Bodybuilders and other fitness enthusiasts are creatures of habit. They go to the gym ... every day (or nearly). They mix their protein powder shakes and MRPs...every day (several times). They eat certain foods...every day. Sounds boring, except that the results are anything but!
As you adopt a fit lifestyle, you'll likely also hear the phrase "clean eating" being bandied about. No, it doesn't mean sending dinner through the rinse cycle. Rather, it stands for eating your foods in their most natural state, before food processors run amok with them.
If a food sprouts from the ground or comes directly from an animal source, consider it a suitable part of a healthy diet plan. One carb source meeting that description is oatmeal. Rolled oats are high in slow-digesting, blood-sugar-friendly carbs; chock full of fiber; and low in fat.
Oatmeal even offers a small dose of protein. What's more, it may also support already healthy cholesterol levels, making this food great for anyone interested in a heart-smart diet plan.
But, before you dive in and start eating up whatever oatmeal you can find, keep in mind that not all oatmeal is created alike. You likely already know that you should be avoiding the supermarket-stocked flavoured oatmeal, as this variety will pack in far too much added sugar. But what about when dining out?
More and more restaurants are adding oatmeal to their list of menu offerings as they know more and more people are making the "healthy choice." If you aren't careful though, that "healthy choice" may not be so healthy after all.
Let's have a look at some of the popular oatmeal offerings at three different breakfast locations:
This coffee house king has plenty of tantalizing breakfast treats on their menu. If you weren't watching your health, you could grab an apple fritter, a blueberry streusel muffin, banana nut loaf, or a double iced cinnamon roll. But since you're watching what you eat, you decide oatmeal's a better bet.
But is it really?
The way Starbucks markets it, you'll form the base of your meal with their signature Perfect Oatmeal and then add one of three different toppings for added flavor.
The Perfect Oatmeal in itself isn't all that bad, coming in at 140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of protein. But adding the toppings changes the equation.
Brown Sugar Topping
If you opt for their Brown Sugar topping, you're going to be taking in another 50 calories, not fat, 13 grams of carbs-all of them simple sugars-and no protein.
Essentially this is a tablespoon of brown sugar added on top, hardly a healthy way to start your day.
Dried Fruit Topping
Pick this topping and you'll tack on an additional 100 calories, no fat, 24 grams of carbs-20 grams of which are sugar-and less than 1 measly gram of protein.
While you'll acquire some nutrients from the dried fruit, now you're boosting your calorie intake significantly without adding protein, which this breakfast already lacks.
This option adds an additional 100 calories, only this time add 9 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbs-with less than 1 coming from sugar-and 2 grams of protein.
Of the three, that's the topping to go with. It has the same number of calories as the dried fruit does, but you'll be adding some healthy fats to the mix rather than simple sugar.
Note that this meal is still very low in protein content, however, so you had better plan to wash it down with a protein shake.
Moving on, the next breakfast location you may decide to hit up on the run is Jamba Juice. If you've woken up late, this may seem like the perfect option. While this place is best-known for the smoothies, you can select from a number of other options.
(Just be warned that their smoothies are already quite high in calories, so don't venture into those along with the oatmeal as well or you'll really be getting your day off to a high-calorie start.)
As far as oatmeal goes, let's look at your options.
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
This can ordered "as served" or with "brown sugar crumble" or fruit added. Go with the as-served variation and you'll take in 290 calories, 4 grams of fat, a whopping 60 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein.
It definitely packs in more protein than the Starbuck's varieties did, but 60 grams is a major carb load for anyone's pancreas to handle.
Brown sugar adds more carbs and another 40 calories; fruit adds 30 more calories.
Berry Cherry Pecan
If it's Berry Cherry Pecan you crave, you are going to be in for a bit more fat due to the added pecans. But those fats are actually healthy. This dish will come in at 340 calories when ordered as served, containing 9 grams of fat, 62 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of protein.
Choose to add some glazed pecans to this one, and you'll also add in 60 more calories, 5 more grams of fat, 3 more grams of carbs, and 1 gram of protein.
Plain Oatmeal with Brown Sugar
Their lowest-calorie option, plain oatmeal with brown sugar, will be your best dieting option as it packs in just 220 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 44 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein. While it's very low in protein content, if you add a protein shake to this meal, you have a hands-down winner at starting your day off right.
Just avoid the brown sugar crumble on this bowl, or you'll be taking in too much added sugar.
The Cereal Bowl
This "breakfast bar" popping up that might strike your interest. You definitely won't find as many locations of this as you will Starbucks or Jamba Juice, but if you happen to live in a city where they are located, it may beckon during the drive to work.
Health-wise, the pickings are pretty slim.
To start things off, there's the Banana Bounce bowl. This one will come in at 390 calories total if you order the 24-ounce size and provide you with 54.3 grams of sugar along with 8.4 grams of protein, and 4.8 grams of fat.
That's more sugar than your average dessert contains!
Dad Knows Best
Or not. This offering comes in at a hefty 411 calories. You'll take in 13.3 grams of sugar, 13.8 grams of protein, and 6 grams of fat.
This one also offers an impressive 14.3 grams of fiber.
Haul 'N Oats
Whatever you do, don't hit up the Haul 'N Oats bowl, or you'll be walking away with 654 calories, 29.7 grams of sugar, 14 grams of protein, and 36 grams of fat. Unless you're currently following a "dirty bulking" approach, with no concern for fat gain, this breakfast isn't going to do the trick to support a lean physique.
At this restaurant you definitely want to opt for the smallest version of all dishes to bring the calorie count down slightly from what's given. But even then it's still not exactly going to be an ideal breakfast.
Instead, you would be far better off transporting your own Oats 'N Protein bowl and serving that up instead.
So next time you're headed out for a breakfast on the run, keep this information in mind.
While oatmeal is definitely a healthy food to include on your diet when prepared at home, where you have full control, when dining out, you may need to think twice about toppings.