Revealed – why you are not a freak of nature if porridge doesn’t fill you up

by sophie on January 13, 2009 · 18 comments

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Everybody and their Mum knows that porridge is a super-filling breakfast. Except that you really wouldn’t think so from reading the comments on my last post about having quinoa for breakfast; it’s just not true that porridge is a filling breakfast for one and all.  There are a whole host of reasons why this might be and I’ve jotted a few of them down in this post. If nothing else, now you now know that it probably isn’t because you are freak of nature if you don’t find porridge a filling breakfast. Plus the information here might also give you an inkling as to why nutrition research is so tricky; people and their food are just so variable.

But first, a little bit about why porridge does do the trick for so many people.  Oats are high in soluble fibre, which forms a jelly like substance in your stomach, slowing down how quickly porridge is digested compared with a cereal lower in soluble fibre.  Porridge is also classed as a low glycaemic index food meaning that the porridge releases its energy into our bloodstreams in a slow and steady way, theoretically delaying that bit just before lunch when your blood glucose levels drop low enough to cause hunger, prompting you to eat again.

So on to those reasons why you might not find porridge to be a filling breakfast:

Porridge and portions vary

  • People have massively different portions size. Some people have a few tablespoons of porridge, others have a massive bowlful.  A quick scan across a few recipes and packages showed serving suggestions from 35 to 75g of oats per person. There is no right or wrong to this; a little bit extra everyday might contribute to weight gain or might be just enough to help you resist that mid morning biscuit.
  • Some people embellish their porridge with all kinds of nutritious optional extras like fresh and dried fruit, seeds and nuts (I am very firmly in this camp).
  • As I mentioned in that last post, not all porridge oats are equal.  Old fashioned big fat porridge oats are low GI; instant oats are not.

Glycaemic response varies between people
The Glycaemic Index values you read about are measured by looking at what happens to people’s blood glucose levels when they eat a particular food.  Glycaemic index can’t be calculated by a machine and instead is determined in a laboratory; those published values are an average value obtained by testing the food on at least ten different healthy individuals (you can read more about GI testing on the University of Sydney site).  Across those ten people there will be a range of responses and for some people the energy from the food will effectively be released more quickly, most likely leaving them hungrier sooner.  Which is a roundabout way of saying that for some people porridge might be a medium to high GI food.

Your metabolism can vary from day to day
In a healthy person there are still a whole host of factors that could make a difference to your baseline blood glucose levels and how far you get into the morning before before you get hungry:
–    drinking alcohol the evening before
–    having an illness or infection
–    a very large or late evening meal the night before
–    Strenuous exercise

Some people find a higher protein breakast more filling
Protein is more filling than carbohydrate.  There is research to suggest that eggs for breakfast can aid weight loss because they are filling and can reduce the amount that you eat later in the day.  Quinoa is higher in protein than porridge and so you might find a porridge style quinoa breakfast more filling.

All of these factors may contribute to whether or not a bowl of porridge makes a filling breakfast for you.  The answer is to experiment and find the breakfast that works best for you.   

Related posts
Fig and plum porridge
Breakfast quinoa with clementines, sour cherries and pecans
Rhubarb and Ginger Thickie
Easy ingredients to make your smoothies nutritious and delicious


Katerina January 13, 2009 at 23:05

I love porridge but I find that I do need to add a bit of protein. I usually stir in a spoonful of almond butter and also add some walnuts. I find it really helps. My portion size is usually 1/3C dry oats.

Johanna January 14, 2009 at 02:13

This is a very interesting post – even given that I have never liked porridge – but I do like oats in other baking etc and was curious about your comment that large rolled oats are low GI and oatmeal is not. Do you know why this is? Does this mean if I put oatmeal in a recipe rather than grinding up rolled oats in the food processor that it will change the GI of the food? It seems odd to me as I thought these were the same food just one chopped up more than the other!

johanna January 14, 2009 at 07:44

johanna, from what i heard, you’ve hit the nail right on the spot! it’s the actual grinding in which 80% of nutritional value of a grain gets lost… which is why wholegrain bread it low GI and normal bread (using the very same grains) is high GI. i was amazed to see how much a food alters its chemical composition by just adding seemingly very little – adding a sprig of rosemary to an otherwise healthy oil like olive oil and suddenly it’s not nutritionally so attractive anymore or can potentially do more damage than good… it’s very complex. saying that, i have always been intrigued by how fast dietary advice changes as science advances and we discover new “truths” until we find the next thing!
thanks for this wonderfully informative post, i myself have only discovered porridge fairly recently, i also don’t make it with milk (lactose intolerance), but use orange juice and water instead. i have never tried the quinoa version, but, after steaming quinoa for a salad for the first time last night, will definitely give that a try as my diet is too low in protein anyway and quinoa will be a great addition!

nina January 14, 2009 at 13:45

My family loves porridge, whether it is oats, maize or any other. I always try to add a protein to the porridge – I feel the my children’s sugar levels are easily maintained that way.

Cassie January 14, 2009 at 18:46

What an interesting post, Sophie. I happen to be one who finds oatmeal very filling, but only if it’s rolled or steel cut, not the quick cooking type. It carries me even further when I add fruit (though bananas seem to be an exception) and nuts or ground flax or flax oil, but I have to scale down the amount of oats or it’s too much for me. I have considered the protein factor, and have also wondered how the fat might be contributing as well. So many variables to consider, and there definitely doesn’t seem to be a one-size fits all! You’ve certainly got me thinking and paying attention. A great write-up!

ttfn300 January 15, 2009 at 00:48

quite sensible :) you could do it up both ways, savory oatmeal (i’ve made my oats with water, stir in some cheese, then topped with an egg (or some whites) and salsa) quite delicious!!

