Did you hear this? Oatmeal is now your enemy

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters    July 1, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 7.49.53 PMDoctors, are you frustrated by failed attempts to convince your heart patients to follow your sound advice on lifestyle improvements? Are you exhausted from trying to figure out why they won’t stop eating junk and start eating heart-healthy foods just like you are recommending?

Stand back, please. I think I have finally figured out WHY YOUR PATIENTS WON’T LISTEN!

It’s because no sooner do doctors start advising that something is good for heart patients, that it seems other doctors start advising that not only is it NOT good for us, but it might even be downright dangerous! And vice versa.

Eggs are bad for us. No wait, eggs are okay after all.

Fat is bad for us. No, wait…

Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast food. No, wait…

You read that right, my heart sisters. Oatmeal! Oatmeal is now apparently off the ‘nice’ list, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of many best-selling diet books, and somebody who calls himself a functional medicine specialist at the Functional Medicine Clinic at Cleveland Clinic (where you can order his $300 10-Day Detox Combo supplement pack from the Dr. Hyman Store). Hyman has now decreed that the humble bowl of hot oatmeal, long beloved by Grandmas and expert dietitians alike, is no longer a good breakfast food choice.

He seems to base this warning on a small 1999 obesity study(1) that he called “amazing”, a study undertaken with 12 boys (did I mention that this study was small?) Twelve boys is hardly a study, by the way. At my house, it is a birthday party.

I first learned of this study in an online oatmeal warning on Twitter based on Hyman’s latest best-selling diet book, that essentially warned:  “Oatmeal is not health food. Oatmeal spikes your sugar and makes you hungrier.”

So I asked Dr. Glen Pyle, University of Guelph Professor of Molecular Cardiology, about this theory. He told me about a number of scientific studies that had found just the opposite of what Dr. Hyman’s anti-oatmeal warnings claim:  specifically, that oatmeal can actually decrease glucose spikes. For example, he cited one 2015 paper published in the food science journal Nutrients (Hou et al) that reviewed nine separate studies, each suggesting that “oatmeal reduced post-meal glucose and insulin responses compared to other control meals.”

I am not a research scientist (but I did spend 20 years of my life living with one – does that count at all?) 

I am however a heart patient who has fretted about how I can personally make better decisions about choosing better food – and eating far less sugar – while at the same time not turning into a preachy food nag nobody wants to sit beside.

It’s all about small steps. As the late tennis legend Arthur Ashe once advised:

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

Using a methodology that researchers would call n=1 (studying just one person – me!), I concluded that my own bowl of steel cut oatmeal with milk, fruit and assorted nuts and seeds easily keeps me going until 1 p.m. with nary a hunger pang, no matter how busy I am that morning.

But could I be unwittingly spiking my blood sugar, as Dr. Hyman insists? And what does that mean anyway?

Where I live (in British Columbia, Canada), my go-to resource for nutrition or food science questions is our 811 Dial-A-Dietitian information phone line (it’s a free public service, along with 24/7 Dial-A-Nurse).

Thank you Canada, commie pinko land of socialized medicine!

The registered dietitian on the phone explained to me that glycemic index (GI) is a value out of 100 that scientists assign to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. The higher the GI numbers, the more they can impact those blood sugar “spikes”.

My steel-cut oatmeal has a GI of 42. Compared to many other breakfast options, that’s pretty good (e.g. watermelon =79; a slice of white bread =75; Special K cereal =84).  But as those living with Type 1 diabetes already know, other factors like stress, illness, exercise, excitement – even weather! – can also have an effect on blood sugar levels, so focusing only on GI numbers and sugar spikes may not be entirely useful.

And as the dietitian reassured me, my steel-cut oats are a complex carbohydrate high in B-Vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, selenium, iron, calcium and protein, while low in salt, sugar, and fat. As if that’s not already great enough, oats also contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, which helps to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol), and makes us feel fuller, not hungrier when we finish eating them.

When I say “oatmeal”, by the way, I don’t mean those little packages of instant oatmeal, which are a highly processed food-like material that can contain up to four teaspoons of sugar in a single serving package. I look at instant oatmeal as the gateway to real oats down the road (much like Baby Duck was my sicky-sweet wine of choice back in art college until I graduated to dry reds). 

I also view my bowl of oatmeal as a base (in the same way you might look at rice as the base for a chicken stir-fry). Once the oatmeal is in the bowl, it’s a blank canvas, awaiting a colourful load of fruit (e.g. mine always includes a chopped-up apple and berries), almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and any other heart-healthy addition I can find in my kitchen.

When I asked Dr. Yoni Freedhof (founder of Ottawa’s non-surgical Bariatric Medical Institute, a teacher of medicine at the University of Ottawa, and a blogger on his highly recommended Weighty Matters site) what he thought about this oatmeal warning, here’s what he tweeted back to me:

(To read more about quackademic medicine, and Hyman’s definition of functional medicine as “a hidden movement sweeping across the globe!” – which, honestly, must be a pretty slow sweep if it’s hidden – plus his argument with basic germ theory, read this).

