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Eating an Early Breakfast May Reduce Your Diabetes Risk

Bowl of breakfast oatmeal

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Key Takeaways

  • New data shows that those who eat breakfast before 8:30 a.m. may experience a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Eating breakfast early in the day can result in improved insulin resistance and better blood sugar control.
  • There are other steps you can take to reduce your diabetes risk like regularly exercising and limiting your concentrated sweets.

Eating breakfast before 8:30 a.m. may help reduce risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

Many dietary recommendations that people receive to help them manage insulin resistance focus on which foods they should eat or avoid—typically eating more whole foods like whole grains and lean proteins while limiting concentrated sweets and refined carbohydrates like white bread. 

But the timing of when food is consumed may have an impact on insulin resistance and diabetes risk as well.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a hormone that the body uses to break down carbohydrates, or sugar. When an individual is experiencing insulin resistance, the body doesn't respond as well to the insulin and the sugar in the bloodstream is less able to enter the cells, resulting in elevated blood sugar. A study in The Lancet found that for people with prediabetes, lifestyle changes could reduce the risk of diabetes by 40–70%. 

“The results presented at the 2021 Endocrine Society's annual meeting show a potential metabolic benefit of eating earlier in the day,” Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDCES, a Boston-based registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist, tells Verywell. “The study results showed people who start eating earlier in the day had lower blood sugar levels and insulin resistance as compared to those who eat later.”

Timing Matters

Researchers analyzed data from over 10,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Subjects were grouped according to how many hours a day they consume food: fewer than 10 hours, 10–13 hours, and more than 13 hours per day. Six subgroups based on eating duration start-time were created as well, correlating with whether people ate before or after 8:30 a.m.

While the different timing intervals did not result in a significant difference in insulin resistance, researchers did find a difference among different subgroups. Specifically, results suggest that those who ate before 8:30 a.m. had a lower fasting blood sugar when compared with those who ate after 8:30 a.m.

“The results are consistent with other research showing that eating according to our circadian rhythm yields improvements in blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, tells Verywell. “We tend to metabolize carbohydrates better earlier in the day so it makes sense that eating before 8:30 am would yield a benefit. Similar studies in time-restricted eating have shown benefits when subjects began eating earlier in the day and ended earlier as well.”

Harris-Pincus does share one caveat: "[since] we don't know what the subjects ate or anything about their medical history, more information is needed before making blanket recommendations to all populations.”

What This Means For You

If you're worried about your diabetes risk or have prediabetes, eating an early breakfast may be beneficial for you. In order to reduce your risk further, you can exercise regularly, limit your concentrated sweets and refined carbohydrates, and limit sugary beverages.

How Can People Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk?

Although the development of conditions like type 2 diabetes can sometimes be out of our control due to our family history, certain dietary and lifestyle choices can reduce the risk in some cases.

You can make some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle which may help you maintain a healthy blood sugar and combat insulin resistance.

Limit Concentrated Sweets and Refined Carbohydrates

Eating refined grains (like white bread and white rice) and sources of sugar (like corn syrup and table sugar) have been linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes according to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Conversely, including whole grains, cereal fiber, fats from vegetable sources, and lean sources of protein in your diet can be protective. 

Focusing on foods that don’t cause a blood sugar spike is a smart step to help reduce your risk of developing diabetes. 

Choose Your Beverages Wisely

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like regular sodas, sweet tea, and many sports drinks, can increase obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes risk.

Swapping your sugary drink out with water or 100% fruit juice can be a simple change in your diet that can lead to big results. Although juices like 100% orange juice have natural sugars, drinking it has not been shown to increase diabetes risk. 

In a review study that included a total of over 286,000 participants, drinking 100% fruit juices like orange juice and grapefruit juice was not associated with an increased risk for diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels, or insulin resistance in adults.

Participate in Physical Activity

Moving your body can have a profound impact on your diabetes risk. According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, in prediabetic adults, exercise has a positive effect on improving blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity. 

Eat Breakfast

And of course, eating breakfast, the most important meal of the day, may help reduce your risk according to the current data.

“I generally recommend consuming a protein and fiber-rich breakfast within 2 hours of waking up so this research is in line with my current practice,” Harris-Pincus adds. “A side benefit to eating earlier is that foods eaten in the morning tend to contain higher amounts of nutrients of concern in the American diet including calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, and fiber.”

So, eating a yogurt parfait made with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit or a hard-boiled egg with a piece of whole-grain toast and a glass of 100% OJ in the morning may be a better move than skipping breakfast altogether if you are shooting for better blood glucose control.  

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Article Sources
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