They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Here’s how to make it count when you’re eating a diabetic diet.
They call it breakfast for good reason: You’re quite literally breaking your fast from the night before. While you snooze, your body goes into a fasting or conservation mode, where it conserves calories from the previous night’s food intake.
“Having a breakfast meal will help your body come out of fasting/conservation mode and begin to work more efficiently,” says Kelly O’Connor, RD, CDE at the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Maryland. Eating breakfast is especially important if you regularly take diabetes oral medication or insulin in the morning to avoid the risk of low blood sugar.
While it’s not uncommon to wake up with high blood sugars if you have type 2 diabetes, that doesn’t mean you should skip breakfast. “Your body will function better if you give it a small to moderate amount of complex carbohydrates in the morning,” says O’Connor.
Here are some signs you're eating breakfast the healthy way if you have type 2 diabetes, and here's how to make any restaurant breakfast more diabetes-friendly.
1. After your alarm goes off, you eat sooner rather than later
Some days you may wake up famished; others, you could wait a couple hours because you don’t feel hungry in the slightest. If you don’t feel hungry in the morning, it could be that you’re eating too late at night and your body just isn’t sending you hunger signals yet. Either way, O’Connor recommends trying to eat within an hour of getting up to give your body the fuel it needs to start the day.
2. Breakfast is often your biggest meal of the day
There’s truth to—and scientific studies that support—the old saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper.”
For example, research published in the journal Obesity found that when women followed a diet that included a 700-calorie breakfast, a 500-calorie lunch, and a 200-calorie breakfast, they lost on average about 17 pounds and three inches from their waist over a three-month period. Another group of participants who ate the reverse pattern—the most calories at dinner and the fewest at breakfast—lost only around 7 pounds and a little more than an inch from their waist. The women in the big-breakfast group also had bigger decreases in insulin, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels compared with people whose largest meal of the day was dinner.
Another study from researchers at Loma Linda Univeristy that looked at the dietary patterns of 50,000 adults found that people who ate their biggest meal at breakfast tended to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who ate large lunches or dinners.
While more research is needed, some experts suspect that eating bigger meals in the morning is better for your metabolism and blood sugar than consuming large meals at night.
3. You don't overdo it on carbs at breakfast
“The general recommendation for carbohydrate intake at breakfast—or any meal—is around 45 grams for women and 60 grams for men,” O’Connor says. (For comparison, an average-size bagel, for example, has about 48 grams of carbs; a container of Greek yogurt has about 6 grams of carbs; a cup of Cheerios has 17 grams of carbs.)
However, this is something you should discuss with your healthcare provider as you may need to adjust the carbs with specific blood sugar, weight, or other personal factors.
If you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes, you may need to check your blood sugars one to two hours after trying various breakfast combinations. Keep a journal of which breakfast meals resulted in optimum blood sugar readings and which ones helped you feel full and satisfied. In time, you’ll identify what food combinations trigger high blood sugar and which ones helped stabilize blood sugars and were satisfying so you can make a go-to list of breakfast options.
If a breakfast meal resulted in a blood sugar spike, O’Connor suggests trying one or both of these options: drink several glasses of water to help your body ‘flush” some of the extra blood sugar out of your system, or exercise to lower your blood sugar. (Here's more info on how to exercise safely with diabetes.)
4. You balance your diabetic breakfast with protein and fiber
It’s incredibly easy to grab a bagel and coffee on the way to work, but you know what comes of that: a spike in blood sugar. And that can mean headaches, feeling thirsty, extra trips to the bathroom, and even blurred vision. Not a great start to your day. For a well-balanced breakfast, choose complex carbohydrates that contain fiber when possible. These include oatmeal, whole-wheat toast, whole-wheat English muffins, and whole-grain cereal.
Pair that carb with a quality protein like eggs, egg whites, Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, sliced turkey, Greek yogurt, or peanut or other nut butters. If you’re making eggs for omelets, use a healthy fat like olive oil or canola oil. And remember, you can eat a non-traditional breakfast such as leftovers from dinner—just opt for complex carbs with fiber and lean proteins before digging in.