Mom is still right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially when you have type 2 diabetes. Your diabetes diet needs to give you a healthy supply of energy to jump start your body in the morning.
"Remember that first thing in the morning, you’ve gone many hours without eating and your body needs fuel," says Kelly O'Connor, RD, director of diabetes education at the endocrinology center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "If you’re not giving it any, it will create its own in the form of stored blood sugar that gets released into your bloodstream — which often results in blood sugar that’s too high."
Healthy breakfast food is also a must when it comes to diabetes control and weight management. “Remember that when your body is fasting, you’re not giving it any energy, so it slows down to conserve what it has left, which is counterproductive." The trick is to keep your metabolism going all day long at a steady rate. "The simple solution to both of these issues is to eat a good breakfast."
Breakfast blunders can happen during the week when you wake up late and try eating breakfast while running out the door, or on the weekend when you go out for a big breakfast.
However, the biggest mistake to avoid is skipping breakfast altogether. When you go too long without eating, your body goes into starvation mode. And when you finally give in to hunger later in the day (and probably overeat), your body will grab all the fat from your meal and store it. That's bad for anyone, especially for someone with type 2 diabetes.
Don’t fly on a sugar high. If you don't have a lot of time in the morning for healthy breakfast foods, you may be tempted to wolf down a doughnut and coffee for the extra sugar and caffeine, but this is a mistake. “Breakfast should be a meal that provides your body fuel for the next couple of hours,"
"It should be a valuable source of energy, not just quick energy." From a doughnut and coffee with sugar, she says, "you’ll get a temporary sugar high, but you won’t have done your body any favors, and it’ll wear off quickly, likely resulting in a blood-sugar crash."
Don’t forget fiber. Breakfast is also a great opportunity to get some fiber, which is good for diabetes because fiber fills you up without raising your blood sugar. That can mean better blood-sugar control and fewer calories. Try to get 7 to 10 grams of fiber every morning as part of a healthy breakfast for diabetes.
Add protein for a balanced breakfast. “Breakfast should combine healthy sources of carbohydrates, around 15 to 30 grams, with a small amount of lean protein," Think of the carbohydrates as the energy your body needs and the protein as what gives it staying power. Protein also helps you feel fuller.
Include fruit and vegetables for fiber plus nutrition. Colorful fruits and vegetables are a low-calorie source of carbohydrates. Include them in your breakfast for vitamins, minerals, and fiber. If your diabetes diet incorporates 2,000 to 2,400 calories, you should get four servings each of fruits and vegetables daily — and breakfast is a good time to get started.
Don’t drink your breakfast. Although some people like breakfast drinks, "better nutrition comes from whole foods. "Juicing is a popular trend, but keep in mind that one large serving of juiced fruits contains significant carbs and calories.” That means you can experience a rise in blood sugar and weight gain from juicing too frequently.
Avoid processed meats and other bad breakfast choices. Bacon, sausage, and ham don’t add carbs to your diet, but they’re not healthy protein choices either. “Bad breakfast choices provide excessive calories with little or no nutrition,” Stay away from breakfast bars, large coffee drinks with whipped cream and caramel, sweetened cereals, and breakfast pastries.
Eating a Healthy Breakfast for Diabetes
Knowing what not to eat for breakfast is only part of the battle when you have diabetes. Understanding what makes for a healthy breakfast food is just as important.
For meals on the go, choose a piece of fruit with low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. Or try a breakfast burrito with scrambled egg whites on a whole-wheat tortilla.
To get more fiber in your breakfast, try oatmeal with fresh fruit and low-fat or fat-free yogurt, whole-grain cereal, toasted whole-wheat bread or English muffins, or breakfast wraps or burritos made with whole-grain tortillas.
For healthy and lean protein sources, try a handful of almonds, natural peanut butter, or a slice of low-fat cheese. An occasional egg is also fine. (You can eat egg whites or egg substitutes more often since they don’t have cholesterol.) Low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also good sources of breakfast protein.
If you want to juice your breakfast, keep the portion to a maximum of 8 ounces. Substituting vegetables for some of the fruits to create a better blend and a lower-carb beverage. You can add some protein powder, too.
It's also important to check your blood sugar two hours after eating breakfast. "If it’s above the target your doctor has set, you’re consuming too many carbs and need to cut back.”
As long as you make healthy food choices, breakfast for diabetes can be a chance to get better control of your blood sugar and your weight. But if you're struggling with the right breakfast for diabetes or any other meal in your diabetes diet — ask your doctor or diabetes educator for some help.