This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
There are a lot of different things you can eat when losing weight. Does oatmeal deserve a spot in your weight loss diet?
Oatmeal or oats are a gluten-free whole grain that’s fairly inexpensive. They are available in different versions. Firstly, you have the whole intact oats but these take a while to prepare. That’s why most people prefer the rolled, steel-cut or crushed versions.
Many people consider oatmeal to be a good weight loss food but is that actually the case?
Micronutrients in oatmeal
An important thing to look at is the amount of micronutrients in oatmeal.
Micronutrients are a group of nutrients your body absolutely needs to survive and thrive. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These are involved in basically every aspect of your health, including weight loss.
100 grams of oats provide about (1):
- Manganese: 246% of the DV (Daily Value)
- Phosphorus: 52% of the DV
- Thiamin: 51% of the DV
- Magnesium: 44% of the DV
- Copper: 31% of the DV
- Zinc: 26% of the DV
- Iron: 26% of the DV
- Folate: 14% of the DV
- Vitamin B5: 13% of the DV
- Potassium: 12% of the DV
And a few other micronutrients in smaller amounts. Oats are a powerhouse when it comes to micronutrients.
Oatmeal also contain something called anti-oxidants, substances that help your body deal with oxidative damage.
Fiber in oatmeal for weight loss
Another very important factor for weight loss is the amount of fiber in your food.
Oatmeal contains around 10.6 grams of fiber per 100 grams. This is a big amount compared to most other foods. This is a good thing.
Fiber has multiple benefits. First of all, it feeds your microbiome, the microbes that live in your intestines. The health of your microbiome influences your body’s health and weight. Feeding it well is usually not a bad idea.
Fiber also helps you feel less hungry without adding a lot of calories to your diet. Hunger and cravings can be a big pitfall for people trying to lose weight, so avoiding this is a big plus.
With the large amount of fiber present in oatmeal you can drastically reduce the time you spend craving for more food.
Protein in oatmeal for weight loss
Another part of food that can help you on your weight loss journey is the amount of protein in it.
Oatmeal contains about 16.9 grams of protein per 100 grams. To put this into perspective, salmon contains about 25.4 grams of protein per 100 grams (2). It’s not quite at the same level but in general, it makes oatmeal a great source of plant-based protein. Compared to other whole grains, oatmeal is great in terms of protein.
Protein is considered to be the most filling of the 3 macronutrients. Eating enough protein will also help you prevent muscle loss. Since, muscle helps you burn extra calories throughout the day this is a big plus for protein and oatmeal for weight loss.
Do keep in mind that overdoing it with protein isn’t good either.
Is oatmeal good for losing weight?
To know whether or not you can eat oatmeal while trying to lose weight you still need a final piece of the puzzle. The amount of calories in oatmeal.
389 calories per 100 gram. 273 of these calories come from the carbohydrates (66.3 g per 100 grams of which 10.6 g fiber).
Oatmeal is rather hard to fit in a keto or low carb diet.
The amount of calories in oatmeal is medium to high compared to most other whole foods. Also compared to other whole grains, oats are on the higher side when it comes to calories.
On the one hand you have these awesome amounts of micronutrients, fiber and plant based protein but on the other hand you have this large amount of calories.
How much oatmeal should you eat to lose weight?
The message is that implementing oatmeal in your daily diet plan might raise your calories consumed that day but it might be worth it anyway. You also don’t have to go for the full 100 grams every day. 50 grams could be enough to provide you with extra nutrients without skyrocketing the amount of calories you consume every day.
In theory oatmeal could make you gain weight. It depends on the rest of your diet, your activity levels, the amount of calories you naturally burn each day,… However because of the amount of fiber in oatmeal you will most likely feel full before you come close to overeating it.
If you gain weight while eating oatmeal it’s probably the other parts of your lifestyle that cause this.
The right oatmeal can set you up for a day of success as a weight loss breakfast but you can also consume it as lunch or dinner.
Keep in mind that there are also micronutrients oatmeal doesn’t provide. This makes eating nothing but oatmeal not a great idea for long term health. Keeping your diet varied is a good idea.
Different ways to eat oatmeal
You might have noticed that oats can be used besides for just regular oatmeal. Find out how good or bad these other types of oatmeal are for weight loss.
Oatmeal comes in different versions. For example you can get intact oats but these take longer to prepare. Simplicity helps with sticking to your weight loss eating habits so these might not be a good idea.
You can find different versions of oatmeal like rolled, steel-cut or crushed. In terms of nutrient contents and weight loss these don’t differ in a significant amount. Except for “instant oats”, these may spike blood sugar more which is not what you want for weight loss.
However, within these categories there are different brands. Some manufacturers add things like sugar and artificial sweeteners to their oatmeal. These are negative for your weight loss. Try to avoid these brands. When in doubt you can take a quick look at the nutrition label to see how healthy the oatmeal is. A good general rule for oats is “the less ingredients the healthier”.