Here’s the thing: oatmeal for breakfast is not necessarily what I want to eat.

It’s what I have decided to eat, upon thoughtful reflection, because it’s healthier for me than what I really want to eat for breakfast, which includes things like fluffy cinnamon peach pancakes piled with whipped cream and lots of pure Canadian maple syrup – maybe with a side of nice crispy bacon. Now, THAT is the breakfast I dream about. . . 

Oatmeal may not be healthier for me compared to a (*gag*) kale smoothie, but it’s a significant improvement compared to what I really wish I could eat every morning.

Keep in mind, my heart sisters, that I grew up in a big Ukrainian family in which my entire childhood was fueled by our traditional dietary trinity based on butter, bacon and, of course, sour cream (finished off with a gooey homemade butter tart or two).

We considered dill pickles to be a vegetable dish in our family.

Later, as a grown-up newlywed, my idea of breakfast was picking up a sweet coffee and a Tim Hortons maple dip on my way to work. Paradoxically, as a Mum of two children several years later, I fed my kids super-healthy homemade everything since the day they first started eating solid foods, thanks to my well-loved and dog-eared copy of La Leche League’s classic Whole Foods for the Whole Family. But I lived with a double standard for myself whenever left to my own culinary devices (or when out with my girlfriends celebrating anything!)

INTERESTING BUT SLIGHTLY IRRELEVANT FUN FACT: My own grandmother in Manitoba (ditto on the Ukrainian diet preferences, of course) lived well into her 90s, having outlived three husbands. Almost until the very end, she did her own gardening, home baking and canning as if she were still on that prairie farm taking care of her family of 12 children! And I’d bet my next squirt of nitro spray that not for one single moment of her entire life did that woman worry about whether or not she should eat fewer carbs. . .

Meanwhile, thanks to learning more about the joys of the delicious Mediterranean diet since my heart attack, I have been making small but important changes to the way I shop and cook, little by little. Yes, even vegetables! A significant improvement!

But now this doc is telling all of us that oatmeal is no longer good for us?!

Here’s my own takeaway message for now: the way to convince people to adopt heart-healthy options is NOT to issue sweeping anti-oatmeal blanket warnings based on a 12-boy study.

And we’re talking about oatmeal here. Not Pop Tarts. . .


Well, actually this is my dear Seattle friend Tony’s recipe, passed on to me. Steel-cut oatmeal and oat groats (the least processed kind of oats) generally take a lot longer to cook than highly processed instant oatmeal (just add boiling water) – but Tony’s recipe speeds things up by starting the night before at bedtime: for each serving, boil one cup of water with 1/3 cup of steel-cut oats. As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, take the pot off the stove, put the pot lid on, and go to bed. Thank you, Tony! 

The next morning, perfectly cooked oatmeal is ready to reheat and top with berries, almonds, any other heart-healthy stuff you can find. It is easy, colourful and absolutely yummy.

And as my grandmother would say: “This will stick to your ribs!”

(1) David S. Ludwig et al, “High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating, and Obesity”.


SHAMELESS PLUG FROM CAROLYN:   I wrote more about how and why heart patients tend to respond to behaviour change motivators (or not!) in Chapter 7 of my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living With Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).

Q:  Do you still consider oatmeal to be part of a healthy breakfast?

See also:

Dear Cleveland Clinic: It’s food, not poison, for crying out loud!

Heart-smart food rules: your dietary dos and don’ts

Food trends: why we eat the way we do

When “nudging” doesn’t work to change patient behaviour

Why don’t we listen to doctors’ heart-healthy advice?

Do you fear change? Then don’t have a heart attack

De-junk your kitchen to start heart-smart eating

Why you’ll listen to me, but not your doctor


114 thoughts on “Did you hear this? Oatmeal is now your enemy

  1. I had a heart attack Nov.22 , for breakfast eat oatmeal, no taste , literally starving, no food value. don’t like to eat all heart health food listed, no taste at all. you just get tired of them after awhile


  2. So I had been listening to Mark Hyman’s podcast and was interested in some of his ideas until I saw/heard about the oatmeal and then I started looking further and found your blog.

    Thank you for sharing so I don’t get sucked into the quacker factory!


  3. Love reading you, who knew reading about oats could be FUN?

    I’m a 65-yr-old stroke survivor who also found out I have a bicuspid heart valve (benign for now). I too have eliminated the “good stuff” (for me processed meats and alcohol), and have taken to embracing steel cut oats and yogurt parfaits (no added sugar, natch), so your story very much rings a bell!

    Good luck to us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello MJ – good point! When we eliminate the ‘good stuff’ (for me that’s sugar – a tough slog some days!) it’s important to introduce NEW good stuff (like your breakfast parfaits – must try those!)

      Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


      1. Hi Carolyn, I always enjoy your posts, & just came across this one about oats, & am thinking there’s likely a genetic component to whether or not eating oats spikes one’s insulin levels.

        I used to eat oats for breakfast quite regularly & discovered that no matter how well ‘doctored’ with nuts, plain yogurt, seeds, fruit, etc., no how much I ate, I was always unpleasantly hypoglycemic within an hour (fierce hunger, I called it long before I knew the term).

