Build a Better Breakfast: 12 Easy Oatmeal Add-ins

Full of fiber, iron and other essential nutrients, oatmeal is a great way to upgrade your breakfast.

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One of my favorite ways to start the day is with a super-satisfying bowl of oatmeal. Packed with soluble fiber, nutrients, and whole grain carbohydrates, oatmeal is a simple and delicious way to boost your health and energy while you're expecting and after the baby arrives.

Bonus: It's a great "Mommy and Me" breakfast for you and your future toddler, too!

Already an oatmeal fan? I've got some fun ideas for easy add-ins to keep things interesting. They're also a great way to bump up the nutrition in your bowl and build a better breakfast with fiber and vitamins from fruit and healthy fats and omegas from nuts.

But first, here's a quick rundown on some of oatmeal's many health benefits:

Lower Cholesterol and Better Heart Health: Oats contain a specific type of fiber called beta-glucan that studies have shown reduces levels of bad cholesterol. A daily dose of 3g of fiber (found in a serving of oatmeal) can lower cholesterol by up to 23%. Oatmeal also contains lignans, a plant chemical that has been found to prevent heart disease.

Stabilize Blood Sugar: Because oatmeal is so rich in fiber and it's a whole grain food, eating it will help keep your blood sugar level. This helps prevent the mid-morning crash that comes from eating refined sugars and processed carbs found in traditional breakfast cereals. Eating more whole grains also lowers your risk for several diseases including high blood pressure and certain cancers.

Lower Risk of Diabetes: A great source of iron and B vitamins, oatmeal also contains high amounts of magnesium which helps your body properly use glucose and secrete insulin. Studies have shown a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes in women who regularly eat a magnesium rich diet high in whole grains like oatmeal.

Convinced...but wondering whether to choose instant, old fashioned or steel cut oats? Here's the difference:

The USDA database shows that instant oatmeal has the same nutritional profile as old-fashioned oats. The difference lies in the glycemic index (or how quickly a food increases your blood sugar within a 2-hour-period).

Because instant oatmeal has been processed to cook more quickly, it's also broken down and digested more quickly by your body, giving it a higher glycemic index.

It's best to avoid prepackaged/flavored instant oatmeal that may be high in sodium and sugar. If you do choose instant go for plain and add a little healthy fat or protein to bump up its glycemic index so you stay satisfied longer.

Keep Reading: 12 Easy Oatmeal Add-ins

The best appetite-satisfying options are old-fashioned oats or steel cut oats. Both can be prepared in a large batch early in the week and quickly reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave as needed.

If you find regular oatmeal too mushy steel cut oats may be a great choice for you. Popular in Scotland and Ireland, they're made from whole grain groats (vs. flattened or rolled oats in old fashioned oats) that have been cut into pieces.

This gives them an appealing chewy texture when cooked. Both old fashioned and steel cut oats will keep up to a week in the fridge and are excellent reheated. Just stir in a little lowfat milk, almond milk, or soy milk to thin it out and give it a creamy texture.

Now that you know why oatmeal is so amazing and which variety is for you, try some of my easy mix-ins to keep your taste buds happy and build a better breakfast for you and your baby:

Tropical Mango-Coconut: Chopped fresh mango, shredded coconut, pinch cardamom, chopped cashews

Orange-Ginger: Orange marmalade, minced fresh ginger, top with almonds and chopped candied ginger

Pumpkin Pie: Canned pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg

Peaches & Cream: Chopped fresh or frozen peaches, vanilla yogurt

Nutty Banana: Creamy peanut butter, mashed banana, chopped peanuts

Blueberry Muffin: Fresh or frozen blueberries, molasses, cinnamon, top with a little granola

PB&J: Creamy peanut butter, chopped strawberries, top with a dab of all fruit strawberry jam

Honey-Apricot: Chopped dried apricots, drizzle of honey, pinch nutmeg, toasted almonds

Pecan-Apple Pie: Diced peeled fresh apple (or chunky applesauce), cinnamon, chopped pecans

Maple-Fig: Chopped dried or fresh figs, maple syrup, chopped walnuts, top with plain Greek yogurt

Raspberry-Almond: Almond butter, fresh or frozen raspberries, a dab of all-fruit raspberry jam

Savory Cheddar-Scallion: Tired of sweet options? Treat oatmeal like grits and stir in some shredded cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, and top with a poached egg

Julie Hartigan left a career as an engineer/tech consultant to pursue her long-standing dream of attending culinary school. A fun loving person and natural born teacher, she loves her new career and sharing what she's learned with others. Julie currently develops recipes, writes, and blogs about cooking, health, and entertaining for Weight Watchers, Bed Bath Beyond, and others. She teaches healthy cooking classes for adults and children, has been a personal chef, and has also worked at Saveur magazine and Food Network. Part gym rat, part party girl, her approach to cooking and life is finding the sweet spot: "Where Healthy Meets Happy".

Julie lives in Hoboken, NJ with her two little girls, two chubby guinea pigs, and an extremely patient husband.

For more healthy cooking ideas and recipes follow Julie on Twitter @cookingwjulie and check out her Weight Watchers blog: "What's Cooking with Julie".

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