When you’re looking to get lean, exercise is only half the equation. You can do all the crunches in the world, but the foods you eat are every bit as important. As part of our Cook to Get Cut series, we’ll show you how to use some of the healthiest eats to sculpt your physique without sacrificing flavor. Getting fit never tasted so good.
Starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal is a smart strategy for eating well since the grains are only about 80 calories per cooked, ½-cup serving. They also offer tons of vital nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, fiber, and magnesium. Recently, the grain was even linked to an overall reduced risk of mortality. The only problem with sticking to oatmeal every day is you’ll get bored pretty fast.
While oats are great breakfast fare, they also work surprisingly well with savory flavors for lunch or dinner. They’re pretty spectacular in desserts, too. Try these five healthy recipes to see what oats can do.
1. Easy and Healthy Banana-Oat Pancakes
Without much work, you can transform oatmeal into a totally different category of breakfast food. We like these banana and oat pancakes from Simply Delicious. All you have to do is purée some oats, baking powder, banana, salt, and eggs in a blender, then cook portions of the mixture in a hot skillet. Top with fruit, syrup, or even yogurt for a sweet and guilt-free breakfast treat.
With plenty of protein and fiber, this breakfast is a winner that will keep you satisfied during even the busiest days. Need proof? One 2013 study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition compared satiety levels between groups who ate either cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. The researchers found a meal of oats much more effectively increased appetite control and improved a feeling of fullness.
- 2 bananas
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup rolled oats
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- Maple syrup
- Fresh fruit
Directions: Add the bananas, eggs, oats, baking powder, and salt to a blender. Purée until smooth, then set aside for 10 to 20 minutes.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and grease with cooking spray. Cook small portions of the batter until golden, flip, and continue cooking until second side is golden. Serve with toppings.
2. Thai Stir-Fried Oats
Plant-based diets have been hailed as the answer to reducing heart disease. Many take this advice to mean they need to eat nothing but vegetables. Produce is certainly a part of the equation, but so are whole grains, including oats. Diets rich in the grain have been linked to healthier blood pressure as well as cholesterol.
For some reason, a lot of folks think this type of diet has to be bland and mostly raw. Forget what you think you know because this Thai-inspired stir-fry from Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods is brimming with bold flavors. The recipe cleverly uses soaked oats for the starring grain, good news for anyone who struggles with properly cooking rice. As for the other ingredients, a roundup of mushrooms, soy sauce, pineapple, coconut flakes, cashews, curry paste, and brown sugar ensures fantastic tastes and textures.
- 1¾ cups steel-cut oats
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated
- 8 ounces shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1½ tablespoons brown sugar or date sugar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup diced fresh pineapple
- ½ cup roasted, salted cashews, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- Juice and zest of 2 limes
- ½ cup cilantro or mint leaves, minced, divided
Directions: Soak oats overnight with enough water to cover. Drain in a fine sieve, pressing to extract as much water as possible and set aside.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add white portion of green onions, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in fish sauce, curry paste, sugar, and drained oats. Continue to cook and stir for 3 minutes longer.
Push oats to the sides of the skillet and add eggs to the center of the pan. Cook, stirring, until eggs are just cooked, then toss to combine with oats. Add pineapple, cashews, and coconut. Cook 30 seconds longer, then remove from heat. Stir in lime juice and zest, green onion tops, and half of the herbs. Serve, sprinkling remaining herbs over the top.
3. Savory Mushroom and Herb Steel-Cut Oat Risotto
Endurance athletes are used to scarfing plenty of carbs in preparation for competitions, usually resorting to piles of pasta. Risotto might not be as popular for the strategy, but it offers the same basic energy needs while adding a little bit more variety to pre-race meals. Instead of going for the usual Arborio rice, try making a batch of this comforting Italian dish with oats. We like Foxes Love Lemons’ savory mushroom version. Though it’s a meatless recipe, you could easily add some browned sausage or grilled chicken.
You could always make a traditional risotto, but oats might actually be the superior carbohydrate when it comes to athletic performance. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found a diet supplemented with oat bran increased time to exhaustion, boosted glycogen concentration in muscles, and resulted in less post-exercise inflammation. These results suggest oats could help improve endurance and speed up recovery.
- 5½ cups vegetable, chicken, or beef stock
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 leek, white and pale green parts only, cleaned well, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground sage
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- 1 cup steel-cut Irish oats
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Directions: Heat stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Once bubbling, reduce heat to low and cover to prevent too much evaporation.
Meanwhile, heat butter in a large pot or high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek, season with salt, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in mushrooms, garlic, thyme, and sage. Continue to cook, stirring often, until mushrooms have browned, about 7 to 8 minutes. Pour in wine and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Lower heat to medium and add oats. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in 2 ladles of stock and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to cook, adding stock 1 ladle at a time and cooking until oats are tender, about 25 minutes. If you run out of stock, use water until the oats are cooked.
Stir in ¼ cup Parmesan. Transfer to serving bowls and serve topped with parsley and additional Parmesan.
4. Beef and Oat Soup
Beef soup with barley is a pretty standard recipe, so switching the grain to oats really isn’t that unusual. This recipe from the University of Massachusetts Medical School is particularly nice because it uses ground beef to get dinner on the table in no time. It’s filled with meat, whole grains, and veggies, making it a complete meal. If you’re feeling particularly hungry, add a salad and a slice of bread on the side.
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- ½ to 1 pound spinach, thinly sliced
- 1 large carrot, shredded
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 cup oats
- 4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
- 1 cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Cider vinegar
Directions: Bring 3 to 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in oats, reduce heat, and let simmer 30 minutes, or until tender.
Season beef with half the pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and set aside.
Add remaining oil to the pot, then stir in the onion. Cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add carrot and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add thyme and cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Stir in oats, broth, water, salt, and remaining pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add spinach, beef, and accumulated juices to the pot. Cook just to heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with vinegar and serve.
5. Healthy Peanut Butter Chunk Oatmeal Bars
Sticking to a healthy diet often means eliminating desserts and other sweets. While it’s smart to cut back, getting rid of treats entirely could lead to a massive binge later on. Indulging your sweet tooth from time to time is a better strategy, so try these bars with chocolate and peanut butter from Sally’s Baking Addiction. They taste as good as any peanut butter cup, but also offer a decent amount of fiber and even a bit of protein.
Since these treats are made with oatmeal, they’re pretty much the ideal pre-snooze dessert. One Green Planet explained that oats help your body produce more melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. A tasty baked good that could eliminate insomnia sounds like a win-win to us.
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk of choice
- ½ cup chocolate chips
- ½ cup raisins, nuts, or other dried fruit
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Alternatively, grease with cooking spray.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream brown sugar and peanut butter on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and mix just to combine, scraping sides if needed.
Add flour, oats, salt, and baking soda. Mix on medium speed to combine. With mixer running, slowly pour in the milk and mix just to combine. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and raisins.
Transfer dough to prepared dish and press into an even layer using your fingers. Bake until lightly golden and set, about 17 to 20 minutes, rotating pan 180 degrees halfway through. Let cool, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.