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Is oatmeal good for diabetics?

Changing dietary habits is often a strategy used to help control diabetes - you should always follow your doctor's directions.

Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and has many health benefits.

Current food recommendations include eating about 25 or more grams of fiber a day for women and 35 or more grams for men.

For those with diabetes, even more, is recommended.1

Oats are incredibly high in fiber. They have a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan, which is beneficial for managing diabetes.2

Oats are also gluten-free and packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.2 Eating a high-fiber oat diet can have many benefits.

But is oatmeal good for diabetics?

Lowers cholesterol levels and heart disease risk

Diabetes often leads to heart disease, because high sugar levels can damage blood vessels and parts of the heart.2

The fiber-rich anti-inflammatory properties of oats have been shown to lower the risk of developing heart problems in the long run.1

High cholesterol levels are another known complication of diabetes that can cause heart damage. Oat fibers decrease the amount of LDL or “bad” cholesterol.2

This helps reduce blood pressure and keep the heart healthy.

Controls blood sugar

High blood sugar is a problem for diabetics. Oats can help to control blood sugar.

Even though oatmeal is high in carbohydrates, it is actually low on the glycemic index (GI) scale.1

When eating a meal, the fiber slows down how much sugar is taken up by the body which works to regulate and lower blood glucose levels.1

Maintains weight

Many people suffering from diabetes are overweight. Fiber is “energy-dense”, so it helps with feeling fuller.

The beta-glucan fiber in oats makes it so you eat less and stay satisfied for longer periods of time.3

The lower calories and longer amount of time needed to eat fibrous food, like oats, will help with weight management.1

Lowers inflammation

Inflammation happens normally in the body, but too much inflammation can cause problems for overall health and functioning. Type 2 diabetes is known to cause chronic inflammation by putting a lot of stress on organs.

This can then lead to complications such as heart and brain disease.2

Oats have a compound called avenanthramide, which is anti-inflammatory.4 Decreasing how much inflammation is in the body can help prevent diabetes from getting worse.

Ways to eat oatmeal

Oats are a great food to include in a diabetes diet. Out of the many oat-based dishes, eating oatmeal is a staple that can help manage diabetes.

Quick oats

Quick instant oats are oat groats (grounds) that are steamed with liquid, usually water, for a long period of time.5 This creates really thin oat pieces that cook quickly.

Instant oatmeal is microwavable making it a perfect on-the-go meal.

However, its high glycemic index will cause a blood sugar spike, so it is not the preferred choice for managing diabetes.1

Slow-cooked oats

Also known as rolled oats, slow-cooked oatmeal dishes can be made by steaming oat grounds and flattening them into flakes.5

Although a great source of fiber, rolled oats are not the first recommended choice for a diabetic diet.

After partially cooking them, they have a high glycemic index (but still lower than quick oats) which can quickly raise blood sugar levels.1

Steel-cut oats

Steel-cut (Irish) oats are larger in size, compared to rolled oats, so they take longer to cook.5

Steel-cut oats are the best kind for type 2 diabetes because they are the least processed.1

Overnight oats are a popular dish that can be made by soaking steel-cut oats in a liquid of choice, such as almond or fat milk, and leaving it overnight.

Porridge

Porridge can be made by steaming oat grounds for a long period of time in liquid and mashing them into a meal-like texture.5 Oatmeal for breakfast is usually eaten as porridge.

For diabetics, it is important to avoid a high-sugar diet.1 Oatmeal with added sugars can dangerously spike blood glucose levels.

There are many different ways to make oatmeal taste good while still keeping it healthy.

Talk to your doctor or a registered dietician to find out what type of oats and diet is best for you.

References:

  1. Hou, Q., Li, Y., Li, L., Cheng, G., Sun, X., Li, S., & Tian, H. (2015). The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients7(12), 10369–10387. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7125536
  • Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. (2021, April 12). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke
  • Rebello, C. J., Chu, Y. F., Johnson, W. D., Martin, C. K., Han, H., Bordenave, N., Shi, Y., O’Shea, M., & Greenway, F. L. (2014). The role of meal viscosity and oat β-glucan characteristics in human appetite control: a randomized crossover trial. Nutrition Journal, 13, 49. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-49
  • Sur, R., Nigam, A., Grote, D., Liebel, F., & Southall, M. D. (2008). Avenanthramides, polyphenols from oats, exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-itch activity. Archives of dermatological research300(10), 569–574. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00403-008-0858-x
  • Types of Oats | The Whole Grains Council. (n.d.). Oldways Whole Grain Council. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/oats-%E2%80%93-january-grain-month/types
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany MSc
Melody Sayrany is a seasoned science writer with a host of experiences in cancer, neuroscience, aging, and metabolism research. She completed her BSc at The University of California, San Diego, and her MSc in biology, focusing on metabolic diseases during aging, at the University of British Columbia. Melody is passionate about science communication, and she aims to bridge the gap between complex scientific concepts and the broader community through compelling storytelling.
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