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Can You Eat Oats and Oatmeal If You Have Diabetes?

Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast choice and a great way to start
your day.

It’s low in calories and full of fiber, which can make it the
perfect food for people who are trying to control their weight.

However, oatmeal also contains a lot of carbs. For this reason,
people with diabetes may wonder if it’s a good choice for them.

This article takes a closer look at oatmeal and explores
whether it’s a healthy choice for people with diabetes. The
answer may surprise you.

Bowl of Oatmeal, Bananas, Blueberries and Chia Seeds

Oatmeal Is Highly Nutritious

Oatmeal, sometimes called porridge, is a food made with oat
groats. These are oat kernels that have had their hard outer
husks removed.

There are three main types of oatmeal, including steel-cut,
whole (also called rolled) and instant oatmeal. They differ in
the way they’re processed, as steel-cut oats are cut rather
than rolled like whole and instant varieties.

Most people eat their oatmeal hot. They make it by mixing their
oats with either boiling water or milk. You can also reduce
prep time by making oatmeal without heat, soaking it in milk or
water overnight and eating it cold in the morning.

However you prepare it, oatmeal is a good source of carbs and
fiber, particularly soluble fiber. It also contains a range of
vitamins and minerals.

For most people, it’s a balanced and highly
nutritious food
choice. 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of dry oats
provides the following nutrients (1):

  • Calories: 389
  • Carbs: 66 grams
  • Protein: 17 grams
  • Fiber: 11 grams
  • Fat: 7 grams
  • Manganese: 246% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 52% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 51% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 44% of the RDI
  • Copper: 31% of the RDI
  • Iron: 26% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 26% of the RDI
  • Folate: 14% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 13% of the
    RDI

As you can see, oats are low in calories and high in nutrients.

However, they also contain a lot of carbs.
And if you make your oatmeal with milk, this will increase its
carb content even more.

For example, each 1/2 cup of whole milk you add to your oats
will add around 13 grams of carbs and 73 calories (2).

Summary: Oats are a highly nutritious food
high in carbs, fiber and some vitamins and minerals.

How Carbs Raise Blood Sugar Levels

Blood Glucose Meter and Strips

Oatmeal contains a lot of carbs. In fact, carbs make up 67% of
the calories in oats (1).

This can be a concern for people with diabetes, since carbs
cause blood sugar levels to rise.

Normally, the body responds to sugar in the blood by releasing
the hormone insulin.

Insulin works by telling your body to take the sugar out of
your blood and into your cells, where it can be used for energy
or stored.

However, people with diabetes don’t produce enough insulin, or
they have cells that don’t respond to insulin in the normal
way. When these people eat too many carbs, their blood sugar
may rise to unhealthy levels.

That’s why it’s important for people with diabetes to minimize
these large spikes in blood sugar and maintain good blood
sugar control
.

Good blood sugar control helps reduce the risk of diabetes
complications like heart disease, nerve damage and eye damage
(3).

Summary: Oats are high in carbs. This is a
concern for people with diabetes, since carbs cause blood
sugar levels to rise.

Fiber Helps Reduce Blood Sugar Spikes

Oats may be high in carbs, but they are also high in soluble
fiber,
which can have beneficial effects on blood sugar control.

Soluble fiber helps slow down the rate at which carbs are
absorbed into the blood (4).

When you’re assessing which carbs are better for keeping your
blood sugar under control, you’ll want to look for types that
are absorbed more slowly.

A great tool for this is the glycemic index (GI) scale.

The scale scores a food based on how quickly it raises blood
sugar levels, and classifies it as low, medium or high on the
GI scale:

  • Low GI: Score of 55 or less
  • Medium GI: Score of 56–69
  • High GI: Score of 70–100

Carbs with a low GI, which are absorbed more slowly, are
thought to be beneficial for people with diabetes. This is
because they provide beneficial nutrients without spiking your
blood sugar like more quickly absorbed carbs can (5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

Porridge made with rolled or steel-cut oats is classed as a
low-to-medium GI food, since both these types of oatmeal have a
GI score between 50 and 58 (10, 11, 12).

However, it’s important to note that different types of oats
are not created equal.

Instant oats have a slightly higher GI, at around 65, which
means their carbs are absorbed more quickly and are more likely
to cause blood sugar spikes (13).

Summary: The high fiber content of oatmeal
means the carbs it contains are slowly absorbed and less
likely to cause large blood sugar spikes.

Oats May Improve Blood Sugar Control

Oats in a Black Bowl

Some studies have shown that eating oats may improve blood
sugar control.

In a review of 14 studies, eating oats was found to lower
fasting blood sugar by 7 mg/dL (0.39 mmol/L) and HbA1c by 0.42%
in type 2 diabetics (14).

