Attention, Oatmeal Lovers: Here’s Why You’re Hangry at 10 a.m. (How To Stop an Oat-Induced Blood Sugar Spike)
An extra prep step is worth it.
Have you ever wondered why you felt hungry — even hangry — just a few hours after eating a bowl of oatmeal? I certainly have. I love a warm bowl of oats with maple syrup and a splash of milk in the a.m., and always thought it was a relatively healthy breakfast. However, I’ve never understood why I felt tired or why my stomach would grumble just one or two hours later. Oats have fiber and protein, right? Shouldn’t those nutrients make me feel energized and satiated?
“Oatmeal, by itself, could cause a spike in blood sugar depending on the type you choose and the quantity you eat at a sitting,” says Michelle Rauch, RD at The Actors Fund assisted living facility. Below, Rauch explains the details and how to “dress up” your oats so you don’t lose all your energy midday.
Why a Good Thing Goes Bad
Before you cut oatmeal out of your mornings completely, know that it can still be part of a well-balanced, satiating breakfast. “While oatmeal is high in carbohydrates, it is considered a ‘complex carbohydrate,'” says Rauch. “Meaning: It also a good source of soluble fiber (including Beta-Glucan). Beta-Glucan has been long studied for its positive association with blood sugar, insulin response, and other cardiovascular benefits such as lowering cholesterol levels. The soluble fiber passes through the GI tract undigested, therefore slowing down the absorption of sugar and helping you avoid spikes in blood glucose levels.”
Still, oats by themselves aren’t the best solution. Complex carbs are still carbs, and they can lead to a blood sugar spike if you don’t balance them out with other macronutrients. (Think protein and fat.) Plus, certain oat products, like instant oats, contain less fiber and protein than other varieties, and may contribute to an even greater sugar spike.
What’s more, adding sweet stuff to your oats (I’m guilty!) is probably the worst thing you can do if you want to maintain even blood sugar levels. “I caution against adding certain toppings to your oatmeal, as you could turn a healthy breakfast into a calorie and sugar bomb,” says Rauch. “Jam and maple syrup have the potential to cancel out the [good]. And despite its touted health benefits, honey is high in sugar — it has 17 grams in just one tablespoon.
“Do not assume that jam is mostly fruit and therefore healthy, either. Jams contain high amounts of added sugar and some even contain high fructose corn syrup. One tablespoon of Smuckers Strawberry Jam contains 12 grams of sugar, 9 grams of which is added.”
As I mourn the homemade apricot jam and strawberry preserves in my fridge, I can’t help but wonder if oatmeal can really be tasty with less sugary toppings. However, it’s definitely worth a shot — and Rauch was determined to show me a few recipes to change my mind. Find them below.
Dietitian-Recommended Oatmeal Breakfasts
To make those morning oats more satisfying without ruining their appeal, check out these tasty recipes recommended by Rauch’s colleagues.
Tiramisu Overnight Oats
Recipe courtesy of Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD
Instructions: Combine ½ cup oats, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 scoop collagen powder, a double shot of espresso or 2 ounces of brewed coffee, ¼ cup water, 1 teaspoon maple syrup or favorite sweetener, and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract in a glass mason jar. Let sit for 4 hours or overnight in fridge. Add vanilla Greek yogurt and cacao powder on top.
Sweet Egg White Oatmeal (Yes, Really!)
Recipe courtesy of Nicole Addison, MHSc, RD
Instructions: In a microwave bowl, add ½ cup quick oats, ¾ cup milk of choice, ¼ cup egg whites, 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Microwave for 30 to 45 seconds on high, then stir; repeat cooking process two or three times, or until oats are fluffy and there is no extra moisture in bowl. Remove from microwave, stir, add your favorite toppings. (Addison recommends frozen blueberries and peanut butter.)
High-Protein, Nutella Overnight Oats
Recipe courtesy of Miranda Galati, MHSc, RD. This recipe contains an impressive 27 grams of protein.
Instructions: Combine ½ cup old fashioned/large flake oats, ½ cup dairy milk, ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons hemp seeds, 1 tablespoon Nutella, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, and pinch of salt (optional) in a glass mason jar or storage container. Let sit overnight in fridge. When ready, stir and enjoy.
Traditional, But More Satiating, Oatmeal
Can’t let go of your sugary syrups or jams? Here’s what Rauch recommends you should also add to avoid that hangry feeling an hour later:
- A scoop of plain protein powder.
- ½ cup skim milk or high-protein milk, such as Fairlife.
- One tablespoon of chia, hemp, or flax seeds, which don’t impart much flavor, for extra protein, fiber, and fat.
- One tablespoon of a nut butter, preferably one with no added sugar or salt, for extra protein and fat.
Here’s to keeping the hangry at bay.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.