What makes a good breakfast for diabetics?

Christine Zalnieraite

2021 Oct 18

10 min read

You’ve probably heard about the widely held belief that you ought to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. This is true! More so for diabetics who require a regular (and not too heavy) supply of calories throughout the day. Although there are different popular opinions about whether breakfast is good or bad, scientific research shows that breakfast is indeed important and that a good breakfast will keep your body feeling satisfied. In contrast skipping breakfast leads to feeling hungry and tired, which in most cases leads to overeating at lunch or dinner.   

Why is it important for diabetics to eat breakfast?

Sure breakfast is important but there may be times when a diabetic skips breakfast. So is it OK for diabetics to skip breakfast? In short – No! Because Diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar can get out of control, it is important to ensure that you do not go hungry too long, which lowers blood sugar levels, leaving a diabetic shaky and can result in overeating. 

After that, you may ask: Well, what’s wrong with compensating for a skipped breakfast? The primary concern is that consuming too much can lead to a sudden spike in blood sugar levels (or hyperglycemia) that places the individual at a risk of excessive hunger, thirst, a frequent need to urinate, increased heart rate, blurred vision, etc. which can in turn, lead to more serious health problems, when left untreated – even stroke or a coma.

What is the best breakfast for a diabetic to eat?

Now that we’re clear that breakfast should ideally not be skipped, let’s explore: what is the secret to the best breakfast for diabetics? The answer to this lies in the kind of diet you and your physician/registered nutritionist have chosen. There are a number of diets that work well for diabetics, those with or those prone to hypertension (high blood pressure) or heart-related conditions. So the best breakfast foods for diabetics can be found within these diets:

DASH Diet: 

This is a great diet that can be adopted by everyone! It’s balanced, healthy and ideal for everyone in the family (regardless of whether they have diabetes or any associated health condition). The DASH diet or the Dietary Approaches to stop Hypertension, as the name states, primarily deals with lowering or managing Hypertension. Studies have shown that two thirds of all diabetics also suffer from hypertension. Not only does this diet address hypertension but is also extremely beneficial for people with both Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

So this highly recommended diet includes eating a lot of fruits and vegetables: at least half your plate per meal. Although universally recommended for good health, and their high vitamin, mineral and fiber content, fruits and veggies are recommended in this diet because they contain potassium which helps control blood pressure. Include one or more fruits, fruit juices and some veggies in your breakfast.

Include nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and other nuts are high in healthy fats. These fats help to lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and helps keep blood vessels healthy and unclogged (clogging may be caused by plaque which is deposited along vessel walls when the blood carries too much ‘bad’ cholesterol and sugar. The body can only use a limited quantity of nuts, so go easy on them! Increasing the quantity of nuts are not likely to make you healthier, owing to the normal body’s limited ability to absorb nutrients from nuts.

Calcium – found in Diary (go for the fat-free or low fat kind), eggs, fish, yogurt, tofu, spinach etc. is very important for blood vessel health, enabling the vessels to function normally and thus maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Calcium and Vitamin D deficiency also affects insulin resistance in the body, which is the main cause for the development of Diabetes. Including calcium rich foods is a great way to manage diabetes and stay healthy. If you love your eggs every morning, remember that although it’s a great source of calcium and protein, try to stick to having only three eggs per week. When you do cook eggs, keep butter or oils to a minimum – or eat them boiled!

Lower Salt (since it contains sodium) try to keep sodium intake levels at 2.3g per day and unhealthy fats intake. When you cook at home, try using low sodium salt and when you go out to eat, remember to look for the nutrients list for each menu item before ordering, or simply ask for low salt and low fat dishes.

Staying active and lowering alcohol consumption: Since a sedentary lifestyle is a leading cause of diabetes, regular exercise or an active lifestyle can help manage diabetes and also reduce the risk of diabetes developing at later stages of life. Alcohol consumption too causes a higher risk of developing and can contribute to diabetes progressing.   

Here are a few DASH Diet Breakfast recipes to help you get started:

  • Wild mushroom oatmeal with herbs: This dish is a savory and robust meal with eggs, wild mushrooms, scallions, lemon juice, pepper, rosemary, olive oil and a dash of low sodium sea salt.
  • Grilled Banana split fruit salad: accompanied by raspberries, Greek yogurt, pineapple chunks, strawberries, almonds and a dash of semi-sweet dark chocolate. This delectable dish is packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals to fuel your day.   
  • Scrambled eggs, spinach, mushrooms and feta cheese: This recipe can be amped up with more fresh veggies like tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, or onions for a flavor filled breakfast. 

KETO Diet:

The keto diet is a simpler version of the Atkins diet or the Very Low Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet (VLCKD). The difference is that the Atkins diets requires constant monitoring and adjusting the diet to the needs of the body, with exact measures of fats, nutrients and carbs being consumed on short, mid and long term basis. 

