(As published on TheTownDish.com, February 21, 2013)

What are some words that come to mind when you think of oatmeal? Bland, boring...mushy? While oatmeal may be mushy, it's anything but bland and boring. Oatmeal is a true super-food, and I bet by the time you finish reading this, you'll have a newfound love for every variation of the oat.

But first, let's get this straight...all talk of oatmeal in this post refers to plain, rolled or steel cut oats - not the flavored varieties in the packets. Got it? The other stuff can lack in the "good stuff" category.

Oatmeal is full of fiber and protein. This keeps you full, too. Oatmeal has one of the highest fiber and protein levels of any grain - that's a big deal! Some carbohydrate-packed grains will leave you feeling sluggish and just as hungry as you were before you ate, but oatmeal is a complex carbohydrate that keeps you going strong until lunch time.

Keep your sugars in check. All of this fiber and complex carbohydrate action slows down the process which turns food into sugar for body fuel. Oatmeal regulates blood sugar levels and is a great option for breakfast compared to those sugary cereals that make you crave sweets all day long. If you have type 2 diabetes, you've probably already heard that oatmeal may be a good choice for your morning meal to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Try a bowl for lower cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol - low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein (LDL and HDL). LDL is known as the "bad" cholesterol that clogs up arteries, and oatmeal lowers LDL levels while driving up "good" HDL levels. Rich in soluble fiber, oatmeal keeps the body from absorbing that not-so-great cholesterol. Fiber is heart-healthy, so it gives you lots of cardiovascular benefits like lowering your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Gluten-free foodies unite! You may be in the clear for this grain. Most people with gluten sensitivity have no problem with oatmeal, and studies have shown that many with celiac disease can tolerate oatmeal as well. Beware, though, for cross contamination as processing facilities may deal with other not-so-gluten-friendly foods.

Alright, so it's good for you. How can I make it taste good? There are two great things about oatmeal - it's healthy, and it's cheap. There's one bad thing, though - without some work, plain oats don't always cut it for the taste buds. Try some of these add-ins to jazz up your morning bowl:

  • Peanut butter with banana slices
  • Honey or brown sugar
  • Fresh fruit
  • Pumpkin or sweet potato puree
  • Flavored extracts (vanilla, almond, etc.)
  • Chocolate or butterscotch chips
  • Fruit jelly
  • Warmed apples and cinnamon
  • Small pat of butter with chopped nuts
  • Maple syrup and dried cranberries

Keep in mind some of these options are heavy on the sugar, so use them sparingly to keep your oats healthy. Your choices are endless for delicious ways to spice up what was once boring oatmeal. After knowing all the good things it has to offer, how couldn't you love it? Oatmeal is quick, cheap and delicious once you find a topping you love, and it will love you back by protecting your body with all of its healthy benefits. Eat up!

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