Is porridge healthy?

Which nutrients are in oats, which toppings are healthiest, and are quick-cook sachets as nutritious as rolled or steel-cut oatmeal? Find out with our guide.

A bowl of porridge topped with fresh fruit

What is porridge?

Porridge is traditionally a breakfast dish that is simply made by cooking oats with water or milk. Different spices, fruits and sweeteners such as honey can then be added according to taste.

Porridge can also be made using different grains including buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, spelt or amaranth. Porridge made with oats is sometimes called oatmeal.
 

Nutritional profile of porridge

Porridge is an excellent start to the day because oats are a complex carbohydrate, providing slow-releasing energy throughout the morning.

Oat porridge made with water is a good mix of carbohydrates, protein and fibre and contains no salt or sugar. Opting to use milk will increase the fat, protein and calorie content, along with naturally occurring sugars in milk. Both water-based and milk-based porridge can form the base of a balanced, filling breakfast.

Oats contain a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which studies suggest can help lower your cholesterol level if you have 3g or more of it each day.

Oats contain magnesium, iron and zinc as well as the B vitamins. When you make porridge with milk, this vitamin and mineral content increases, as does the calcium content.

The nutritional profile will change again depending on what you add to the recipe such as salt, sugars, fruits or peanut butter.

Two bowls of porridge topped with blueberry compote

What is a healthy portion size?

One portion is around 50g or half a cup of oats and 200ml of water or milk. This can easily fit into a balanced diet as a satisfying breakfast.

Get closer to your 5-a-day by adding fresh fruit such as blueberries, grated apple or a banana, or maybe a small handful of dried fruit such as raisins. You can also add different spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, or increase the fibre and healthy fat content with some ground flaxseeds or hemp seeds.

By all means get creative with your porridge toppings, but remember that adding excessively sugary toppings will stack up – so you may want to keep the lashings of honey or sprinklings of chocolate chips for special occasions.
 

How to buy the healthiest porridge

When you're looking at the food labels, try to choose oats which are simply oats – with nothing else added. Rolled oats or steel-cut oats have been processed in different ways. Rolled oats are steamed and pressed, whereas steel-cut are cut into smaller pieces and have a chewier texture. Both are raw when bought, but steel-cut oats may take a bit longer to cook.

The demand for convenience has meant that a range of instant, microwave and quick-cook sachets are available on the market, but they may not be as healthy as they seem. These are usually pre-cooked slightly in order to speed up the cooking process. The plain porridge sachets are similar nutritionally to ordinary oats – you just add the milk or water as usual. However, flavoured sachets such as apple or blueberry flavour typically have added sugars, salt or artificial flavourings. If you want to buy a quick-cook option, go for the plain sachets and mix in your own toppings, so you can be in control of how much or how little you add.

Jars of porridge topped with peach slices

Healthy porridge recipes

Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Porridge with blueberry compote
Summer porridge
Apple & linseed porridge
Creamy yoghurt porridge
Banana & tahini porridge
Cardamom & peach quinoa porridge

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This article was published on 28th September 2018.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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