Here’s How to Make Any Restaurant Breakfast Healthier for Diabetes

Eating breakfast or brunch out is a lovely way to start the weekend. Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t derail your diabetes diet.

If you’re following healthy eating rules for diabetes, you know you’re not gonna order a jumbo stack of pancakes and slather them in syrup and butter. But it can be hard to “be good” when you’re tempted by a decadent buffet and everyone around you is going back up for a second chocolate-filled croissant. (These are signs you're eating a healthy diabetes breakfast.)

So we asked nutritionists for some tips on how to make the best of your diabetes-friendly options when you’re eating breakfast out at a restaurant. If you follow the guidelines of combing complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fat, you have the formula to enjoy yourself without going overboard and feeling food-coma regret later on.

“It may be easier to have a well-balanced meal by avoiding platters or breakfast specials and order a la carte,” says Kelly O’Connor, RD, CDE at the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Maryland. Here are her suggestions for how to make swaps and modifications while ordering breakfast with diabetes, so can have a delish meal without feeling cheated.

1. Pancakes or French toast

Always choose whole-grains options if available. Ask for sugar-free syrup. Order a small portion (think kid size). If the portion looks too big, set half aside before you dig in and ask to take home the leftovers, or share them with someone else at the table.

2. Eggs

No doubt, eggs are a good protein source but make sure to ask how they’re prepared (unless you’re ordering a hardboiled egg). Fried eggs and scrambled eggs made with butter or oil aren’t heart-healthy. Ask if they can be prepared using cooking spray.

3. Breakfast meats

High in sodium, saturated fat, and preservatives, you know breakfast meats like bacon and sausage are treat foods, not meant to be piled high on your plate. That said, avoiding them entirely can feel like deprivation, so stick to one or two pieces to get the crunchy, salty flavor and texture. Opt for lighter options—including veggies and fruit—to round out your plate.

4. Oatmeal

A hot, creamy bowl is a healthy and filling option—but not if it’s prepared with butter or whole milk and drenched in a heavy syrup. Find out what’s in the oatmeal before you order it. Try to use minimal brown sugar, if any. Each tablespoon has around 48 calories and 12 grams of carbs. A better option: Stir in fruits to add a touch of natural sweetness, and order the fruit on the side so you can control the portion. Remember, there are around 30 grams of carbs in a ¼ cup of raisins. Choose blueberries or strawberries if available.

5. Yogurt

It’s usually a good breakfast option, but if the yogurt is described as a parfait, that may indicate excess sugar, carbs, and calories. Be careful with your stir-ins: Granola sounds healthy but the sweet, crunchy mix has around 110 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates per ¼ cup, depending on the brand. If you have the choice, pick Greek yogurt. It contains more protein than regular yogurt (around 15 grams per serving vs. 9 grams per serving) and generally has few carbs than regular yogurt.

6. Potatoes and bread

You may already know that side orders of potatoes and white toast, bagels, and even blueberry muffins will spike your blood sugar quickly. One way to avoid the temptation is to request that the bread basket or any sides of potatoes aren’t brought to the table. Or, if you want the potatoes, skip the side of toast. If you’re having an English muffin or toast, request a whole-grain version and omit a potato side.

A final word: Don’t join the clean-plate club. Some of us are still inclined to finish every last crumb, especially when we’re paying for a restaurant meal out. You may get your money’s worth but pay for it later by feeling bloated and miserable. Instead, ask for a take-out box immediately if your breakfast meal is larger than you anticipated, and eat the other half later.