The best oatmeal alternative for better blood sugar

The classic breakfast may not be as healthy as you think. Try this swap for a warm bowl that stabilizes blood sugar and tastes great


Most people think of oatmeal as one of the best foods to start your day. After all, this whole grain is a good source of fiber and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and weight loss.

But your blood glucose might not agree that oatmeal should be considered a “superfood.” Levels data consistently shows it’s one of the worst foods for blood sugar. In Levels food logs, it spikes blood sugar an average of 34 mg/dL.

To see why, start with the oats themselves. Rolled and instant oats are processed foods. To speed up cook time, both have the outer husk removed and are flattened, pre-cooked, and toasted dry. Instant oats are also milled to a smaller size, so they take even less time to prepare. But this convenience means your body breaks down both types of oats quickly, which means the carbohydrates in the oats are more rapidly converted to glucose and absorbed. That can lead to a spike in blood sugar.

Structure of a wheat grain. Processed or refined grains have the outer layers and the germ removed, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm.

Structure of a wheat grain. Processed or “refined” grains have the outer layers and the germ removed, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm. Source.

A crash often follows a sudden rise in glucose as your body releases extra insulin to try to get back to homeostasis. That blood sugar dip is why you may feel hungry and sluggish soon after a carb-heavy breakfast. This kind of eating could lead to health problems down the road. Regular large spikes and plummets of glucose (called high glycemic variability) are linked to an increased risk of diabetesobesityAlzheimer’s disease, and cancer. And when you consider the links between metabolic function and cardiovascular disease, oatmeal’s status as a heart-healthy food seems less certain.

Then consider what you eat with the oatmeal. Instant oats often come with added sugar and processed “natural flavor” derived from fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs. Or you may add your own sweetener to rolled oats in the form of brown sugar, maple syrup, or high-glycemic fruit such as bananas or raisins. Either way, your bowl is likely heavy on sugar and light on protein and fiber, two essential nutrients that can help blunt the glucose-spiking effect of carbohydrates, leading to a lower blood sugar rise after a meal.

Can Oatmeal Be Blood Sugar-Friendly?

If you love oatmeal, there are ways to enjoy it with less of a spike. Consider upgrading from rolled and instant oats to steel-cut oats or groats. Groats are whole oat kernels—only the inedible outer hull has been removed. They also take the longest to cook of any type of oats. Both groats and steel-cut oats are minimally processed and have an intact fiber-rich bran layer, which means your body digests them more slowly, and therefore your blood glucose will likely rise more slowly too. But remember, glycemic response is highly individual, so while this simple swap may make a difference for some, steel-cut oats can still spike glucose levels for many. Another way to calm glucose response: top oats with foods rich in protein, fat, and fiber, such as the ones below

When you combine carbohydrates with protein, fat, and fiber, your morning bowl will have less impact on blood sugar. This is because these nutrients help slow the digestion of carbohydrates and curb the release of glucose in the bloodstream. As a bonus, these ingredients also provide various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support metabolic health.

The Ultimate Oatmeal Alternative

A better way to keep blood sugar stable is to avoid grains altogether. Seeds such as chia, flax, and hemp can come together to create an alternative to oats.

Recipe: Warm Chia, Flax, and Hemp Pudding

This warm triple-seed pudding from nutritionist Kelly LeVeque is an excellent oatmeal substitute. When you warm this mixture of chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, and hemp seeds on the stovetop, it transforms into a substantial breakfast cereal that’s low in carbs and high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber to help stabilize blood sugar.

  • 2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax meal
  • 2-4 tbsp hemp hearts
  • unsweetened protein powder (optional)
  • optional toppings: nut butter, berries, or cinnamon

Heat almond milk in a pan over medium heat. Add chia, flax, and hemp, and stir with a silicone spatula as the mixture simmers. Once it’s creamy, stir in protein powder (if using). Serve warm in a bowl with toppings as desired.

This recipe packs essential nutrients and metabolic benefits, including: