What to Eat for Breakfast When You Have Diabetes

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Eating a balanced breakfast is important, especially if you have diabetes. In fact, researchers have found that skipping breakfast makes you more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But figuring out exactly what to eat can be tricky. Having a plan in place can help you save time and prevent you from making a choice that might affect your glucose control later in the day. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Guide to a Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast

Studies have shown that eating a higher fat and moderate protein breakfast may actually help to reduce fasting blood sugar, A1c, and weight. The likely reason is that these types of breakfast choices are lower in carbohydrates. Some people with diabetes experience higher blood sugars in the morning because the liver breaks down sugar overnight and the cells can also be a bit more resistant to insulin at this time.

Also, blood sugar tends to rise after breakfast—up to two times higher than after lunch. High blood sugar after meals (postprandial) can result in carbohydrate cravings because the sugar stays in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells, and then the cells signal to the body that it needs to eat more sugar (or carbohydrates) to effectively fuel itself.

Eating a lower-carb breakfast will minimize the resulting glucose response and means your blood sugar will be better balanced throughout the day.

Master Your Macronutrient Goals

All food can be classified into macronutrient categories as carbohydrates, fats, or proteins. They all provide your body with the energy you need to function on a daily basis.

The American Diabetes Association recommends a general breakdown as 20% of daily calories from protein, 20-35% of daily calories from fat, and 45-60% of daily calories from carbohydrates.

Your total calorie count and how much you personally need to consume of each macronutrient depends on your age, sex, how much you exercise, blood glucose control, and any medications you may be taking. Work with a nutritionist or certified diabetes educator to find your personalized ratio.

It's also important to know that not all macronutrients are the same in terms of quality: bagels and broccoli are technically both carbs, but are very different in terms of nutrient load! Processed foods such as sugary breakfast cereals, breakfast meats, white bread, shelf-stable baked goods, and sweetened yogurts are generally low in nutrient density, which means they're not as nutritious for your body as whole, unrefined grains, fruits, and veggies.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are a quick source of energy, but for people with diabetes, they can send blood sugar soaring. When it comes to carbs on a diabetes-friendly diet, fiber is the shining beacon you should be searching for. Most nutritionists recommend at least 35 grams of fiber per day for people with diabetes (as opposed to 25 grams per day), as fiber helps slow the glucose response after a meal, helping to balance blood sugar. In terms of breakfast options, seek out oatmeal (1/2 cup of dry steelcut oats contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber!); avocado toast on whole-grain bread (12-15 grams of fiber); or a whole-grain waffle (5 grams of fiber).

Keep an eye on portions when planning a carb-centric meal—your hands can serve as great visual tools. One serving of grains is usually 1/2 cup of dry grains, which generally fits in one cupped hand. You can measure cooked grains in 1 cup measurements or approximately two cupped hands.

Fat

Don't shy away from fats: from helping with vitamin absorption to hormone production to heart and brain function, they are an essential part of a healthy diet. However, not all fats are created equal. Look for plant-based fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and coconut; along with high-quality sources of animal products such as grass-fed, whole-milk dairy and butter. Once thought to cause high cholesterol, experts now suggest that full-fat dairy may help to keep cholesterol balanced.

In terms of portions, a serving of liquid fats such as olive oil or butter is usually one teaspoon, about the size of the tip of your thumb. A serving of nuts, seeds, or avocado is one tablespoon, or about the full length of your thumb.

Seek out omega-3 fatty acids, which are a special kind of protective, anti-inflammatory fat. Walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and fatty fish are all great sources of omega-3s. Whip up a chia and flaxseed pudding topped with berries, try smoked salmon and cream cheese on whole-grain toast, or add some walnuts to your smoothie for a boost of fat and protein.

Protein

Protein is the building block for every cell in the body and is a great source of energy. For people with diabetes, lean proteins provide energy density without a high amount of saturated fat, which could be linked to heart disease. Animal-based breakfast proteins like eggs and turkey sausage are pretty standard, but there's also a case to be made for chickpeas, tofu, nuts, and seeds.

You can visualize a serving of protein by imagining a deck of cards, which is also approximately equivalent to the palm of your hand. Portions of protein should stay around three to six ounces.

To boost your intake while staying low on the carbs front, try a protein-powder packed smoothie (look for whey, pea, or hemp protein powders); a frittata, or baked eggs and greens.

How to Build a Balanced Meal

There are four main pillars to keep in mind when planning a diabetes-friendly meal, breakfast or otherwise. They consist of:

  1. Fiber: oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and whole-wheat/bran muffins
  2. Lean protein: eggs, fish, beans, or nuts
  3. Healthy fats: olive oil, avocado, grass-fed butter and dairy, coconut, and nuts
  4. Vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, onions, and especially dark leafy greens

Focusing on these four categories of food will ensure that your plate checks all the boxes of a satisfying, nutrient-dense meal. Plus, you'll set yourself up to make better meal choices throughout the rest of the day.

Plan Ahead

The easiest way to make sure you have healthy breakfasts to choose from is by meal prepping. Start small with two or three recipes you love and stock up on those groceries each week. Here are a few no-fail options:

Roasted Vegetable Egg Omelet

You can throw anything into an omelet. Using leftover vegetables from the night before is a great way to increase your nutrition, prevent spoilage, and boost your fiber content to help keep you full. Roasted vegetables add a nice texture and sweetness to an omelet. 

Power Yogurt Parfait

Ditch the granola and syrupy fruit and use Greek yogurt (which contains more protein than regular yogurt) and fresh or frozen fruit for a high protein, high fiber, satisfying breakfast. Top with chopped nuts for added crunch, flavor, protein, and healthy fats. Simple and satisfying.

Creamy Avocado Egg Salad Wrap

Avocado contains heart-healthy fat and fiber—and makes a great substitution for mayonnaise. Simply blend chopped hard-boiled eggs with avocado and fill a tortilla wrap. 

Pumpkin Quinoa Blueberry Bowl

Quinoa is a low-glycemic, high fiber, high-protein seed. It makes a great swap for oatmeal and is naturally gluten-free. Try adding canned pumpkin for added vitamin A and fiber and top with blueberries.

Grilled Peanut Butter and Strawberry Sandwich

Instead of grilled cheese, make a grilled peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread. Chop up a few strawberries for added fiber and sweetness. The combination of protein and fiber will help you stay full and satisfied. 

Nutty Berry Smoothie

Berries are low in sugar and packed with nutrition. Add filling protein powder and healthy fats in the form of coconut milk or nut butter and you are sure to feel full even hours later. As a bonus, add some baby kale or spinach for extra vitamins and nutrition. 

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