Lauren January 15, 2009 at 02:46

I’m on a muesli kick right now. I mix together some rolled oats (NOT instant) with full-fat yogurt, unsweetened cranberry juice and cinnamon. I also throw a few frozen blueberries in and refrigerate the mixture overnight. The yogurt helps to breakdown the oats and make them easier to digest. In the morning, I thin the muesli out with some more juice or rice milk and stir in some sunflower seeds & agave syrup. Not only is it delicious but such a beautiful color. For me, it is important to add some sort of fat & protein (from the yogurt and seeds) for the “porridge” to fill me up and have lasting power.

Elaine January 15, 2009 at 06:15

You know how much I loved your Quinoa breakfast recipe (& photo) but I think this is the loveliest bowl of oatmeal and berries I’ve ever seen.
You have such a knack for explaining complex nutrition concepts and mysteries. Thank you for the plain language explanation and also the link to the GI resource.
Thanks to the other commenters, too, for their input. What lovely additions to a simple bowl of porridge!

Sophie January 16, 2009 at 08:44

Katerina – nut butter is a great addition (I add that too sometimes). Healthy fats and a lovely creamy taste
Johanna & Johanna – I between you you’ve hit the nail on the head there re one of the criticisms of GI. It’s virtually impossible to predict what a food will be. Sometimes more highly processed foods are higher in GI (like mashed potatoes vs boiled), the theory being that your body has to do less work to digest them. This is the most likely source of the differences between instant and whole oats, but for some foods chopping them up will make very little difference. Processing raises GI instinctively sounds right and so people tend to think that wholegrain carbohydrates will be low GI for just the same sort of reasons, but there are actually quite a few wholegrains that aren’t low GI. Plain white bread and plain wholemeal bread are actually both high GI (not one high and one low as Johanna suggests) and wholegrain brown rice is typically medium. But granary style bread that has visible seeds in it tends to be low GI, regardless of whether or not it is made with wholemeal flour. See what I mean about it being difficult to predict?
And then there are a whole host of other factors to take into account when you put foods together that make it essentially impossible to predict the GI of a recipe. I find this whole area completely fascinating but it’s probably not something to get too hung up on as long as you make a reasonably healthy choice. Low GI and wholemeal carbohydrate sources both have so many health benefits individually that they are both excellent choices.
nina – porridge is a great breakfast for busy kids
ttfn300 – loving your savoury oatmeal with cheese and salsa idea!
How strange about the bananas cassie! Nuts are high in protein and fibre so it makes sense to me that they would help keep you full.
Lauren – I find muesli a bit dry sometimes but as you say if you soak it overnight with yogurt it’s really delicious. This is a great portable breakfast too as it’s not so sloppy.
Thank you so much Elaine for the lovely comment about my having a knack for explaining complicated nutrition ideas. I know that you know that it is just not as easy as it looks!

Hippolyra January 19, 2009 at 18:53

Hi Sophie,
Oddly I am currently writing about porridge at the moment and the method that I have found that works for me; I am also a great fan of savoury porridge and blogged about fried porridge a while back.
Having a huge meal the night before makes me starving in the morning and I generally wake before my alarm ravenous – with that horrible sick hunger feeling – and ready to chew my arm off.
As I have finally realised that diary does not agree with me I have my porridge with homemade soy and oat milk – I am wondering how much the protein and GI differ to cow milk?

Angela February 5, 2009 at 23:37

Porridge definitely does the trick for me, but I know several people who just don’t find it filling. And now I know why!
And now I must go and soak my oats for tomorrow’s bowl! I think there’ll be some dried pear and chopped pistachios, too :) It really is the perfect recipe to experiment with…

Teddio July 19, 2010 at 10:23

Hello All
“A quick scan across a few recipes and packages showed serving suggestions from 35 to 75g of oats per person.”
Ordinarily I use about 350g(three-five-zero) for my serving and strictly add water, never milk. Probably weighs a kilo once cooked.
35 to 75g must be about 3 or 4 mouthfuls. How can this fill anyone up???
I’m exactly the same with my rice quantities. Huge.
Surprisingly, I am what can only be described as a lanky beanpole and all this calorie intake baffles me. My rib cage contours can be seen through my T-shirts.
By the by, I am 28 years old.

Jo Romero July 2, 2013 at 11:33

Interesting post! I ate a bowl of porridge this morning at 7.30 and was starving again by 9 so this goes some way to explain why this always seems to happen to me. You’re right that eggs fill you up for longer – scrambled eggs tomorrow morning it is, then!

Monica March 10, 2014 at 03:38

This post should note that oatmeal isn’t particularly calorie-dense. There are only 200 calories per pouch of oatmeal, and that’s for the quick Quaker Oats kind, which includes added sugar and hence added calories. Oatmeal is a snack, or part of a meal, certainly not a meal in itself.

Jessica Self July 15, 2014 at 14:50

I have the same problem and started to feel there was something wrong with me. Still kinda think there is just because compared to most the posts I have read I still eat more then them and don’t get full. I have been very frustrated with breakfast. I eat at 7am, I have tried protein smoothies with chia seeds, 1 cup fruit, and coconut milk fills me until 10. I have tried 1/2 cup rolled oats with 1 cup almond milk, 2 tbsp almond butter, 1 cup fruit; fills me only till 10. I want to be full until lunch because eating six meals a day is actually not healthy for you. If you have any ideas what I can do please let me know. I’m so frustrated and sad in a way that I want to give up, but no one likes being hungry. I have tried the protein smoothie I mentioned above with 1/2 cup oatmeal and 2 tbsp almond butter, that filled me till lunch but this is hard to afford to do and boring to do daily. Any suggestions? Maybe I should go with an actual meal? I also don’t eat eggs, again another hard way to go for making a filling breakfast.

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