Oats might seem uninspired, but they’re a surprisingly nutritious ingredient, one that provides you with plenty of protein and fiber. Rather than eating oatmeal day after day or using oats in cooking, many people are turning to overnight oats instead. But are overnight oats good for you?
Why overnight oats? One reason is that you’re prepping them the night before, giving you a fast breakfast that requires little thought. There’s also endless room for variation, allowing you to play around with the flavor and nutritional profile of your breakfast.
So, are overnight oats good for you? They could be, given that they rely on oats and other healthy ingredients. Still… there’s some room for debate, not least because oats are high in carbs.
Are Overnight Oats Good For You?
- What Are Overnight Oats?
- The Benefits Of Overnight Oats
- The Problems With Overnight Oats
- How To Make Overnight Oats
- Can You Eat Overnight Oats Warm?
- What’s The Point Of Overnight Oats?
- Final Thoughts
What Are Overnight Oats?
Overnight oats are incredibly simple. You’re just taking oats and soaking them in some type of liquid. You’ll get the best results by soaking the oats for 12 or more hours, although a simple overnight soak works well enough.
Other ingredients are often included too. For example, you might add chia seeds and yogurt during the soaking phase, then mix in various healthy ingredients the following day.
The soaking process makes your oats softer and more digestible, similar to what happens when you cook oats. You may decrease some of the antinutrients as well.
Overnight oats can be eaten chilled, straight from the fridge, giving you an almost effortless breakfast.
The Benefits Of Overnight Oats
Oats Can Be Very Good For You
The first feature of overnight oats is simple – the oats.
While oats are carb heavy, they’re also an incredibly helpful grain, acting as a decent source of protein and fiber, for relatively few calories. In fact, a half cup serving of dry oats gives you 140 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and only 2.5 grams of fat. Pretty impressive, right?
Oats offer some essential nutrients as well, including manganese, zinc, iron, and selenium. There are even some antioxidants present.
The fiber is particularly interesting, as most of us aren’t really getting enough fiber in our diets. It’s too easy to underdo it with fiber these days, especially as processed food is so common and often lacks fiber.
Finding ways to increase your fiber intake is crucial for staying healthy. Oats are fantastic here, as they’re a whole grain that hasn’t been through too much processing.
Plus, oats are a bit special for fiber. They contain more soluble fiber than most types of grains, including a type of fiber called beta glucan. Beta glucan is particularly famous for its potential to decrease heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol levels.
It offers other benefits too, such as helping with your immune response, reducing the risk of diabetes, and helping to manage high blood pressure.
Overnight Oats Are Convenient
The convenience factor is a huge reason for turning to overnight oats. You get to prepare your breakfast the night before, so that you have something delicious and healthy first thing in the morning.
This is much better than trying to make breakfast when you’re still half asleep or when you’re rushing out the door.
Plus, you can make the oats in a mason jar or something similar, then take them with you and eat on the go. You basically get the convenience of a protein shake, but you’re still eating actual food (protein shakes do have their place, but they’ll never fill you up quite as much as real food will).
They Can Be Very Nutritious
Overnight oats include more than just oats. Most recipes add at least one type of fruit, along with chia seeds and a source of protein, like nut butter. This gives you a decent array of nutrients, along with antioxidants, fiber, and protein.
Some recipes even manage to give you close half of your daily fiber needs in a single serving. What more could you ask for?
If you use a good recipe, then overnight oats could easily be one of the most nutritious breakfast options.
A Source Of Whole Grains
Because overnight oats rely on oats, you’re getting plenty of whole grains. The chia seeds kind of count too, as they fall into the category of pseudograins.
Experts regularly say that we need to be consuming more whole grains. Getting them in the form of oats is particularly powerful, as oats are less processed than many other grains.
They Provide Many Plant-Based Compounds
Oats themselves give you plenty of important plant-based compounds, including antioxidants. But, overnight oats contain much more than just oats.
