By Jiyoung Kang
MS, RD, LDN
If you were raised on oatmeal growing up, thank your parents! Eating oatmeal every day is a habit worth having. The health benefits of this breakfast super food are far-reaching and have been documented in hundreds of studies. In addition to being a nutritional power house, oatmeal is also versatile, long-lasting, and cheap – making it a perfect pantry staple. Read on to learn more about what makes this dish the perfect addition to your daily breakfast!
Benefits of Oatmeal
What’s the best part about eating oatmeal? Other than the great taste, it is chock-full of fiber – a nutrient lacking in most Americans’ diets. On average, Americans only consume half of the daily fiber recommendation (35 grams for men and 25 grams for women.) Most Americans skimp on high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, making it difficult to fulfill the recommendation. But adding a food like oatmeal to our diets fill the fiber gap: just one cup of cooked oatmeal provides 4 grams of fiber. That’s the same amount found in a medium apple or a cup of brussels sprouts.
Tell Me More About Fiber
Fiber has many health benefits, mainly due to its physical properties and the fact that our bodies cannot digest it. While difficult digestion may sound like a problem, the challenge fiber provides actually keeps our body processes working well. Fiber is traditionally classified into two groups: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is soluble in water. This fiber absorbs water like a sponge and, in doing so, forms a gel in our stomachs. Soluble fiber helps you feel full, lowers “bad cholesterol” levels, and maintains a healthy blood-glucose level, which is important for diabetes prevention and control. Some examples of soluble fiber are psyllium, oat bran, apples, pears, legumes and barley.
Insoluble fiber is not soluble in water but has very strong water binding capacity- which means that it can absorb and hold onto a lot of water. This binding helps to create bulk, which can help you feel full longer, just like soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber also speeds up the passage of food through the digestive system, promoting regularity and reducing constipation. Some examples of insoluble fiber include wheat bran and bran cereals, corn bran, some whole-wheat foods, vegetables and fruit.
Because our bodies cannot break down fiber, it can travel all the way through your digestive system, basically pushing other things through. In doing so, fiber helps prevent food from lingering in the digestive system. Fiber also helps feed the “good” bacteria in our gut through a process called fermentation. In the fermentation process, “good” bacteria keep the “bad” bacteria out of the intestinal tract and provide important nutrients (fuel and vitamins) to the colonic cells. Consequently, fiber keeps your gut incredibly healthy – and a healthy gut means a stronger immunity in the intestinal tract and throughout the body!
I’m Convinced. Let’s Make Some Oatmeal!
Now that you know about the magic of fiber, use the following recipes to make your own bowl of healthy and delicious oatmeal. No matter your kitchen situation, we have a recipe for perfect oatmeal. But first, some starter tips:
- Start by using plain oats (instant, quick cooking, old fashioned, etc.). The added ingredients in instant, flavored oatmeal can turn your healthy meal to a bowl of junk food – and no one wants that! Just one serving of instant oatmeal varieties contain 3-4 teaspoons of added sugars. That’s more than half of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake for added sugars for women, all before you’ve stepped out the door!
- Make oatmeal with milk instead of water to increase the protein and calcium. If you are lactose intolerant or avoid dairy, try using other milk alternatives such as almond, soy, or rice milks. These alternatives won’t have as much protein as regular milk, but they are still great sources of calcium. Be sure to choose unsweetened versions to cut down on the added sugars.
- Pump up the nutrition by adding some fresh fruit. Blueberries, strawberries, and bananas make great toppings while adding vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Sweeten your oatmeal naturally. For the taste of sugar without the negative health effects, cook fruits directly in the oatmeal. This is a great way to use up your ripe bananas!
- Increase protein content and heart healthy fats. Try using nuts, nut butters, and seeds as toppings!
Stove top –
Whipped Banana Oatmeal
- 1/3 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup 1% or skim or soy milk
- 2/3 cup water (I like my oats a bit liquidy – cut back to 1/2 a cup if you don’t)
- 1/2 a banana, sliced very thinly with a few bigger chunks
- 1/2 tbsp chia seeds (they give the best fluffy texture!)
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Vanilla, stirred in at end
1. Start by combining rolled oats, water, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Let it heat up for a few minutes.
2. Once it begins to steam or bubble, stir vigorously at times and “whip” the banana into the oats.
3. The oats will take about 5 minutes on medium heat from start to finish to fully absorb the liquid. They’re done when they reach your desired consistency!
- 1 ripe banana, mashed
- 1/2 C rolled oats (or 1/3 C if you want to add a lot of toppings)
- 1/2 C milk (or dairy substitute – again, use 1/3 C if you want to add a lot of toppings)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Toppings as desired (berries, ground flaxseed, nuts/seeds, coconut, nut butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. – see below for ideas)
1. Mash a ripe banana into a microwave safe bowl. The super ripe banana is the key to oatmeal — it makes it nice and sweet (the riper the banana, the sweeter it is!) and gives it a fun texture!
2. Top the banana with the oats, milk, and cinnamon. I never make my oatmeal using water. Milk makes it much tastier/creamier and will keep you full longer, too, due to the extra protein!
3. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping once halfway through to stir. If applicable, stir in any frozen berries at the halfway point. Fresh fruit can be added once the oatmeal is finished cooking.
4. Add desired toppings and enjoy! Some topping combinations I love:
- berries + nuts or seeds (slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc!)
- berries + 1/2 C cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt (see this post for more details: My Favorite Breakfast)
- fresh sliced peach + walnuts or pecans
- 1 Tbsp. nut butter
- Shredded coconut + walnuts or pecans
- 1/3 cup oats old fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/3 cup yogurt
- 1 tbsp chia seeds (chias make a huge difference in the gel!)
- Half a banana
- Cinnamon, if desired
* Note – Overnight oats are just oats soaked overnight that absorb the liquid you put them in (any kind that you like).
1. Create a base of equal parts yogurt, milk, and oats. Mix up these ingredients the night before (fruit, chia seeds, and cinnamon can be added at this time) and put in the fridge overnight.
3. Save additional toppings like granola and nut butter for the morning so that they don’t sink to the bottom or become soft.