With the Keto diet, the process is not as measured and is simply dependent on limiting carbohydrate intake to a minimum, and increasing fat intake to a point where a condition called ketosis is induced in the body. Under this condition, the body is forced to use fats to produce energy instead of carbs. Such a process reduces the body’s dependence on insulin. 

The great thing about this diet is that a good-fat-heavy diet helps to keep glycemic index and the lipid profile within a favorable range. Studies have shown that the keto diet is indeed effective in controlling Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, and in some cases even reversing the diabetic condition. 

So what do you need to keep in mind with the keto diet? Keep carbs to a low of less than 20g per meal, increase proteins to at least 10g and add in good fats, but not too much. 

Some appetizing options for a keto-diet breakfast ideas are:

  • Egg Muffins with Lean Turkey Bacon – Yes! You can have eggs for breakfast, provided you don’t eat them every single day, it’s a great source of protein. How many eggs can a diabetic have in a day? Some studies say you can have two eggs a day, 3-6 days a week, while some studies recommend limiting egg consumption to one a day, 3-4 days a week. Whatever you choose, keep to your physician or nutritionist recommended diet to stay healthy. 
  • Salmon and cream cheese wrap – fish is an amazing source of proteins and healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids – these are super-good in maintaining heart health. Cream cheese is the healthier option for cheese and mayo cravings. 
  • Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding with Almond Milk – This simple make-ahead recipe is packed with fiber, antioxidants and nutrients with the creamy goodness of cocoa. It only contains 0.2g of sugar/carbs!  

Mediterranean Diet

Eating heart-healthy foods has been proven to be very effective in managing diabetes. When blood sugar, weight, ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) and high blood pressure are maintained within a healthy range, diabetes is also controlled! The Mediterranean diet is an enjoyable one that can also be followed by the whole family. The diet includes as many fresh and seasonal produce as possible, whole grains such as barley, wheat etc., heart healthy oils such as olive oil and fish oils from fish, and limited quantities of wine. Foods are best cooked by baking, roasting, grilling, or steaming rather than frying of any kind. The Mediterranean diet calls for a wide range of natural and healthy taste enhancers such as lemon juice, garlic and salt-free herbs and spices. 

The bottom line is you get the right portions, with low fat, sugar and salt content with the Mediterranean diet. Here are a few Mediterranean breakfast ideas:

  • Maple Granola: Oats based and full of flavor with maple syrup, pecans or your favorite mix of nuts, and a dash of cinnamon. This can be enjoyed as is, or with a banana, milk or yogurt. Top it off with raspberries, blueberries or strawberries for an extra burst of vitamins and flavor.
  • Apple Cinnamon Chia Pudding: Chia seeds soaked in Almond milk and topped with apple, cinnamon and pecans make for super healthy start to your day.
  • Multigrain Mediterranean Sandwich: Made with low carb-multigrain bread, this sandwich can be packed with spinach, eggs, tomatoes, low-fat feta cheese, seasoned with rosemary and olive oil, for a hearty and satisfying meal.

What breakfast foods should diabetics avoid?

The typical American breakfast may be something you grew up with and strongly associated with mouth-watering weekend breakfast memories. But, if you now have diabetes or are in a pre-diabetic stage, it’s essential to adjust your lifestyle just a little, so that you can still enjoy the flavors and memories without compromising your health. Apart from exercise and the right diet as we’ve just discussed, you do need to avoid falling into the trap of consuming the regular high-carb, high-salt and high-fat foods. 

For example, while the typical pancakes made with refined flour and topped with a generous helping of syrup; or the hash browns, buttered eggs and coffee; or bacon and eggs with buttered toast; or cheese filled bagels; or burritos; or French toast, may seem tempting to say the least! You need to steer clear of them unless they’ve been re-invented with ingredients are more suitable for diabetics to consume. You don’t necessarily have to do this on your own. You can ask your doctor to recommend a good dietician or nutritionist who can whip up some appetizing recipes that will keep you satisfied and happy.

Healthy Breakfasts for Diabetics:

Whether you’re cooking your own breakfast or grabbing a bite before work at your local diner, be sure to keep to your chosen diet and you’ll be good to go. The goal is to listen to your body, keep your body healthy and with good medical and nutritional guidance, keep the symptoms of diabetes at bay.

Written by

Christine Zalnieraite

Christine is a registered and licensed dietitian (RD, LD) with more than eight years of professional experience. Christine is an expert in dietetics that includes human nutrition and the regulation of the proper individual diet. She alters patient's nutrition based on their medical condition and individual needs. Education: Master’s degree in Human Nutrition and Food Safety and two Bachelors of Science - Bachelor in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, and Human Nutrition and Food Safety. Also, she continues to deepen her knowledge in Ph.D. studies of Medical Science and Dietetics.

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