Should You Eat Cereal for Breakfast if You Have Diabetes?

breakfast cereal

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

We've heard countless times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—it can jump start metabolism, prevent food cravings, and help people lose weight. The most common complaint of "non breakfast eaters" is that they don't have time in the morning to eat and need quick breakfast ideas.

While it's probably better to eat something for breakfast than nothing at all, cold cereal may not be the best choice for someone with diabetes who is trying to lose weight. 

Lower Carbohydrate, Higher Fat, and Protein Breakfast

Studies have shown that starting the day with a higher fat, higher protein, lower carbohydrate breakfast can have a positive effect on blood sugar levels and weight control in patients with diabetes. Protein and fat tend to be more satiating, and can keep you feeling full for longer, typically resulting in lower overall calorie intake. In addition, blood sugars tend to rise after breakfast and many people are resistant to insulin in the morning, which can also cause blood sugars to spike. Elevated blood sugars may cause additional carbohydrate cravings and lead to excess calorie and carbohydrate intake, often resulting in excess sugar in the blood.

Can Cereal be Healthy?

When breakfast meal planning, it's important to know some cereals are healthier than others. When choosing a cereal, it's important to choose a cereal that is low in sugar and high in fiber. In specific terms, look for cereals that have six grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber.

Processed, refined, high-sugar cereals are rich in calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, none of which is great for diabetes. On the other hand, whole grain cereals made with healthy ingredients such as nuts can be considered healthy. Of note, following a diet rich in whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease.

If you choose wisely and watch your portions, you can enjoy cereal. In fact, many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, which can help people meet their nutritional needs. For someone with diabetes, a good time to eat cereal can be before exercise. Physical activity helps to burn sugar (or glucose). If you are someone who takes 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 during physical activity.

Tips to Lower the Carb Content in Cereal

  • Choose a hot cereal like oatmeal, quinoa, or another whole grain blend, and 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
  • If you are choosing a cold cereal: Read the label and stick to one serving, measure it with a measuring cup and use a small bowl to make the portion appear larger
  • Choose a cereal that is whole grain (the first ingredient should say whole)
  • Choose a cereal that has at least three grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar
  • Avoid adding dried fruit, sugar, or other calorie sweeteners, such as agave, honey, table sugar
  • Add one serving of high-fiber fruit to increase fiber content, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
  • Choose unsweetened almond milk for less carbohydrate than cow's milk
  • Skip the milk altogether and make a yogurt parfait: Using low-fat Greek yogurt will boost protein content and reduce carbohydrate content

Types of Whole Grains Found in Cereal

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

Watch Out for Common Hidden Sweeteners

  • 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

What Are Some Good Brands?

If you are someone with diabetes, you can assess which cereals work best for you by testing your blood sugar before and two hours after you eat. If your blood sugar is at goal, then you're on track. Many people say their blood sugars are best and they feel the most satisfied when they eat the following brands of cold cereal:

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

A Word From Verywell

Cereal isn't a good choice for everyone with diabetes, but it may be better than eating nothing at all. It can add vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your diet as well as help prevent low blood sugars. The key to eating cereal is to stick to one serving and watch your add-ons.

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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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