Do oats make you gain weight?

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

12 June 2021

Do oats make you gain weight?

Packed with complex carbs and protein, oats are often used as part of a healthy diet or weight loss regime. However, they do also have the ability to make you gain weight depending on the type of oats you use, how you prepare them, what you eat them with and how much you eat.

What to consider when eating oats to avoid weight gain

When including oats as part of healthy diet and lifestyle, especially if you are wanting to maintain a healthy weight, you should consider the following factors:

1. Do the oats have any added extras?

Like any food, the quality of the primary ingredients is important – and in this case, the oats.

See, we want to strike a balance between being wholesome and unrefined, as well as not entirely inconvenient or troublesome for your digestion. So, there are quite a few factors to consider. When it comes to oats, there also tends to be a few different forms which are available to buy so, in some cases, it may get a little confusing. My advice is as follows:

  • Don't opt for instant oats. These often boast 'benefits' including super quick cooking times, or 'delicious' added flavours. When, in reality, they are a pretty well refined version, can end up having lots of unwanted extras in terms of sugars or sweeteners, plus, in my opinion, can come in much too tiny pre-portioned states. This can encourage us just to eat them in the convenient form that they present themselves in, resulting in them not making a very complete or satisfying meal.
  • On the other end of the scale, oats in their most 'whole' form including whole oat groats, or slightly more easily managed, steel-cut oats, can in fact take quite a while to cook, and may be slightly more taxing on your digestion. So, don't worry if these don't quite fit into your schedule.
  • Go for rolled oats. In my opinion, these are the best of both worlds. The have been 'rolled' into a more manageable size and shape, as the name suggests, but still retain enough wholegrain goodness to be considered a healthy option. Plus, since they are much thinner in their form, they can generally cook up quite nicely in around just 4-5 minutes. Or else, they can be pre-soaked and eaten raw, such as in my Frozen Berry & Chia Yoghurt Oat Cups recipe example, as can be watched below:

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2. What are you pairing your oats with

Oats themselves are fairly carb-heavy, although generally they can be considered as a good quality carb option, due to their whole-grain status and decent fibre content.

However, despite this, as a good rule of thumb, we should still be ensuring that every meal or snack not only has a decent proportion of carbs, but also some fibre and protein, plus some healthy fats. For this reason, I always like to consider what I'm pairing my oats with.

In terms of protein options, Greek yoghurt, nuts, seeds or, of course, nut or seed butters are nice options. In terms of fats, we can also have some similar contributions from some of these aforementioned options: think whole-fat dairy rather than processed, 'low-fat' options and feel free to get experimental with all your different kinds of nuts and seeds, plus their respective butters, for some different textures and taste combinations.

3. What are you adding to the oats themselves?

As well as toppings, as mentioned above, some might like to season or directly influence the flavour of the oats themselves before serving up. Traditionally, sugar and even salt have been popular options; both of which, as we now know, may not be the best options if we are trying to maintain optimal health and protect our weight.

Instead, my favourite go-to is cinnamon. Cinnamon is extremely gentle on our blood sugar levels and may even exert some positive effects here. (1) Plus, it tastes lovely too – bonus!

I tend to use cinnamon in place of sugar, wherever possible, with just a tiny addition of something like honey if I'm keep to add an extra smidgeon of sweetness. Remember, honey is still technically sugar-containing, but it is in a much more natural form than refined sugar, so has lots of lovely vitamins, minerals and phytonutrient benefits left intact.

4. How much are you eating?

If you eat too much or too little of anything it can have repercussions, and oats are no exception. Oats have been hailed as wonders for helping people to lose weight, such as with their mention in the 'oatmeal diet'. Conversely, they are also often referenced to as a bulking agent in sports nutrition – so which is it?

The truth is, they can be either depending on how you eat them, and how much you eat of them. Oats are fairly carbohydrate-dense, so I don't often recommend eating a huge portion at once, unless there are some specific dietary goals at play. Plus, as mentioned previously, if you pair your oats with some lovely healthy sources of protein or fats, then you should find that most of you only need a fairly small portion anyway.

See, protein and good quality fats are the macronutrients which are best at helping to keep you fuller for longer, (2) and are generally much gentler on your blood sugar responses. This is why we should aim to make these parts of every meal, as well as employing sensible tactics such as eating slower. So naturally, without giving it too much thought, you shouldn't have to eat huge portions in order to feel satisfied.

5. What else are you doing?

Finally, whether it's weight loss, weight gain or trying to maintain a steady weight that's your aim, the truth is, this very rarely comes down to one specific food type or even just one, singular dietary habit.

Maintaining a healthy weight is often a result of a combining a number of healthy habits and working them into a lifestyle, which is there to stay. So, rather than worrying over very specific ingredients, let's simplify things and look at the bigger picture.

For most people eating a diet based around wholefoods, moving a little more, sleeping better, worrying less, drinking more water and laughing more, is a good recipe for helping to maintain a healthy weight.

For me, this is not only an all-round healthier approach, but also a much more enjoyable way of doing things, and therefore also sustainable, rather than getting too bogged down with all the more minor details.

6. Suitable for both sweet and savoury dishes

Although I say it about lots of my favourite fresh food ingredients, sweet potatoes really are so versatile! Not only can you cook them in lots of different ways including baking, roasting and boiling them for mash, actually, they can be used in an array of both sweet and savoury dished due to the lovely natural sweetness they provide. Check out my recipe video for my Spicy Sweet Potato wedges recipe below:

For kids and adults alike, sweet potatoes can work alone in their various forms as a nutritious side dish, or they can also work well when incorporated into stews, curries or soups, to name a few. I've posted some links to some of my favourite examples below:

Then, interestingly, due to their natural sweetness and lovely indulgent texture sweet potatoes can also work well being incorporated into sweet dishes such as brownies or sponges, and again, can often replace some less favourable ingredients such as refined sugar or lots of butter – yum!

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