What Is the Best Cereal for People With Diabetes?

How to Choose a Diabetes-Friendly Cereal

breakfast cereal

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

You may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It can jump-start your metabolism, prevent food cravings, and help you lose weight. If you have diabetes, eating breakfast serves another important role: It can help stabilize your blood sugar.

Many people skip breakfast because they don't have time to prepare a morning meal. Yet cereal can be a great option because it's quick and easy. It's also better than eating nothing at all. And yes, the right cereal can be a good breakfast for those with diabetes.

This article explains how breakfast affects blood sugar and why it's important to choose cereals with a low glycemic index rating. It also identifies which common sweeteners often lurk in cereals and offers tips for choosing diabetes-friendly cereals.

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 fill you up. And this means you're likely to eat fewer calories throughout the day.

In addition, high blood sugar in the morning is common among people with diabetes. Blood sugar 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.

Watch the Glycemic Index

When you have diabetes, it's wise to choose foods with a low glycemic index (GI) rating. This number measures how fast carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels. The lower the number, the longer the food takes to digest and be absorbed into your blood. This means you will be less likely to experience a swift increase in your blood sugar.

Purchasing cereal based on the lowest GI rating you can find should help keep your blood sugar levels steady:

  • Low-glycemic foods are rated 55 or less.
  • Medium-glycemic foods are rated between 56 and 69.
  • High-glycemic foods are rated from 70 to 100.

GI Offers More Information

Carbohydrates are also often classified as "simple" or "complex." The glycemic index was created as a better way to categorize carbohydrates, especially in terms of how they affect blood sugar.

Where Do I Find the GI?

You can easily find the GI rating on a box of cereal—if, that is, you're standing in the cereal aisle of a grocery store in Australia or New Zealand. These countries encourage food manufacturers to put this information on food labels. The United States and Canada do not.

In fact, research conducted by Health Canada (and published in an American journal) concluded that consumers could be misled if glycemic index values appeared on food labels in the U.S. Part of their rationale? Foods with low GI numbers aren't always healthy. And the numbers themselves could vary, depending on the lab conducting the testing.

Unless the U.S. Food and Drug Administration follows the lead of countries "down under," Americans have to undertake a little digging to find GI ratings. They can be found in the "International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values 2021" published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

This index lists about 4,000 food items—about 60% more than the index published in 2008.

Can Cereal Be Healthy?

Some cereals are healthier than others. There are many processed cereals on the market that are full of excess calories, carbohydrates, and sugar—none of which are good for people with diabetes.

Your goal: Go for whole-grain cereals containing no more than 6 grams of sugar and at least 3 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 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 to manage your blood sugar, you'll likely need to eat carbohydrates before exercise to prevent low blood sugar while working out.

Choose Wisely

Choose wisely and watch your portions so you can enjoy cereal for breakfast as a diabetic. Cereals fortified with vitamins and minerals can help you meet your nutritional needs.

Tips for Diabetes-Friendly Cereal

If you choose to eat cereal for breakfast, some tips can 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, combine 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 says "whole."
  • Skip the sweeteners: Avoid adding dried fruit, sugar, or other sweeteners like agave, honey, or table sugar.
  • Add fiber: Increase the fiber content with a serving of high-fiber fresh or frozen fruit, such as blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries.
  • Opt for almond milk. Unsweetened almond milk has less 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.

"Carbs" Is a Loaded Term

"Carbohydrates" is an umbrella term that refers to fiber, starch, and sugar. The term "total carbohydrates" on food labels refers to all three. In general, it's wise to eat more of the first type, some of the second, and little of the third.

Types of Whole Grains

When shopping for cereal, look for the following words on the nutritional label to ensure you're 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 amid an ingredients list can take some detective work. Here are a few terms that manufacturers use to describe the sweeteners that may be in a cereal:

  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals and sugar
  • Corn sweetener and syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltose
  • 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 you eat and two hours after you eat. If your blood sugar levels are on target, then that cereal is a good option.

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

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

Summary

If you have diabetes, eating breakfast can help stabilize your blood sugar while adding vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your diet. Many cereals are loaded with calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, so it's important to choose your cereal wisely. Foods with a low glycemic index rating are best. This number measures how fast carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels. Other key steps include reading the ingredients, sticking to one serving, and resisting sugar-filled add-ons.

A Word From Verywell

A diabetes-friendly breakfast can help set the stage for stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Eating the right foods in the morning can also help manage your weight—keeping you full so you don't overeat at your next meal. While cereal is not an ideal breakfast option, it can work with a few modifications.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • If oatmeal is so good for diabetics, why shouldn't I eat instant oatmeal?

    Of the three main types of oatmeal—steel cut, rolled, and instant—instant oatmeal contains the most sugar and the least fiber. And its high GI rating (in the low 80s) means it's more likely to spike your blood sugar.

  • What about rolled oats as an alternative?

    Also known as old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are a better choice for people with diabetes. And for many people, the 10-minute cooking time is doable in the morning. But you can still do better than the 45 to 55 GI rating.

  • What can I do to make steel-cut oats taste better? It's too chewy.

    That's the fiber, which contributes to this offering's low GI rating (usually, under 40). A simple solution is to soak the steel-cut oats in almond milk overnight. (Add some diced fruit and a dash of cinnamon for flavor.) By morning, the oatmeal will be soft. Plus, all you'll have to do is grab the Mason jar (and a spoon) before running out the door.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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