Porridge is a breakfast go-to for a reason but is it actually good for you? Simple and delicious, this morning meal has the added benefit of being diverse enough to fend off breakfast boredom, thanks to all the potential toppings that make it easy to switch it up.
But how many calories does it actually contain and is porridge healthy?
'Oatmeal itself is a whole grain, so it’s not processed like the refined type,' says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Flexitarian Diet. 'The other great thing about it is that it’s a wet grain, meaning it’s cooked with water. A hearty wet grain is going to be more filling than any sort of dry grain like a cold cereal, and research has proven that.' Porridge’s other claim to fame is its four grams of fibre per 45g of dry oats. 'It’s not a ton of fibre, but it’s actually a powerful type that helps regulate your cholesterol,' says Blatner. Even though porridge has got major advantages, there are a few sneaky ways you may be sapping the healthy powers from your morning bowl.
1. Your servings are too big
'Because it’s a healthy food, it has this health halo and people eat too much of it,' says Blatner. 'Instead of having one cup (90g) cooked, they’ll double it and start off with one cup dry.' For rolled oats stick to 45g, which is one serving size, according to labels. That comes out to 150 calories, leaving about another 150 for your toppings for a filling breakfast that doesn’t turn into a calorie bomb. 'The other thing I find is that people don’t have the ratio right,' says Blatner. 'A good guideline is one part oats to two parts liquid' for the rolled variety, and three parts liquid for steel-cut.
2. You add too much sugar
There are so many ways to sweeten up a bowl of porridge, from maple syrup to brown sugar to chocolate chips. But by upping the sweetness, you may be slashing the health benefits. 'Yes, honey is healthy,' says Blatner. 'Yes, brown sugar tastes great.' But it’s easy to overdo it. Instead of relying on straight-up sweeteners, go for alternatives. Blatner recommends options like cinnamon, unsweetened cocoa powder or vanilla extract. 'They taste sweet without actually being sugary,' she says.
3. You top it with tons of dried fruit
It’s fruit, so how bad can it really be? The answer’s pretty surprising. 'Dried fruit can have about eight times more calories than fresh fruit,' says Blatner. Skip the dried goods, and add some fresh or frozen fruit. You’ll get more satiety for fewer calories. Just make sure if you’re buying the frozen variety that it’s the unsweetened kind.
4. You overdo it with the nuts
'What I love about nuts on porridge is that they balance it out,' says Blatner. 'They add that necessary component of protein and healthy fat, but that adds up really fast. Because of their higher fat content, they have more calories per gram - so even if you use a small amount, that’s a lot of calories.' While it’s true healthy fats are essential for good nutrition and running performance and can even boost weight loss or maintenance, eating too much of them can take you further away from your goals. Instead of tossing on several handfuls, keep it to just one, which equals about an ounce.
5. You order it to go
There’s been an influx of fast-food places adding porridge to their menus because it’s easy to make and gives them healthy cred. That healthy reputation may not be completely deserved, though. While some health food shops will slip in healthy ingredients like protein powder, other places jack up the calories and sweetness with unnecessary add-ons. 'There are companies that put cream in their porridge, for example,' says Blatner. Avoid a heaping helping of additives with some simple research. 'Check out the ingredients of the porridge at a specific place before you decide to get it,' says Blatner.
6. You buy flavoured instant porridge
The convenience of those little flavour packs comes with a price: most instant porridge is loaded with sugar. 'People usually aren’t buying packets of plain oats,' says Blatner. 'They’re buying the highly-sugared kind.'
If you’re still all about the instant, look for the plain variety or types that have reduced sugar by 50 percent. Even better? Trying rolled. Oats come out of the ground as oat groats, which is their largest, most natural form. They then get chopped with steel blades and become steel cut, which is a long-cooking grain because it’s still pretty dense. After that, they’re steamed and rolled, which is what you get when you buy rolled oats.
'Instant is great when you’re really in a hurry,' says Blatner. 'But if you have just a few extra minutes to spare, you can make rolled oats in the microwave.' Plus, they absorb more water than instant, so your bowl will be even more filling. Prep them just the same as instant, but microwave them for two and a half to five minutes, until the liquid is absorbed.
7. You don't add enough toppings
On the flip side, sometimes people don’t beef up their porridge enough in fear that they’ll make it unhealthy. 'Don’t just sit down to a bowl of porridge with two raspberries on top,' says Blatner. You won’t feel satisfied and may be more susceptible to overeating later. Instead, think of that bowl as a chance to get a well-rounded start to your day. Add a cup of fresh fruit for about 100 calories and some healthy fats and protein in the form of nuts or nut butters. You could also add some milk if you’d like. The entire bowl should come out to around 300 to 400 calories, which is enough for a satiating breakfast. Or you can try Blatner’s recipe: 'In the fall, I love to chop up a green apple with walnuts and pecans over a bowl of porridge,' she says. 'Then I add some cinnamon. It ends up being a huge, filling breakfast.'
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