How to Choose the Healthiest Oatmeal

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Over the years, oatmeal has earned a spot on the breakfast table of the health-conscious -- and rightfully so. The whole grain is a good source of fiber, which can help keep you full, keep your bowels regular and lower your cholesterol. Not all oatmeal is created equal, however. When making your choice, you may have to do some detective work.

Check the sugar content. Oats are nearly sugar-free, so when you see 12 grams of sugar on the nutrition facts label of a packet of oatmeal, a red flag should go up. Many manufacturers add sugar to oatmeal in the form of white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, cane juice or high-fructose corn syrup. While this is meant to improve the taste, it derails your health-conscious efforts. Choose oatmeal that contains less than 1 gram of sugar per serving.

Opt for steel-cut oats or old-fashioned rolled oats over instant oats. To be edible, all oats have to go through some type of processing. Instant oats are more processed than steel-cut and old-fashioned oats. Processing reduces the cooking time and makes them more convenient, but it also reduces their health benefits. Steel-cut and old-fashioned oats generally contain more fiber, so they move through your digestive system more slowly. This helps regulate blood sugar levels and keeps you fuller longer.

Avoid artificial ingredients. The only thing you need to make a healthy bowl of oatmeal is oats and some water or milk. Yet manufacturers of flavored oatmeals add other ingredients, some of which are artificial and not so great for your health. Choose plain oatmeal with oats as the only ingredient over flavored varieties, then flavor it yourself with nuts, seeds, raw honey or berries.

Make your own. While it may be tempting to hit up the fast-food drive-through or the corporate coffeehouse for your daily oatmeal, avoid the urge. According to a report by ABC News, oatmeal at one fast-food chain contains 21 ingredients, including caramel coloring, barley malt extract and as much sugar as a candy bar.

Ask to hold the sugar. If you don’t have a choice but to order oatmeal at a fast-food joint or coffeehouse, ask your server to omit any sugar or sweeteners and replace it with fresh fruit or nuts.

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