Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day – and for good reason.
You’ve been fasting through the night as you slept, so it’s time to replenish your body so you can get the day off to a good start and hit the ground running.
If you have diabetes, deciding what to have for breakfast takes on even greater importance. You don’t want your blood sugar (glucose) to go too low by skipping breakfast, and you also don’t want it to shoot up too high from eating and drinking the wrong things.
But don’t try to wing it. With so much at stake, it’s important to get professional advice.
First step: Consult a dietitian
“General dietary guidelines are pretty consistent for people with diabetes, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why it’s important to get a doctor’s referral to a dietitian,” said Rebecca Copeland, a registered dietitian at OSF HealthCare. “A dietitian will provide guidance that takes all factors into consideration, including a person’s age, gender, body type, medical status, taste preferences, etc.”
Rebecca says that when someone learns they have diabetes, they sometimes fall into the trap of going to dietary extremes.
“People tend to be very all-or-nothing with their eating patterns,” Rebecca said. “For example, when they hear that they should stay away from sugary breakfast foods like pastries, juices, doughnuts and certain cereals, they occasionally switch to an all-meat breakfast diet of ham, sausage, eggs, etc.
“But there’s a really large area between all-sugar and all-meat, so they need to find a balanced approach of carbohydrates, protein, fiber and healthy fat. That’s why consulting a dietitian is so important.”
Diabetes-friendly breakfast tips
While people with diabetes don’t need to abstain from entire food groups, there are some basic guidelines they should follow when starting their day.
- Meat: There’s nothing like the smell of sizzling sausage, bacon or ham in the morning. While they’re all good sources of protein, these savory favorites are generally higher in sodium and saturated fat. And since people with diabetes are more prone to heart disease, these meats should only be consumed in moderation.
- Eggs: While their yolks, which are high in cholesterol, were once thought to raise the cholesterol in your blood, the latest research suggests that the amount of saturated fat in our diet is a stronger predictor of blood cholesterol levels.
“The American Heart Association now says that one egg a day is OK for people with increased risk of heart disease, such as those with diabetes,” Rebecca said.
- Fruit: Fruit is always a good choice because it’s generally high in fiber. This balances its natural sugar content by slowing the digestion process, which keeps your blood sugar stable.
- Bread: Choose bread products (bread, muffins, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, etc.) that are made from whole grain flour instead of refined flour. Both kinds are high in carbohydrates, but refined flour has been stripped of all its fiber, vitamins and minerals. Without fiber, it’s digested very quickly, which causes your blood sugar to spike.
- Potatoes: Hash browns and home fries are also breakfast favorites, but the carbohydrate-heavy starch in these foods is converted to sugar in our blood stream. And if they’re fried in certain oils and fats, it can also increase their saturated fat content. If you want potatoes in the morning, it’s best to boil or steam them and enjoy them alongside high-fiber foods.
- Cereal: Choose cereals that are low in added sugar. There are plenty of healthy, high-fiber options for cold cereal, but a good choice for hot cereal is plain oatmeal. Even though it’s high in carbohydrates, it’s also high in fiber, which will slow the digestion of the carbohydrates and keep your blood sugar stable. To add some flavor, consider adding fruit, cinnamon, nut butter (almond butter, peanut butter, etc.), protein powder or an artificial sweetener.
“With regard to cold cereal, remember to stick to the serving size recommendation on the label,” Rebecca said. “People have a tendency to go way over a serving size, which means they’re getting a lot more sugar than they think – even with a low-sugar cereal.”
- Honey and syrup: You probably enjoy putting honey on your biscuits and syrup (maple or high-fructose corn syrup) on your pancakes and waffles. But these tasty toppings are very high in sugar. Instead, opt for fruit or some form of nut butter.
- Drinks: Fruit juice should be avoided because its sugar elevates the blood sugar quickly. Instead, choose from unsweetened or artificially sweetened coffee, tea or water. Other options include white milk (limited to one serving due to its natural sugar content in the form of lactose) and water flavored with fruit. Various diet juices that are low in sugar are also available.
- Spreads: When looking for something to spread on your toast or muffin, butter isn’t the best option since it’s higher in saturated fat. Choose a healthier option instead, such as nut butter, avocado, Greek yogurt or hummus. Margarine that’s trans fat-free is also a good substitute because it’s usually lower in saturated fat and higher in healthy fats that help lower bad cholesterol.