        No such reaction for my husband, who could thrive on it. My daughter has a reaction similar to mine.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Helen – you and your husband are doing your own scientific experiment! Apparently, there are very few studies on genetic factors in glycemic levels. I found one, a small pilot study, that looked at “functional gene sets” responding to meal intake and specifically to oat bran intake. Here’s the link, FYI:

          But study or no study: you know your body, which is telling you loud and clear that even ‘doctored’ oats aren’t a good breakfast for you!

          Take care, stay safe. . . ♥


  4. Your “night before” recipe is a wonderful idea. My father used to do essentially the same thing with cracked wheat cereal when I was a child [mumble mumble] years ago.

    Just don’t forget and go away for the weekend, or you will be MASSIVELY unhappy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually not. More a student of film history. The 1960 film “The Time Machine” starring Rod Taylor had a scene with a volcano spewing rivers of lava, for which they used a huge vat of oatmeal with red dye. They prepared it on Friday, but ran out of time and came back in on Monday to finish the scene. With neither time nor budget left to replace it, they had to use the oatmeal which had sat all weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My oatmeal consists of 20g of whey protein powder, 75g of greek yogurt, 100g of berries, 1 cup of almond milk, some pure stevia (not the junk you buy in stores, that is mostly dextrose,) cinnamon, some nuts on top, and 50g of organic steel cut oatmeal. It most definitely causes me hunger throughout the day, especially if I eat a bowl in the morning and afternoon.


  6. I started eating steel cut oatmeal and I saw the difference overnight. No glucose spike, started losing weight, belly slimmed, feel full, tastes great, feel great. Miracle food.


    1. I second that. I have been taking True Elements Steel Cut Oats for quite some time now and I totally see the difference in my eating habits. I have shifted from an unhealthy eating habit to maintaining a healthy diet.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My husband was diabetic when met him in 1992. His diabetes was out of control. Years later I was able to help him get some control. Oatmeal every morning helped him a lot, his glycemic levels dropped, his were always very high he was tough.

    l’ve been around other diabetics that would be in a coma but it never happened to him. Norm was 6 at the time we started on oatmeal by the time six months went by the doctor said, he needed to come up to a 7. We did that over the next month. I’m not a doctor or nurse but, I experimented a lot with my husband, trying to help him because there are a lot of things that are listed about raising the glycemic levels other than food like stress, etc.I was told by his doctors were not true but, I did my best to try and lessen the impact on his health.

    I feel it helped him to live a lot longer than he thought he would.


  8. I never liked oatmeal – which I was urged to eat by my doctor to lower cholesterol – until I had an epiphany: it doesn’t have to be sweet! I don’t like sweet foods. But now I love oatmeal drizzled with a little olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. It’s a game changer and it DOES “stick to my ribs” I’m not hungry again for hours. It is now my favorite breakfast and I stubbornly refuse to give it up without better evidence than this that it is “bad” for me.


  9. When looking at GI índex you have to take into account that its singular and only applies to a single food eaten in a singular state. Very few people in western countries eat oatmeal or rice alone. If you consume fat or a different source of protein at the same time the GI index will be lower for the carb. If you had an oatmeal bowl that consisted of Irish Oats, plain Skyr, almonds, flaxseeds, banana, your choice of vitamin c rich fruit and a teaspoon of honey (the real stuff that comes from bees) the protein and fats in the almonds, flaxseeds and Skyr would have an effect on lowering the GI impact of the fruit, honey and oatmeal.


    1. This is a great point because it’s the combo of the elements in the meal that make the difference. I used a glycemic diet and discovered that a tiny bit of good fat (I use 1 tsp Benecol) in my oatmeal will result in smoothing out any spikes. When I did this, my A1c went down 10% taking me out of prediabetes range.


  10. Thanks for the info 😊

    I just had a heart attack and what you said about feeding your family well and neglecting yourself never rang more true! I love your attitude and common sense approach.

    Fellow heart sister


  11. I put myself on what I call a liver diet, and like you I find information about oatmeal and eggs confusing. Also heard that tomatoes should be eaten once in awhile because the chemical it produces to ward off insects is bad for us also. Well, maybe they can come up with a pill you just pop that only has good stuff in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I was always told to that porridge was healthy but I wondered why I was always starving an hour later. Pfft give me eggs and bacon for breakfast any day. FULLER for hours!


  13. I’m not a huge fan of oatmeal either. Try applesauce (or some other fruit) muffins with oat flour and ground flax (1:1/4 ratio ish) (you need the flax or the texture is weird) instead of wheat flour. That’s not everything I put in them but it’s most everything. I sweeten with monk fruit (+erythritol), so no extra sugar. Add a healthy fat like nut butter or whole/crushed nuts (I use almond butter) and you essentially have your same breakfast but in a form that’s more delicious. Muffins! (Don’t forget the salt.) I’m gonna try blending raw Granny Smith apples in place of the no sugar added Granny Smith applesauce.


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