Can Eating Oatmeal Make You Gain Weight?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Oatmeal is a classic and nutritious meal.

It’s usually made with instant, rolled, or steel cut oats, plus other ingredients like milk, water, brown sugar, or fruit.

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That said, some versions of oatmeal are healthier than others. Whereas instant oatmeal with a lot of sugar may lead to weight gain, homemade versions sweetened only with fruit may promote weight loss.

No matter your weight goals, you can make small changes to your oatmeal to help you either gain or lose weight.

This article explains whether oatmeal can make you gain weight and provides easy tips to make your oatmeal healthier.

Does oatmeal cause weight loss or weight gain?

Oatmeal’s effects on your weight largely depend on how it’s prepared.

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While oatmeal with a lot of high calorie add-ons like peanut butter or chocolate chips may promote weight gain, oatmeal made with water, fruit, and minimal sugar is an excellent meal for those trying to lose weight.

That’s because it’s packed with fiber and numerous nutrients, such as magnesium, vitamin B1, and iron. Depending on the ingredients used, it may also be a great source of protein (1).

In particular, oats are high in beta glucan, a type of fiber that promotes fullness by delaying stomach emptying and triggering the release of peptide YY, a fullness hormone that may help prevent overeating (2, 3, 4).

Furthermore, oatmeal contains complex carbs that help stabilize your blood sugar levels and ward off hunger (2, 4).

Making oatmeal for weight loss
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It’s best to prepare your own oatmeal using rolled or steel cut oats, which are less processed, higher in fiber, and lower in sugar than instant varieties. Just 1/2 cup (40 grams) of dry rolled oats contains 150 calories, 5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber (5).

If you prefer instant packets, select unflavored, plain products to control how much sugar you add. You can then add other delicious, low calorie spices, such as cinnamon, vanilla, and apple pie spice.

Limiting the amount of sugar keeps the calorie content low and helps prevent a rapid spike and drop in blood sugar that may lead to feelings of low energy and hunger shortly after your meal (6).

Make your oatmeal with water and sweeten it with fresh or frozen fruit to add nutrients and fiber. For extra protein, opt for milk instead of water or try a scoop of protein powder.

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Oatmeal’s effects on your weight largely depend on its calorie content. For a weight loss version, stick with low calorie ingredients like fruit, spices, and protein powder.

Oatmeal for weight gain

Oatmeal is also a great meal for weight gain since you can easily add extra calories.

First, choose rolled oats, steel cut oats, or unflavored instant oatmeal. This way, you can add healthy, high calorie ingredients while limiting added sugar.

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Then, choose milk instead of water for extra calories and protein, followed by nutritious, calorie-dense toppings like:

  • almonds
  • walnuts
  • flaxseed
  • hemp hearts
  • dried fruit like dates or apricots
  • natural peanut butter
  • honey

Finally, top your oatmeal with fresh or frozen fruit for a dash of sweetness and nutrition.

These nutritious, calorie-dense ingredients increase your total daily calorie intake, helping you achieve a calorie surplus for weight gain (7).

What about instant packets?

Even when trying to gain weight, it’s still best to avoid sweetened instant oatmeal. That’s because these products are generally high in sugar and low in fiber.

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For example, one packet of flavored instant oatmeal contains around 13 grams of added sugar. Since the average serving is two packets, this can add up to over 26 grams of sugar in a single meal (8).

Eating too much sugar is not only linked to weight gain but also conditions like heart disease and diabetes (9, 10, 11).

To boost your oatmeal’s calorie content while keeping it nutritious, choose toppings like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, natural nut butters, honey, and milk.

General tips to make healthier oatmeal

If you’re looking to make your oatmeal more nutritious, here are some helpful tips (12, 13):

  • Avoid presweetened instant oatmeal. Instead, choose unsweetened instant oats, rolled oats, or steel cut oats.
  • Use spices for flavor. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla add a punch of flavor without extra calories.
  • Watch your portion sizes. Larger servings of oatmeal mean more calories, while smaller servings mean fewer. To know how many calories you’re getting, read the nutrition label of each ingredient and measure your portions using either a measuring cup or kitchen scale.
  • Add more protein. This macronutrient helps you stay full and promotes muscle growth after a workout. Options include protein powder, milk, Greek yogurt, and natural peanut or almond butter.
  • Add fresh or frozen fruit. Fruits like oranges, peaches, and blueberries add sweetness, nutrients, and fiber. You may also wish to try puréed fruit, such as puréed strawberries, for a burst of flavor.
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Adding protein, topping with fruit, and using whole oats are great ways to make your oatmeal more nutritious without compromising flavor.

The bottom line

Oatmeal is a great breakfast whether you’re trying to gain or lose weight. Regardless of your health goals, select unsweetened instant oatmeal or make it yourself using rolled or steel cut oats.

For weight loss, opt for low calorie, nutritious ingredients like spices, fresh or frozen fruit, and protein powder.

If you’re trying to gain weight, choose high calorie ingredients like milk, nuts, peanut butter, honey, and fresh or frozen fruit.

By making small adjustments to your oatmeal, you can enjoy a nutritious meal while reaching your health goals.

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