Are you wondering if oatmeal is good for PCOS? If so, you’re in the right place! As a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS, I’m diving into everything you need to know about this breakfast favorite.
We’ll talk about the health benefits of oats for PCOS, the cons of oats, the best types of oats to choose, and how to make PCOS-friendly oatmeal.
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Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 20% of women of childbearing age (1). There are many different symptoms that someone may experience. Some common symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, acne, hair loss, hirsutism (aka excessive hair growth), and weight gain.
Insulin resistance and chronic low-grade inflammation are common in PCOS. In fact, up to 80% of those with PCOS have some degree of insulin resistance (2). This puts those with PCOS at a higher risk for developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The good news is that your diet and a healthy lifestyle can directly impact insulin resistance and inflammation. Choosing healthy foods can drastically reduce your PCOS symptoms and your chance of developing other health conditions.
For more info on what a healthy diet for PCOS looks like, be sure to check out this post that also includes a PCOS meal plan: A Dietitian’s 7 Day PCOS Diet Plan.
Now, let’s dive into where oats fall in this discussion.
Oatmeal may be a hot comforting breakfast for many, but there’s actually a lot of health benefits that come along with this fan favorite breakfast food.
We don’t have a lot of research on oats that’s been conducted specifically in the PCOS population. Most of the health benefits are inferred based on other research studies that we do have.
Up to 70% of women with PCOS will also have dyslipidemia, or high cholesterol levels. Most frequently, those with PCOS will have elevated total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, along with low HDL cholesterol levels.
Research studies continue to show that oats reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, which is advantageous for those with PCOS. Long term intake of oats can also decrease triglyceride levels (3, 4, 5, 6).
The most popular argument against oats is that it increases blood sugar and insulin levels. Since insulin resistance is so prevalent in PCOS, this would seem rather concerning. However, the research doesn’t really support this claim.
Research shows that eating oats reduces fasting glucose levels and postprandial glucose levels (aka your blood sugar level after eating a meal). Long term intake of oats is associated with lower hemoglobin A1c levels, which can be used as a way to diagnose diabetes (5, 6). This likely explains why a recent meta-analysis found that people who consumed oats had a lower risk of diabetes (7). Of note, one literature review didn’t find that oats translated to improved insulin sensitivity (4).
Research shows that women with PCOS have less diverse gut bacteria in their gut microbiome (8). A less diverse gut microbiome is linked to poor digestive health including an increase in bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. It’s also linked to many chronic health conditions such as diabetes, depression, and autoimmune diseases.
Oats contain a fiber called beta-glucan. Beta glucan has been studied to have prebiotic effects that can diversify the gut microbiome and lower cholesterol levels (9). Oats are also a good source of resistant starches, which are resistant to digestion and improve gut health.
Oats are a whole grain and a good source of fiber, providing about 4 grams of fiber per ½ cup serving. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that’s slowly digested. Because of this, oats keep you feeling more full and satiated than other grains that may not have as much fiber (10)
Yes, oatmeal is absolutely a good choice for those with PCOS! It has many health benefits including its ability to lower cholesterol, glucose, and BMI. It can also keep you feeling full for longer periods of time, which is obviously more enjoyable than feeling hungry.
As you may know, there’s several types of oats available on the market. So you may be wondering which is the best type of oat for PCOS. Let me break this down simply for you!
All oats are whole grains and start out in their whole form, containing a grain and a husk. The husk that covers each grain gets removed and you’re left with the oat groats. The different types of oats that are available for consumption are different variations of the oat groats. Let’s talk about which is best for PCOS.
All types of oats are going to have similar nutritional value. The biggest difference is going to be in the glycemic index and how long it takes to prepare them. These factors change based on how processed each type of oat is.
The glycemic index is a scoring system that evaluates how much a food will affect your blood sugar levels. Low glycemic index (GI) foods are under 55. Moderate GI foods are 56-69, and high GI foods are over 70. Generally speaking, low and moderate GI foods are typically good choices.
Oat groats are the least processed version of oats available, with only the inedible husk removed from the oat grain.
These are a low glycemic food with a glycemic index estimated to be under 50. Oat groats take the longest to prepare though, approximately 1 hour.
Steel cut oats are oat groats that have been finely cut with a steel blade. Similar to oat groats, they are a low GI food with a GI of 52. They take significantly less time to cook than groats though, approximately 25-30 minutes.
Rolled oats are also commonly called old fashioned oats. These oats start out as oat groats, then they’re steamed and flattened by heavy rollers. These have a moderate GI of 59 but take significantly less time to cook: only about 5 minutes.
Quick oats are processed similarly to rolled oats, but they’re steamed for longer and rolled thinner. This allows them to cook faster, in under 3 minutes usually. Plain quick oats do have a slightly higher GI of 66 than other oats, however, they’re still a moderate GI food.
Instant oatmeal packets are made with quick oats and usually have other additives such as added sugar, salt, and flavorings. Because of the additions, the glycemic index of these types of instant oats can vary, but they tend to have a high GI of 76 or more.
All things considered, you really can’t go wrong with any of these oat choices: oat groats, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, or quick oats. If we’re looking at just the nutrition facts, oat groats or steel cut oats are going to be the best choices based on their glycemic index. The biggest downside though is their long cooking time. If you have a little extra time to prepare them, these are great options.
If you don’t have the time to prepare those types of oats routinely, don’t worry! Rolled oats or quick oats are perfectly great oat choices for PCOS! They’re still going to provide you with valuable nutrients such as fiber, iron, magnesium, vitamin B 6, and zinc.
Now that you know all the benefits of oats for PCOS, let’s discuss how to make it a healthy breakfast for PCOS.
I love a good oatmeal breakfast, but if you eat oats by themselves, you’ll probably be pretty bored. You’d also be missing out on an opportunity to add some great anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients into your diet.
For best results, you’ll want to combine your oats with protein and healthy fats. This will create better blood sugar regulation, longer lasting energy and satiety. You can add your protein and fat source directly into your oatmeal, or you could eat it on the side.
Bonus Fun Fact: adding walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, or hemp hearts will provide you with a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are potent for lowering inflammation!
Read more about the best and worst fruits for PCOS here.
There are several ways to incorporate oats into your diet, here are some of my favorite recipes to do just that!
If you’re looking for other breakfast ideas, make sure to check out these other great PCOS-friendly breakfast ideas: 12 Easy PCOS Breakfast Ideas (Dietitian Approved)
Oats are great for PCOS. They are a great source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
Research shows that oats are beneficial for cholesterol, blood sugar levels, weight management, gut health, and satiety.
Oat groats, steel cut oats, rolled oats, and quick oats are all low or moderate glycemic index foods. They’re all good choices for PCOS. Instant oatmeal packets are usually high in added sugars, which may negatively affect blood sugar levels.
For a balanced meal that benefits PCOS, add some protein and fat to your oats.
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!