Should You Eat Cereal for Breakfast if You Have Diabetes?

breakfast cereal

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

You've likely heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It can jump-start your metabolism, prevent food cravings, and help you loose weight. If you have diabetes, eating breakfast has yet another important role: It can help stabilize your blood sugar in the morning.

Yet many people skip breakfast because they just don't have the time to prepare an elaborate meal. Eating cereal can be a great idea because it's quick and easy to prep. It's also much better than eating nothing at all. However, when it comes to cereal, you need to be choosy. Here's how to select the best bowl for your diabetes.

Breakfast and Blood Sugar

Research shows that starting the day with a higher fat, higher protein, lower carbohydrate breakfast can help stabilize blood sugar levels and control weight in people with diabetes. Protein and fat help keep you feeling full for longer. And if you're not hungry right away, you're likely to eat fewer calories throughout the day.

In addition, high blood sugar in the morning is common for people with diabetes. Blood sugars may also rise after breakfast, which can cause a vicious cycle. High blood sugars may cause you to crave more carbohydrates and eating more calories and carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar to rise.

Can Cereal Be Healthy?

Of course, some cereal are healthier than others. There are a lot of processed cereals on the market that are full of calories, carbohydrates, and sugar—none of which are great for diabetes.

Your goal: Go for whole grain cereals with six grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber per serving. Whole grain cereals tend to provide more fiber and often contain high-protein ingredients such as nuts. Plus, whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, which is common in people with diabetes.

If you choose wisely and watch your portions, you can enjoy cereal. Better yet, cereals fortified with vitamins and minerals can even help you meet your nutritional needs.

If you have diabetes, a good time to eat cereal is before exercise. Physical activity helps to burn sugar, or glucose. If you take an oral medication or insulin that can cause your blood sugar to drop, you'll likely need to eat carbohydrates before exercise to prevent low blood sugars while working out.

Tips for Diabetes-Friendly Cereal

If you choose to eat cereal for breakfast, here are some tips to help you lower the carb content and make this morning meal more diabetes-friendly.

  • Try hot cereal: Go for oatmeal, quinoa, or another whole grain blend. Add chopped nuts or nut butter for added fiber, protein, and healthy fat. For example: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 3/4 cup blueberries, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, topped with cinnamon.
  • Stick to one serving: Measure the cereal with a measuring cup and use a small bowl to make the portion seem larger.
  • Read ingredients: You'll know the cereal is made with whole grain if the first ingredient on the list is "whole." When checking the label, also look for a brand with at least three grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar.
  • Skip the sweeteners: Avoid adding dried fruit, sugar, or other sweeteners like agave, honey, or table sugar.
  • Add fiber: Increase the fiber with one serving of high-fiber fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries.
  • Opt for almond milk. Unsweetened almond milk has fewer carbohydrates than cow's milk.
  • Make a yogurt parfait: Skip the milk and use low-fat Greek yogurt to boost the protein and reduce the carbohydrates.

Types of Whole Grains

When shopping for cereal, look for the following words on the nutritional label to ensure your choosing one with whole grains.

  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat bran
  • Whole corn/cornmeal
  • Whole grain buckwheat
  • Whole grain spelt flakes
  • Whole oat flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Wild rice

Common Hidden Sweeteners

Finding hidden sugars in the ingredients list can take some detective work. Here are a few terms that manufacturers might use to describe the sweeteners that have been added to your cereal.

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals and sugar
  • Corn sweetener and syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • Honey
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup

Choosing the Right Brand

If you have diabetes, you can figure out which cereals work best for you by testing your blood sugar before and two hours after you eat. If your blood sugar levels are on target, then you're on track.

Many people say the following brands of cold cereal keep their blood sugars stables (and their stomachs full):

  • Barbara’s Bakery Puffins (Cinnamon and Honey Rice)
  • Cascadian Farm Organic Purely O's
  • Cheerios
  • Fiber One
  • Kashi (certain variteies), such as Puffed Rice, GoLean
  • Kellogg’s All Bran
  • Kellogg’s Special K High Protein
  • Kix
  • Quaker Crunchy Corn Bran
  • Post Bran Flakes
  • Wheaties

A Word From Verywell

Cereal isn't a good choice for everyone with diabetes, but it may be better than eating nothing at all. The key is to read ingredients, stick to one serving, and watch your add-ons. The right cereal can add vitamin, minerals, and fiber to your diet and also prevent low blood sugar.

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Article Sources
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  1. Gannon MC, Nuttall FQ. Effect of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet on blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 2004;53(9):2375-2382. doi:10.2337/diabetes.53.9.2375

  2. American Heart Association. The greatness of whole grains. Updated October 5, 2016.

  3. Francois ME, Baldi JC, Manning PJ, et al. "Exercise snacks" before meals: A novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia. 2014;57(7):1437-1445. doi:10.1007/s00125-014-3244-6

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