Oatmeal and Diabetes?

September 20, 2016 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Diabetic Menu Item, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

I was just sharing the recognition of the approaching return of oatmeal season with my husband, Vic, this morning at breakfast. We generally only eat two different cereals; shredded wheat mostly while the weather is warm and old-fashioned oats when it’s cooler.

If you’ve been reading this blog for many years, you know that Vic has diabetes (albeit, well-controlled diabetes). Some people have the idea that oatmeal is not a good choice for a diabetic; but the fact is that it’s not quite a simple yes or no kind of answer. So today let me share a little info about inglorious oatmeal or porridge. (Note: I wish we called it porridge; as I was such an fan of Grimm ‘s Fairy Tales, where porridge was frequently eaten and not just by bears.)

To begin with, let’s not forget that oats are whole grains. Only 8% of adults and 1% of children get the recommended amount of whole grains. As you probably know, I’ve written a variety of articles on the benefits of whole grains; but in short just know that whole-grain consumption is associated with better intakes of nutrients and dietary fiber, lower BMIs and smaller waist circumferences.

The main place where oats differ is after the oats are harvested and cleaned and the outer hull is removed; this is essentially the edible whole grain or groat – oat for short. The grain is then cut with a steel blade to make steel-cut oats; which take about 20 – 30 minutes to cook. Or the grain is steamed and rolled to make old-fashioned oatmeal; which take about 3 – 5 minutes to cook. And the quick oats or instant oats are steamed even more to make them cook in about 30 – 60 seconds.

If the resulting products of each of the three styles oatmeal are compared by weight, for example 40 grams of each (generally one serving), then the nutritional profiles are the same, if they are plain. It’s when you starting adding stuff, like sugar and flavorings that changes become significant. The instant oats, like Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal packets with different flavors (apple, brown sugar, cranberry, and so on), are often high in sodium and sugar. The higher level of processing of the instant oats, the quicker it is digested and the faster it raises the blood sugar. So in essence, it would be best to choose the steel cut or the old-fashioned; especially if you want to sustain a longer, slower rise in blood sugar.

The main macronutrient in oatmeal is carbohydrates, but because it is a whole grain, it also has fiber. That’s great because the fiber can slow the metabolism of the carbs into sugar; especially if it is minimally processed like steel-cut oats or old-fashioned oats.

In addition, what you add to the oatmeal or eat with it can influence, whether or not you will have spikes in blood sugar. Adding vegetables (like rhubarb) or fruits (like whatever whole fruits I have on hand) to our oatmeal, also helps it to slow down the process of turning the carbs to sugar, because the fruit and vegetables also have fiber. (Note: Don’t forget the fabulous phytonutrients that are in the fruit or vegetables.) So if you’re eating complex carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables and/or fruits they are full of fiber and nutrients that provide sustained energy and avoid spikes in blood sugar. Not only is a spike in blood sugar avoided, but in addition, it helps reduce hunger and cravings. It sticks with you so you are not snacking before lunch, while instant oatmeal doesn’t last and you find yourself snacking.

Although there is protein in oatmeal (5 grams per serving – compared to milk, for example at 8 grams) adding milk or other sources of protein is another way of slowing down the release of carbohydrate in the blood. So if you have some milk or yogurt with your oatmeal, that can lengthen the metabolism and give you a longer sustained release of energy, which is exactly what you want for a diabetic or someone who just wants to avoid that spike and those snack-attacks. If you’re trying to increase the protein in your cereal, don’t choose coconut milk or almond milk which are both lower in protein than cow’s milk or soy milk.

Fat also slows the release of sugar into the blood. So at our home we also sprinkle our cereal with sliced almonds. Most all nuts and seeds can provide this function. Nuts have fat, protein and fiber; so they’re a great addition to a cereal breakfast. Don’t forget flavor, texture and a wonderful crunch!

Since we’ve discussed so many things to add, I’ll share that I make little packets of oatmeal, with added natural no-calorie sweetener and cinnamon. Then all I do is add the water to a big bowl and pop it into the microwave with chopped frozen fruit.

Don’t let my ideas limit you. You can use oatmeal thousands of ways. If you’re just sticking with oatmeal, there are many different flavors, and spices to make it taste great. Also, there are many new ways with oatmeal being published now. We generally think of oatmeal as a breakfast food or as an addition to a dessert; but we may want to expand our whole grain horizons and step into the world of savory oatmeal. A Registered Dietitian, who writes Avocado a Day Nutrition blog, has a very nice piece on savory oatmeal – A good place for us to start.

So the answer in short is: Yes, eat oatmeal even if you have diabetes; but skip the instant oats. Try a variety of items to make a flavorful delicious bowl of porridge, and if you choose well, it will probably even protect you from hunger for hours.