You also get plenty of plant-based compounds from the chia seeds, along with whatever other ingredients you add in. Think about it. You can use ingredients like goji berries, cocoa powder, matcha, raspberries, almond butter, and the like – each of which offers a whole host of benefits.
You could also change up the extra ingredients each day, giving you a large selection of healthy foods.
The Problems With Overnight Oats
You Should Start Slowly
Overnight oats are amazing as a source of fiber, but this is a mixed blessing. While fiber is important, having too much of it can cause some digestive side effects, including increased nausea, stomach cramps, and bloating.
For most people, the problem isn’t the amount of fiber, but the fact that they’re increasing their fiber intake suddenly. If you don’t normally have much fiber with breakfast, you might want to start with half a serving of overnight oats or even less.
Doing so gives your digestive system the chance to adjust, reducing the risk of side effects.
Pay attention to your total fiber intake as well. Most recommendations suggest having around 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. You can go above these levels somewhat, but you should be wary about consuming more than 70 grams of fiber per day regularly.
If you’re sensitive to fiber, you might need to keep your levels lower than that. Your body will be the best guide here. Pay attention to how you feel after different amounts of fiber. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what the best amounts are for you.
The Carb Content
There are also the carbs in oats to think about. A cup of basic overnight oats gives you around 33 grams of carbs. The amount could be even higher if you add sweetener or fruit to the recipe.
This carb content is no laughing matter. Some of the carbs come from fiber, true, but most of the carbs are digestible.
Is this an issue? That depends on what you think about carbs.
On the one hand, carbs are thought to promote inflammation. They can also raise your blood sugar levels and possibly increase the risk of some diseases. Yet, complex carbs from foods like oats come with plenty of benefits and might even protect you.
Experts generally recommend decreasing your intake of refined carbs and added sugars, while increasing your intake of complex carbs. Doing so should give you the best balance of risk versus reward. Oats fall on the good side of this equation, suggesting you should be eating more of them, not less.
Still… if you’re worried about carbs, you might give overnight oats a miss. You could focus on a breakfast choice that contains more protein and fewer carbs instead. Keto overnight oats are one way to do so. Most recipes, like this one, keep the carb content low by avoiding oats and using alternative ingredients instead.
It’s Easy To Go Overboard
Another issue is that you can easily consume larger servings of overnight oats than you mean to, especially as the oats often taste amazing. This can easily lead to weight gain, as plenty of the optional ingredients can be high in calories.
It’s also easy to simply assume that any overnight oats recipe you find is healthy, even though this isn’t the case at all. Some end up being surprisingly high in sugar or calories.
To get around the issue, try looking for recipes that provide portion sizes and nutritional details, then stick to the recommended portions.
Oats Are A Grain
Many experts say that whole grains are incredibly healthy, giving you plenty of fiber and nutrients. Yet, not everyone agrees.
Grains are also controversial. Their carb content is part of the reason, but there are also antinutrients to think about. Antinutrients are part of how some plants defend themselves. These compounds decrease our absorption of particular nutrients and could have other negative effects, like promoting inflammation and harming your immune system.
The concern about antinutrients is large enough that some people avoid grains, legumes, and other antinutrient rich foods entirely.
Are antinutrients as bad as all that?
Many experts say that we can still have antinutrients in our diets without an issue. After all, antinutrient rich foods like grains and legumes have plenty of benefits. Even antinutrients themselves can improve health in some ways.
Nevertheless, effects on inflammation and our immune system can be tough to identify. Antinutrients could be having some negative effects that research hasn’t found yet.
The safest approach may be to be cautious with antinutrient rich foods. Take whatever steps you can to reduce the antinutrients (like soaking or sprouting) and make sure you have plenty of other foods in your diet as well.
How To Make Overnight Oats
Overnight oats can be tweaked in countless ways, to give you whatever flavor profile you want.
However, the base recipe remains mostly the same – oats, chia seeds, and some type of liquid. The chia seeds are important, as they absorb liquid and become gelatinous, giving your overnight oats a dessert-like texture.
