Oatmeal is one of the best breakfast options available. Whether you make it in the microwave or opt for creative overnight oats recipes, this hearty whole grain cereal can fill you up and help you slim down. But only if you make it properly.
That’s right; as healthy as oatmeal can be, there are still common mistakes that can make you pack on the pounds. From overdoing it with the maple syrup to eating it plain, oatmeal can quickly go from a slimming breakfast to a blood sugar-spiking, fattening disaster—which could make it one of the worst breakfast habits for your waistline. Here’s what to avoid the next time you mix up a bowl for breakfast.
On its own, oatmeal is relatively low-calorie, high in fiber, and high in protein. A serving of ½ cup dry oatmeal made with water sets you back 150 calories, 3 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 5 grams of protein. But even though it’s made with whole grain oats, oatmeal is pretty carb-heavy. To maximize satiety and prevent spikes in blood sugar, add a little more fat and protein to your oatmeal. Stirring in one tablespoon of nut butter not only makes it creamy and delicious, but it will also add about 4 more grams of protein and 8 more grams of fat. Tossing in some chia seeds and/or almond slivers will also do the trick.
You may think you’re saving time by buying conveniently prepackaged oatmeal, but even healthy-sounding varieties can be teeming with extra chemicals and sugar. Some instant oatmeal packets contain as much as 14 grams of sugar and questionable ingredients like inflammatory vegetable oil and artificial dyes. You’re better off buying plain, unflavored oats and adding your own toppings. Plus, it will save you money in the long run.
Starbucks’ Classic Whole-Grain Oatmeal is a great breakfast option, especially when you’re on the go—but only if you just add the mixed nuts. Tossing in the brown sugar packet that comes with it adds in an additional 12 grams of sugar and 50 calories. This goes for when you enjoy it at home; adding in brown sugar, maple syrup, or table sugar can quickly up the carb count and spike your blood sugar. If you’re craving sweetness in your oatmeal, opt for fresh fruit and cinnamon instead. A handful of blueberries or chopped apple slices will add a little natural sugar with some essential filling fiber to keep you full until lunchtime.
Although we’re all about adding your own toppings to oatmeal rather than buying a prepackaged variety, dried fruit packs a ton of extra sugar without the necessary fiber of fresh fruit. Tossing in just ¼ of a cup of Ocean Spray Craisins will tack on a whopping 29 grams of sugar and 33 grams of carbs. Compare that to fresh cranberries, which are only 46 calories and 4 grams of sugar for a whole cup.
Oatmeal itself contains protein, but only about 5 grams. Compared to its nearly 30 grams of carbs, you should make sure you’re getting in extra protein, especially in the morning to help maximize satiety and stabilize blood sugar. Pair your protein with a couple slices of lean bacon, mix in some egg whites while it’s hot (seriously! It’s delicious!), or stir in a spoonful of nut butter. You’ll squash those mid-morning snack cravings and stay full until lunch.