Then there are different ways to prepare these regular oats. You can cook them with water or milk. You can let them sit overnight with some yogurt. Or you can just eat them raw with some yogurt to make sure your meal isn’t too dry.
The only differences between these are the ingredients you add to it. For example oatmeal with milk would contain more extra calories than water.
Baked goods with oatmeal
There are a lot of baked goods that implement oatmeal. How healthy are these things compared to just regular oatmeal?
The variety of different foods with “oatmeal” in the name is impressive. Some examples include cookies, muffins, waffles, bread, snack bars, pancakes and cereal.
Surprisingly enough a lot of these contain about the same amount of gross calories as regular oats (3, 4, 5, 6). Except when you start adding ingredients to your oatmeal cookies like raisins, honey, chocolate chips and peanut butter (7) or if you make them “sugar free” (8). In those cases you can expect about 100 calories extra per 100 grams.
The total calorie amount can be deceiving. When you take a closer look at the nutrition facts you can see that the amount of fiber is a lot lower in these baked goods. So a part of the calories comes from stuff bad for weight loss like added sugar and flour. The amount of calories you can absorb is about 40 calories per 100 grams lower.
Baked goods like oatmeal cookies are a lot more unhealthier than regular oatmeal. They will satiate you a lot less and mess more with things like hormones in a bad way.
Oatmeal in smoothies
Smoothies can be alright depending on the ingredients you add to it. Try to avoid things like fruit juices, sugar and other added sweeteners.
Some people like to add oatmeal to smoothies. In terms of weight loss that’s about as good as eating it regularly. Smoothies contain about the same nutrients as the ingredients you add to it.
There is also oat milk available. In general these are lower in calories than regular oats but also lower in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
One cup of oat milk (240 ml) is about 120 calories (9).
If you’re trying to lose weight you want to avoid refined ingredients like flour. Also if the flour comes from oatmeal.
Which oatmeal is the healthiest?
Like with most foods you want to eat oatmeal as unprocessed as possible. That means that regular oatmeal with milk, overnight oats and just raw oats are the best for weight loss. Just don’t buy the ones with added sugar and other sweeteners.
Keep in mind that the ingredients you add to your oatmeal matter too. If you add a lot of sugar or honey your oatmeal will be a lot worse for weight loss.
When should you eat oatmeal to lose weight?
Most of the calories in oatmeal come from the carbohydrate category.
When you eat food a hormone called insulin gets released to counteract the rise in blood sugar. The spike is a lot higher with food that has carbohydrates.
One reason to keep oatmeal for earlier in the day is that your body needs less insulin to deal with the same food earlier in the day compared to later.
The second reason is that elevated insulin levels reduce the release of sleep hormones. Sleep is extremely important for your health and weight so you don’t want that to happen.
Can you eat oats at night for weight loss?
Eating anything, but even more so carbohydrate-heavy food like oats, can disrupt your sleep which is important weight loss.
Even having oats for dinner isn’t preferred for weight loss. Try to eat them earlier in the day.
How to prepare oats for weight loss
There are different healthy ways to prepare oatmeal. This is one of the easier methods.
Step 1 is to put your oats into a microwavable bowl together with milk and/or water. A good ratio to start is something like 1:2 oatmeal : liquid. You can adapt this ratio to your liking. After that you microwave the bowl for about 2 minutes. And voila… It’s that simple.
The simplicity of preparing it is one of the reasons why oatmeal is such a great weight loss food. It’s healthy, it’s simple, and you can make it fairly tasty by adding some other ingredients.
Ingredients you can add to the mix
Now this mix alone is alright but it can use some variety.
You can modify the oatmeal with some of your favorite ingredients. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, peanut butter,…
- Berries and fruit: blueberries, strawberries, banana, apple, pear,…
- Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin spice, ginger,…
- Chocolate with 70+% cacao but not too much since it does contain a lot of calories
Take a look at these 4 oatmeal weight loss recipes if you’re looking for some inspiration for great combinations.
Oatmeal and diabetes
Oats, except for instant oats, have a relatively low glycemic index (12) if you don’t add any ingredients to it.
If you have diabetes oatmeal is a better option than most breakfast cereals. It can certainly help certain people with controlling their blood sugar (13).
Keep in mind that oatmeal is still a carbohydrate rich food. That means that there are also plenty of other foods that have less influence on blood sugar.
Should you eat oatmeal if you want to lose weight?
The benefit of oatmeal is that it is a food with plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. A potential disadvantage, if you’re trying to lose weight, is that it also contains a decent amount of calories.
That means that some extra oatmeal can be a good addition to your weight loss diet but you shouldn’t overdo it. In any case it is most likely a better breakfast food than most cereals if you buy the oatmeal without added sugar.