Amy Reeder is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Utah. She has worked in the diabetes field since 2005 and has been a Certified Diabetes Educator since 2007. 

There are several foods that share a common theme among people with diabetes: they wreak havoc on your blood sugar. Pizza, pasta, and cereal are a few. Oatmeal is another. Most people report a spike in blood glucose after eating oatmeal compared to other breakfast foods.

Surprisingly, for such a simple food, oatmeal can be found in many different forms—instant, slow-cooking, flavored, unflavored, plain, and chock-full of toppings. Some of the flavored oatmeals, like apple cinnamon and maple brown sugar, contain as much as four teaspoons of added sugar. Combine that added sugar with the fact that some people with diabetes are more insulin resistant in the morning time and you have a recipe for challenging blood sugar control!

If you do enjoy oatmeal for breakfast (or anytime) and it does cause your blood sugars to surge, here are a few tips that might work to even things out:

  1. Cook plain, whole oats, or steel-cut oats on the stove top. These oats have not been processed as much as instant oats and take longer to digest and absorb as glucose in the bloodstream. Try the overnight oats recipe below if you only have time to heat in the morning as opposed to cook.

  2. Add your own sweetener. If you like your oatmeal a little sweet, add a touch of Splenda, agave, or honey. A little goes a long way. And there’s a good chance you won’t add nearly as much as the company making the flavored stuff. A few berries or a bit of other fruit can add sweetness as well.

  3. Add some protein, such as nuts, seeds (flax, chia, sesame), nut butter, or plain yogurt. Protein can also help slow absorption down and prevent those blood sugar spikes.

  4. Look for plain or low-sugar/carb instant oatmeal if you like the convenience of the quick-cooking oatmeal packets.

  5. Check the label of any oatmeal you are purchasing to make sure it has at least three grams of fiber per serving. The more fiber the better, and the lesser amount of sugar the better! Some packaged oatmeals also have added protein. Compare flavors and brands when you shop.

  6. Eat your oatmeal as part of a meal that also contains protein, such as a hard-boiled egg or plain Greek yogurt.

Here’s a recipe you can use to make oatmeal that is absorbed slowly and won't spike your blood sugar levels quite as high:

Overnight Steel-Cut Oatmeal

1 teaspoon butter or oil
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
Pinch of salt

  1. Heat butter or oil and oats over medium heat in saucepan for a few minutes, until the oats smell toasty.
  2. Pour in the water and add the salt. Stir.
  3. Bring to a boil.
  4. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Leave on stove top.
  5. The next morning, uncover the pan and reheat the oatmeal. Add milk or water for a thinner consistency. Top with natural sweeteners and/or fruit if desired.
  6. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers. Reheat on stovetop or microwave. These oats will last in the fridge for up to a week and reheat well.


To learn read more of our problem foods series:

Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat Pasta?
Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat All-Purpose Flour?
Diabetic Problem Foods: Can Diabetics Eat Bananas?