When you add the right toppings to the mix, oatmeal makes for a breakfast that’s equally delicious and healthy. One of the best things about a bowl of oats is that it serves as a blank canvas—it’s probably one of the most versatile meals out there, since you can add just about anything your heart desires. However, while this leaves plenty of room for healthy toppings that can aid you on your weight loss journey, it also leaves room for tons of unhealthy ones that could please your taste buds but take a serious toll on your body. For this reason, it’s important to be aware of the risks at hand when it comes to certain ingredients. In fact, health experts agree that there are a few you should leave out of the bowl altogether if you care about your health.
To learn more, we spoke to experts Rachel MacPherson, certified personal trainer and certified nutrition coach at Garage Gym Reviews and dietitian Trista Best of Balance One Supplements. They told us that refined sugar and other sugary ingredients like chocolate and dried fruits are among the worst options out there.
1. Refined sugar
It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the absolute worst thing you can add to your oatmeal or overnight oats is plain old white sugar. While this ingredient may undeniably make your breakfast taste a little better, the health risks at hand just aren’t worth it, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. “The worst ingredient to add to overnight oats if your goal is to lose weight is sugar,” Macpherson confirms, explaining that this sweet ingredient “contributes no nutrients.” And if you’re trying to slim down or just maintain a healthy diet, providing your body with ample nutrients is essential. As she puts it, “nutrient density is vital for sustainable weight loss and healthy weight balance.”
But it isn’t just the lack of nutrients that makes sugar a terrible ingredient; eating an excess of it can also lead to issues like inflammation, poor gut health, weight gain, and disease over time. Additionally, on the shorter term side of things, eating sugar (unsurprisingly) spikes your blood glucose levels and makes you crave more sweets later in the day. That means starting your morning with a sugary breakfast will likely lead to overeating down the line. For all of these reasons and more, it’s best to skip the sugar in your oatmeal.
2. High-sugar toppings like chocolate, syrup, and dried fruit
While it may seem obvious that you should avoid adding sugar by the spoonful to your bowl of oats, there are many sneaky high-sugar add-ins that you may not think twice about. As Best points out, “some of the worst ingredients that are mistakenly added to healthy overnight oat recipes include chocolate sauce, sugar, syrup, and dried fruit.”
Wait, dried fruit is bad? Unfortunately, yes. While it’s certainly not the worst thing you can add to the mix, it’s important to be aware that this ingredient has a lot more sugar than you nay realize. Best says it’s “one of those foods that is in the middle of being healthy and unhealthy, depending on the amount that is consumed.” Compared to its fresh counterparts, “this type of fruit is highly concentrated in calories and sugar and it is easy to eat much more than a serving size.” All in all, it’s probably best to leave dried fruit out of your oats altogether and opt for fresh fruit like high-fiber berries instead.
Other healthy, filling, lower-sugar options you can add to your breakfast without putting your health at risk include seeds, nuts, and nut butters. All of these options will provide a good amount of nutrients and keep you fuller longer without packing on the sugar. All in all, when it comes to oatmeal, the possibilities for healthy ingredients are practically endless—just remember to be wary of how much sugar you’re adding.