholesterol levels — though more research is needed to support this limitation.

Whatever you decide to eat in the morning, be sure to measure your blood glucose before eating and two hours after to know how foods affect you.

Bottom line

  • Friends don’t let friends with diabetes eat instant oatmeal. They’re loaded with extra sugar, sweeteners, and flavorings.
  • Steel-cut or rolled oats for life.
  • Convenience equals commitment when it comes to oatmeal. Prep a batch ahead of time and reheat in the morning.