You can skip the chia seeds if you don’t want to use them, but your overnight oats won’t have quite the same texture. Besides, chia seeds are packed with nutrients, so it’s worth including them if you can.
As for the liquid, you can use whatever you like. Plant-based milks are popular, although some people use regular milk instead. You can even add some yogurt to the mix too, which makes the whole dish even creamier.
Most people mix the oatmeal, chia seeds, liquid, and yogurt together the night before, then leave the oats to soak overnight. Then, they add whatever toppings they want in the morning. You might even scoop the oats into a different container and create a layered parfait-like dessert with them.
You could potentially mix everything in the night before, rather than doing it in two stages. However, this doesn’t always work well, as some ingredients taste weird after an overnight soak in the fridge.
Here are a few tips to get your oats perfect.
- Use old fashioned oats. Instant ones go soggy too quickly, while steel cut oats may not get soft enough.
- Prepare the oats in a mason jar, ideally one with measurement lines. This way it’s easy to get the proportions right and you have a breakfast that can be carried with you.
- Start off with recipes and then tweak them. Doing so eliminates the guesswork, as you get to see exactly what works and then make small changes from there.
- Prep a basic version of our oats ahead of time and then add toppings in the morning. This is a great approach, as overnight oats will keep for four or five days. Adding toppings in the morning means that you can change things up each day and keep your meal interesting.
- Measure out your ingredients, particularly high calorie toppings. This helps to ensure that the finished breakfast is actually healthy.
Finally, be willing to experiment. Many ingredients work well in overnight oats (including all of these ones!). The ingredients you choose will influence the flavor of your breakfast, along with the nutrition profile.
For example, relying heavily on nut butter and seeds will give you a protein-rich meal, while using more fruit will provide you with one that’s rich in antioxidants instead.
Can You Eat Overnight Oats Warm?
Overnight oats are normally eaten cold, often straight from the fridge. This is fantastic when the weather is warm and the last thing you want is a hot breakfast.
However, doing so isn’t essential. You could take the oats out of the fridge for an hour or so before you eat them, giving them time to come to room temperature.
Or, you can put them in the microwave for a little. Even just a minute or two will take the cold edge off your oats, without ruining anything.
What’s The Point Of Overnight Oats?
Overnight oats have many benefits and some issues, the same as any other type of food. For the most part, you’re just eating oats in a different form with a few extra ingredients.
What’s the point, then?
For most people, the point is simply convenience. It’s often much easier to prepare breakfast the night before, rather than trying to make it when you’re pressed for time.
Plus, overnight oats are infinitely customizable. You can use almost any combination of ingredients. Seriously. It’s even possible to make savory overnight oats.
Being able to customize your breakfast like this allows you to take advantage of all kinds of powerful ingredients, including cinnamon, goji berries, cacao powder, matcha, and more. There’s also no need to have the same breakfast twice, giving you plenty of space for variation.
Oats Should Be Cooked Or Soaked
There’s another important point too. Oats contain antinutrients, which can make them difficult to digest. Cooking or soaking your oats decreases the antinutrient content and improves digestibility.
Some authors suggest soaking your oats for at least 12 hours and making sure there’s some source of acid in there too, like a little lemon juice. This approach is most effective for reducing antinutrients.
However, many people use a shorter soaking time without a problem. The most important thing is to pay attention to your body. If the oats give you digestive side effects, like bloating or stomach cramps, you might need to soak your oats for longer.
Overnight oats are delicious and nutritious. They can easily offer health benefits, as long as you watch your serving size and don’t overdo it.
The biggest issue is simply the carb content. This might be a deal-breaker for some people, but remember that carbs can offer benefits. And, as sources of carbs go, oats are one of the best, giving you plenty of nutrients, fiber, and protein, in a low calorie package.
While you get most of the same benefits with regular oatmeal, overnight oats are much more interesting. You have endless scope to play around with ingredients and flavors, creating breakfasts that are simply amazing.