Oatmeal: Good or bad?

You’ve heard it before: oatmeal reduces cholesterol. Oatmeal producers have obtained permission from the FDA to use a cholesterol-reducing claim. The American Heart Association provides a (paid) endorsement of Quaker Oats.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve asked someone whether they ate a healthy breakfast and the answer was “Sure. I had oatmeal.”

Is this true? Is oatmeal heart healthy because it reduces LDL cholesterol?

I don’t think so. Try this: Have a serving of slow-cooked (e.g., steel-cut, Irish, etc.) oatmeal. Most people will consume oatmeal with skim or 1% milk and some dried or fresh fruit. Wait an hour, then check your blood sugar.

If you are not diabetic and have a fasting blood sugar in the “normal” range (<100 mg/dl), you will typically have a 1-hour blood glucose of 150-180 mg/dl–very high. If you have mildly increased fasting blood sugars between 100 and 126 mg/dl, postprandial (after-eating) blood sugars will easily exceed 180 mg/dl. If you have diabetes, hold onto your hat because, even if you take medications, blood sugar one hour after oatmeal will usually be between 200 and 300 mg/dl.

This is because oatmeal is converted rapidly to sugar, and a lot of it. Even if you were to repeat the experiment with no dried or fresh fruit, you will still witness high blood sugars in these ranges. Do like some people and pile on the raisins, dried cranberries, or brown sugar, and you will see blood sugars go even higher.

Blood sugars this high, experienced repetitively, will damage the delicate insulin-producing beta cells of your pancreas (glucose toxicity). It also glycates proteins of the eyes and vascular walls. The blood glucose effects of oatmeal really don’t differ much from a large Snickers bar or bowl of jelly beans.

If you are like most people, you too will show high blood sugars after oatmeal. It’s easy to find out . . . check your postprandial blood sugar.

In past, I recommended oat products, specifically oat bran, to reduce LDL, especially small LDL. I’ve changed my mind: I now no longer recommend any oat product due to its blood sugar-increasing effects.

Better choices: eggs, ground flaxseed as a hot cereal, cheese (the one dairy product that does not excessively trigger insulin), raw nuts, salads, leftovers from last evening’s dinner.

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67 Responses to Oatmeal: Good or bad?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I like oats so when I came across this blog I was interested to read about oats being taken off the Dr.s' recommend food list
    due to spiking bloodsugar levels. I'm in this category described in the blog post – "If you are not diabetic and have a fasting blood sugar in the "normal" range (<100 mg/dl), you will typically have a 1-hour blood glucose of 150-180 mg/dl–very high."

    I decided to perform an informal blood sugar profile of my typical oats breakfast meal under the following test conditions:

    Test device: Accu-chek Integra

    50g – Quick Oats Homebrand Woolworths Australia
    125g – 1% low fat milk
    50g Mixed Frozen berries (raspberries/blackberries/blueberries/cranberries)
    Total Kcal from meal = 271

    No other food or drink during 2 hour testing period.

    Testing period: Initial measurements at morning fasting but after gym workout (T0) then every subsequent 30 minutes for 2 hours

    T0: 91.8 mg/dL
    T0+30: 136.8 mg/dL
    T0+60: 120.6 mg/dL
    T0+90: 108.0 mg/dL
    T0+180: 104.4 mg/dL

    The peak 136.8 mg/dL at the 30 minute mark is within the acceptable range post meal and well below the 150-180 range suggested in the blog.

    I will try slow oats next time – Kcal content is the same but the oat flakes are larger which suggest slower glucose release.

    Everyone responds to food differnetly so YMMV.

  2. Anonymous says:

    My husband was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Oatmeal is listed as a low glycemic index food, so we thought it would be fine for him to enjoy this once in a while. Unfortunately, his last bowl of rolled oats with no sugar and only a dash of milk caused him to have blood sugar in the mid 200's for FOUR HOURS afterward.

    We are discovering that we have to forget what the industry says and base our food choices on a case by case basis. Some foods cause him to spike, and other foods that you would think would be terrible (like potato chips) don't cause a glucose spike at all. It's certainly a learning curve.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi i have been finding the same thing with oat meal. Im on my second day of testing. after eating 3/4 cup old fasion quaker oats, 1/4 cup raisins, 2 tbs pecans 1 1/2 tbs flax 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk, and 1 tbs of real maple syrup. 1st days numbers where. 110 just before eating. 189 1hr after start of eating. 100 2hr after, 78 4 hrs after. 2nd day. 102 just before eating, 172 1hr after start of eating, 84 2hr after. My question would be. Is the BS spike after eating enough to kill off the Beta Cells in the Pancreas? Also why do I sustained lower BS lvl for hrs after eating the oat meal? Only meal so far that I get the Lower numbers for hours after.

  4. Physical Therapy Supplies says:

    I'm in this category described in the blog post. Now, a study led by a scientific team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) provides some of the first data on this subject, And why would a diabetic add sugars or fruits to a carb food??? Come on!

  5. Richard says:

    More internet BS…. Oatmeal is the last thing you want to eat if your a diabetic. I do clinical test for a doctor and oatmeal is a no, no for diabetics… Eggbeaters, bacon and coffee. Very little rise in sugar..

  6. Janice says:

    I haven’t been diagnosed as diabetic, but I do have a sensitivity. If I eat a medium or large meal that includes bread, I practically go to into a coma and must sleep for 30 to 45 minutes. Yet, I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the past year and my cholesterol went from “above acceptable” to the low range of “acceptable”. All my cholesterol levels improved dramatically and are in the most perfect range they can be in. Though I don’t check my blood sugar, I can eat a bowl of oatmeal at any time and I never have that spike that puts me to sleep. So for me, it’s been a God send. It’s one of the few “treats” I can eat without any noticeable adverse affects.

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