Debra Manzella, MS, RN, is a corporate clinical educator at Catholic Health System in New York with extensive experience in diabetes care.
Ana Maria Kausel, MD, is a double board-certified endocrinologist affiliated with Mount Sinai St. Luke's/Mount Sinai West in New York City.
Verywell / Zorica Lakonic
Eating a balanced breakfast is important, especially if you have diabetes. But figuring out exactly what to eat can be tricky. Having a plan can help you save time and avoid choosing foods that might cause your blood sugar to spike.
This article discusses why breakfast is important and how to build a healthy meal when you have diabetes.
Eating a higher-fat and moderate-protein breakfast may reduce fasting blood sugar, A1C (average blood sugar levels), and weight. The likely reason is that these types of breakfast choices are lower in carbohydrates.
Some people with diabetes experience higher blood sugar levels in the morning because the liver breaks down sugar stores overnight. At this time, your cells can also be a bit more resistant to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar.
Blood sugar also tends to rise after breakfast. It may be up to two times higher than after lunch, thanks to something called the dawn phenomenon.
High blood sugar after meals (postprandial) can result in carbohydrate cravings. That's because, in diabetes, an increased amount of sugar stays in the bloodstream instead of going into the cells. Then the cells signal to the body that it needs to eat more sugar or carbohydrates to give them energy.
Eating a lower-carb breakfast will minimize the resulting glucose response and means your blood sugar will be better balanced throughout the day.
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 (ADA) recommends that people generally get the following:
However, the ADA stresses that nutritional needs vary by individual. If you have diabetes, you should work with a registered nutritionist or diabetes educator to determine what is best for you.
Your total calorie count and how much of each macronutrient you personally need to consume depends on a number of factors. These include your age, sex, how much you exercise, blood glucose control, and any medications you may be taking.

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 cereals, breakfast meats, shelf-stable baked goods, and sweetened yogurts, are generally low in nutrient density. That means they’re not as nutritious for your body as unrefined whole grains, fruits, and veggies.
Carbs are a quick source of energy, but for people with diabetes, the wrong ones 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. Fiber helps slow the glucose response after a meal, helping to balance blood sugar.
Most nutritionists recommend at least 35 grams of fiber per day for people with diabetes. For those without diabetes, the recommended amount is 25 grams per day.
For high-fiber breakfast options, try the following:
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.
Carbohydrates can cause blood sugar to spike. To keep levels lower, aim for 35 grams of fiber a day. Watch your portions, and try to limit cooked grains to 1 cup.
Don't shy away from fats. From helping with vitamin absorption 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. Also, choose high-quality sources of animal products such as grass-fed, whole-milk dairy and butter.
Full-fat dairy was once thought to cause high cholesterol. Now, experts say 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 1 teaspoon. That's about the size of the tip of your thumb. A serving of nuts, seeds, or avocado is 1 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 (like salmon and tuna) are all great sources of omega-3s.
To help boost your healthy fats, try the following:
Dietary fats play an important role in supporting your body's functions. Healthy fats include plant-based fats, such as avocados and olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and walnuts.
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 without a lot of saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease. Animal-based breakfast proteins like eggs and turkey sausage are pretty standard. Good plant-based protein sources include chickpeas, tofu, nuts, and seeds.
You can visualize a serving of protein by imagining a deck of cards. That's also about the size of the palm of your hand. A portion of protein should be around 3 to 6 ounces.
To boost your intake while staying low on carbs, try:
Protein is an important part of breakfast because it gives your body energy for the day. A serving is about the size of the palm of your hand.
There are four categories you want to try to include when planning a diabetes-friendly meal, whether for breakfast or other times of day. They consist of:
Focusing on these four types 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.
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:
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. 
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.
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. 
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.
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. 
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. 
If you have diabetes, eating a balanced breakfast that's low in carbohydrates can help you manage your blood sugar levels. Your meal should include lean protein, healthy fats, fiber, and non-starchy vegetables. These can help to give your body energy while balancing out your blood sugar to begin your day.

A healthy breakfast is an important part of your self-care when you have diabetes. Look for meals that suit your taste with different combinations of nutritious foods.
Sometimes individuals can have different dietary needs, so contact your doctor or nutritionist if you have questions. They can help you to plan meals that meet your specific needs.

Breakfast foods won’t lower your blood sugar quickly, but you can choose a high-fiber meal, which will be digested slowly, so it won’t make your blood sugar spike. Choose whole-grain bread or cereals with three or more grams of dietary fiber. Steal-cut oatmeal is a good option, too. Avoid any added sugar. Instead, include fiber-rich fruit that still has its skin (apples, pears) or edible seeds (berries). 

For some people with diabetes, coffee can be problematic. If you’re extra sensitive to caffeine, coffee could raise your blood sugar even if you don’t add sugar.
There is some research showing that skipping breakfast can put you at greater risk for diabetes. The chances are greater if you have other risk factors. There's some debate about this, though, especially since there isn’t a clear definition of “breakfast” and intermittent fasting has been shown to have health benefits. 
Rabinovitz HR, Boaz M, Ganz T, et al. Big breakfast rich in protein and fat improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetics. Obesity. 2014;22(5):E46-54. doi:10.1002/oby.20654
Evert AB, Dennison M, Gardner CD, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019;42(5):731-754. doi:10.2337/dci19-0014
Drehmer M, Pereira MA, Schmidt MI, et al. Total and full-fat, but not low-fat, dairy product intakes are inversely associated with metabolic syndrome in adults. The Journal of Nutrition. 2015;146(1):81-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.115.220699
American Diabetes Association. Types of Carbohydrates.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 Surprising Things That Can Spike Your Blood Sugar.
Mekary RA. Breakfast skipping and type 2 diabetes: where do we stand? The Journal of Nutrition. 2019;149(1):1-3. doi:10.1093/jn/nxy284
American Diabetes Association. Quick breakfast ideas
By Debra Manzella, RN
Debra Manzella, MS, RN, is a corporate clinical educator at Catholic Health System in New York with extensive experience in diabetes care.

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