McDonalds Oatmeal
Too Much Sugar?

Marilyn’s question…

Suzy, I'm curious, in the “Everyday Health” email I receive, the dietitian, Diane Henderiks (whose email address did not work for me), mentioned that McDonald's Fruit & Oatmeal has too much sugar. I was taught that 15 grams of sugar equals 1 carb so 32 grams of sugar would be 2 carbs (and a little more).

My thinking is, if you add a glass of skim milk, you would have a very nutritious breakfast, fiber, fruit, 500 calories, 3 carbs. I agree you could leave out the brown sugar if that is an option. Am I missing something?

Thanks for your take.

Suzy’s answer…

Hi, Marilyn. This is a great question about an issue that is confusing to many people who are watching their carbs, either due to diabetes, or as a way to lose weight.

What’s happening here is that you are confusing “sugars” with “carbohydrates.” In that system you were taught for counting carbs in a meal, 15 grams of carbohydrate, not “sugar,” is counted as one “carb.” Carbs encompass sugars, starches and fiber.

In the case of McDonald’s oatmeal with brown sugar, while it is true that there is 32 grams of sugar, the carbohydrates total 57 grams, which includes the carbohydrate in the sugar, oatmeal, apples, cranberries, raisins and even a little bit in the cream. If you order it without the brown sugar, the carb count is a little lower at 48 grams.

Of course, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The brown sugar is a simple carb that has no real nutritional value except to provide energy in the form of calories, while the carbs in the oatmeal and fruit are what we might call the good kind. Having said that, a diabetic must be aware of all carbs in their meals—the good and the bad—in order to properly manage their blood sugar.

If you read the label of any packaged food or look at the nutrition information of restaurant or fast food, you will see a listing for “Sugars” as well as a listing for “Carbohydrates.” Both of these values are important, but be sure that you don’t confuse them. If you care about total carbohydrate content, you should look at that value. If you are more interested in the sugar content of the food, pay attention to that number on the nutrition label.

The breakfast that you mentioned where you would have McDonald’s oatmeal with a glass of skim milk (which, by the way, adds another 12 grams of carbohydrate), is a higher carb breakfast, particularly if you choose the brown sugar version. From a nutrition standpoint, it's not bad for a fast food breakfast, as long as you don't have to worry about the carbohydrate content, and if you order it without the brown sugar.

You probably already know, since you have read my healthy eating site, that I am not a fan of so-called "fast food" for breakfast or any other meal, but if you are concerned about carbs and find yourself eating breakfast at McDonald’s, you may be better off with one of their egg choices, which are higher in protein and lower in carbs. Keep in mind though, that these are also lower in fiber and higher in fat and sodium, so I’m not sure it’s a good tradeoff.

I hope this helps, and for more information on Carbohydrates, you can read the carbohydrates page by clicking on the button at the top of this page, under "Basics."

Thanks for a great question and for visiting the site!

Eat and be healthy with my warmest regards,

Suzy Staywell

Nutrition page


Carbohydrates - Simple and Complex
by: Don

Suzy, I've always thought that dextrose is pretty much the only monosaccharide. I noticed in the carbohydrates section of the website that most simple sugars are described as monosaccharides. I'm hoping you could elaborate on the subject a little more. Aren't glucose and fructose double-molecule sugars, and dextrose a single-molecule sugar?

Do the terms 'single-molecule' and double-molecule relate to 'monosaccharide' and 'disaccharide'?

Sorting out the sugars
by: Suzy Staywell

The terms "monosaccharide" and "disaccharide" refer to the organic chemical structure of the sugars. "Mono-" as the name suggests, indicates a one molecule or one ring structure and "Di-" tells you there are two molecules or ring structures bonded together.

There are also "polysaccharides", which are the starches and fibers that consist of several molecules or ring structures bonded together.

Dextrose is just another (more archaic) name for glucose, which along with fructose and galactose is a monosaccharide and the simplest of sugars.

The most common disaccharides are:

maltose (glucose + glucose),
lactose or milk sugar (glucose + galactose) and sucrose or table sugar (glucose + fructose).

This information is important to us because of the effect simple sugars have on blood sugar levels, which is significant in this era of metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes. Eating more complex foods and fewer simple sugars will lead to fewer insulin spikes and a more stable blood sugar level.

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