It’s thought that this occurs because they contain beta-glucan,
a type of soluble
fiber
(15, 16).

This type of fiber absorbs water in your gut and forms a thick,
gel-like paste (17).

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Some studies have shown that this can help slow down the rate
at which your body digests and absorbs carbs, resulting in
better blood sugar control (18, 19, 20).

A recent review found that the beta-glucan from oats can reduce
fasting blood sugar and improve blood sugar control in people
with type 2 diabetes. It reduced fasting blood sugar by 9.36
mg/dL (0.52 mmol/L) and HbA1c by 0.21%, on average (21).

Some small studies have also linked eating foods containing
beta-glucan with decreased insulin resistance in people with
type 2 diabetes (22, 23).

However, the results are mixed. Other studies have found
oatmeal to have no effect on
insulin resistance
(18, 24).

Overall, studies investigating how oats affect people with type
2 diabetes have found that they improve blood sugar control and
insulin response (14, 25, 26).

However, the effects of oats on people with type 1 diabetes
have not been studied as much.

Summary: Oats may be helpful for lowering
blood sugar levels and improving blood sugar control in
people who have type 2 diabetes.

Other Health Benefits

Eating oatmeal may also provide you with other health benefits.

Oatmeal in a Red Cup

Improved Blood Lipids

Some studies have linked eating oats with lower levels of total
cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. On average, this amounts
to a modest reduction of around 9-11 mg/dL (0.25-0.30 mmol/L)
(27, 28, 29).

Researchers have attributed this effect to the high levels of
beta-glucans in oats. These are thought to help lower your
body’s cholesterol levels in two ways.

First, they’re thought to slow down digestion and reduce the
amount of fat and cholesterol you absorb from your gut
(30).

Second, beta-glucans are known to bind to the cholesterol-rich
bile acids in your bowel. This prevents your body from
reabsorbing and recycling them, so they pass out of your body
in your stool (31, 32, 33).

Since high cholesterol levels are associated with an increased
risk of heart disease, including oats in your diet may help
lower your risk (34, 35, 36, 37, 38).

Improved Weight Management

Oats are thought to be a good food to eat if you are trying to

lose weight
. One of the reasons for this is that they can
help fill you up.

This makes them a potentially useful food if you are trying to
manage your weight and prevent yourself from overeating.

It’s thought that the filling effect of oats is partly due to
the high levels of beta-glucans they contain.

Because beta-glucans are a soluble fiber, they form a thick gel
in your gut. This helps slow the rate at which food leaves your
stomach, and helps you feel fuller for longer (39, 40, 41, 42).

Additionally, oatmeal is low in calories and rich in nutrients.
This makes it a great choice for people who are trying to lose
weight and improve their health (43).

Improved Gut Health

Oats are high in prebiotic soluble fiber, so oatmeal is thought
to have the potential to improve the balance of the good
bacteria in your gut (44, 45).

In fact, one small study has suggested that oatmeal can
directly change the balance of your gut bacteria (46).

However, larger studies are needed to support these findings
and discover if this change is linked to any health benefits.

Summary: Eating oatmeal could provide you
with other health benefits. These include improved blood
lipids and weight management.

Should People With Diabetes Eat Oatmeal?

Bowl of Oatmeal with Fresh Berries

Oatmeal is a healthy food that many people with diabetes can
include in their diets.

Plain rolled or steel-cut oats are the best option because they
have the lowest GI and no
added sugar
.

However, there are a few factors you should consider if you
have diabetes and are considering adding oatmeal your diet.

First of all, watch your portion size. Although oatmeal has a
low GI, eating very large portions can increase what’s known as
the glycemic load (GL).

GL is an estimate of how much a certain portion of a particular
food will raise your blood sugar levels after you eat it
(47).

For example, a normal portion is around one cup of cooked
oatmeal (250 grams). This has a GL of 9, which is low (48).

However, if you double your portion size, the GL will also
double.

Additionally, although GI and GL can be good guidelines, it’s
important to note that blood sugar responses to carbs can be
very individual. This means it’s important to monitor your
blood sugar and note how you respond (49).

Also be aware that if you control
your diabetes with a low-carb diet
, then oatmeal is not a
suitable food choice, since it is very high in carbs.

Summary: Oats can have several benefits for
people with type 2 diabetes, but they are not a good choice
on a low-carb diet. Make sure to watch your portions and
monitor your blood sugar levels.

The Bottom Line

Oats are a healthy food packed full of beneficial nutrients.
They can be included in the diets of people with diabetes.

However, it’s important to remember that, at the end of the
day, they’re still carbs.

This means that if you have diabetes, mind your portion sizes
and be aware that oats may not be suitable if you manage your
diabetes with a low-carb diet.

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