Make breakfast a no-brainer. These simple ideas will help keep your blood sugar steady and get you on with your day in no time.
For many people, breakfast is the most neglected meal of the day. But if you have type 2 diabetes, breakfast is a must, and eating this meal can have real benefits for your health. “Breakfast is especially important for someone who has diabetes, because it helps control blood sugar for the rest of the day,” says Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, CDCES, an Atlanta-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the owner of Olive Tree Nutrition.
Julie Stefanski, RDN, agrees that it’s a crucial meal when you’re managing diabetes. “It’s important for people with diabetes to keep in mind that the first meal of the day sets the tone for how they’ll feel as the day progresses,” says Stefanski, also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a certified diabetes care and education specialist in York, Pennsylvania.
RELATED: A Complete Guide to Building a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
The key is to choose a nutritious breakfast that will keep you full and your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, which can vary from person to person, notes the American Diabetes Association (ADA). “A diabetes-friendly breakfast is one that includes a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats in the right proportions, which helps balance blood sugar,” says Al Bochi. A simple diabetes-friendly breakfast she recommends is a plate of eggs and avocado on whole-grain toast.
On the other hand, choosing a breakfast that isn’t balanced won’t do your blood sugar any favors. “As an example, a sugary cereal paired with a plant milk or coffee with a lot of sugar has very little protein or fat, and blood sugar will immediately begin rising,” says Stefanski.
And don’t even think about skipping breakfast (or lunch or dinner, for that matter). “Skipping meals can create blood sugar fluctuations and extreme hunger cravings, which then lead to overeating at meals and high blood sugars,” says Al Bochi.
By the way, the same rule applies if you’re at an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes but don't have the condition. A study published in January 2019 in the Journal of Nutrition found that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes for adults. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes and its precursor, prediabetes, include being over age 45, carrying extra weight, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, having had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy), and being Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color, notes the ADA.
RELATED: How to Stabilize Your Blood Sugar
So, it’s time to up your breakfast game. Pressed for time? There are plenty of nutritious, easy-to-make recipes that taste delicious, too. Here are 10 balanced, diabetes-friendly breakfast ideas to help you stay healthy and get on with your day.
You don’t have to say “So long” to smoothies for breakfast, even if you have type 2 diabetes. The key is to make sure it’s a balanced smoothie, with protein and fiber, and that it's relatively low in sugar. Moderation is key, so stick to a small glass.
Take this Very Berry Smoothie recipe from Jill Weisenberger, RDN, CDCES, of Yorktown, Virginia, the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week. “What I love about this smoothie — besides that it’s delicious — is that it’s packed with protein just from the Greek yogurt — no protein powders needed,” she says. Each 1½ cup serving of this smoothie offers a whopping 22 grams (g) of protein, with 30 g of carbs and 5 g of fiber.
Plus, because the recipe has just four ingredients — yogurt, frozen berries (a good way to get fiber), sweetener of your choice (optional), and milk — makes it a perfect breakfast when you’re in a rush. “It’s fast and even portable, and all the ingredients are something you’d have at home or that are easy to substitute,” adds Weisenberger.
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Baked goods like muffins don’t have to be off the table if you have diabetes, especially if you whip up a batch of whole-wheat blueberry muffins like these from Vincci Tsui, RDN, who’s based in Calgary, Alberta. “A common myth about diabetes is that sugar and carbs need to be avoided in order to manage blood sugars,” says Tsui. “Combining higher glycemic index foods with protein-rich foods in a meal can help lower your glycemic load, keeping blood sugar and energy levels stable,” she says.
The glycemic index (GI) measures how certain foods affect blood glucose (sugar) levels, according to Johns Hopkins. GI accounts both for how high the food raises blood sugar levels and for how long after your meal. All foods are ranked from 1 to 100, and foods seen as “high” on the GI (greater than 70) increase blood sugar quicker than those considered low (less than 55), Johns Hopkins notes.
Meanwhile, the glycemic load (GL) is another metric that some healthcare professionals believe offers a more accurate picture of how a food impacts your glucose numbers than GI, according to Harvard Medical School. It takes into account not just the GI but also “glucose per serving.” So, watermelon has a GI of 80 (which is considered high), but because one serving has so few carbs, the GL for watermelon would be 5, which is low.
Still, the food you eat does not stand alone — people often group foods together, which in some cases can have a positive impact on the GL, according to Johns Hopkins. For example, they say that if you eat plain bread, your glucose afterward isn't the same as when you eat bread with peanut butter, which provides protein (3.55 g per tablespoon), notes the USDA.
Tsui recommends combining a high-fiber muffin like this one with Greek yogurt (for a yummy take on a parfait), a slice of cheese, or a hard-boiled egg for a quick, satisfying and diabetes-friendly breakfast. If you’re opting for yogurt, reach for the nonfat, plain Greek variety to cut down on total fat and help regulate your weight. A 150 g container of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt provides 15.3 g of protein, according to the USDA.
Last, keep in mind that each muffin alone has a little over 27 g of carbs.
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RELATED: Why Greek Yogurt Should Be Part of Your Diabetes Diet
Hot or cold, the right cereal makes a great breakfast. "Oatmeal," for example, "can either be a super bland, boring breakfast that leaves you hungry an hour later — or, done right, it can be delicious and satisfying,” says Anne Mauney, MPH, RDN, of Alexandria, Virginia, creator of the website Fannetastic Food. “This high-protein oatmeal recipe has staying power — and is made diabetes-friendly by the addition of protein from eggs and milk and healthy fat from ground flaxseed, both of which will help keep your blood sugar more stable and also keep you full for longer.” You heard that right — the oatmeal recipe calls for eggs, which gives the bowl 13 g of protein per serving, says Mauney.
What’s more, the flaxseed provides a nice helping of fiber. When eaten alone, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides 1.91 g of fiber, which is 7 percent of the daily value (DV). It also ramps up your protein intake, with 4 g per 2 tablespoon (tbsp) serving, notes the USDA. Your carb tally per serving will be 36 g.
Oatmeal made with eggs and ground flaxseed might seem complicated, but all you have to do is add the ingredients (there are only six) in a pot on the stovetop, and cook while stirring for five minutes. It’s that easy!
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RELATED: How to Prepare Oatmeal When You’re Managing Type 2 Diabetes
The old standby breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast can be a healthy way to start the day. And you can mix it up somewhat and still have a diabetes-friendly meal. Try this vegetarian lentils and egg toast dish from Amy Gorin, RDN, who’s based in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“You get a sunny-side up egg on each slice of toast. That egg, in addition to the lentils, provides satiating protein to keep you fuller for longer and keep your blood sugar levels stable,” says Gorin. According to the USDA, one large egg contains 6.4 g of protein, in addition to 231 micrograms (mcg) of lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are “associated with eye health, which is a particular concern for people with diabetes,” Gorin adds. (Past research supports this.) As for the lentils, this vegetarian staple is associated with a lower risk for diabetes and better diabetes management, thanks to their hypoglycemic effect, according to a review published in November 2017 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Each serving of the recipe has about 60 g of carbs and 20 g of fiber (which is about 71 percent your DV), Gorin says. You’re also scoring a satisfying 25 g of protein in total per serving.
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RELATED: 10 Fiber-Rich Foods for People With Diabetes
Craving a breakfast burrito? You’re in luck. Not only is this a.m. favorite simple to whip up, but it has all the makings of a diabetes-friendly breakfast. “This mushroom breakfast burrito is full of protein and fiber, two nutrients that contribute to blood sugar control,” says Natalie Rizzo, RDN, of Nutrition a la Natalie, in New York City.
You’ll get 20 g of protein from the eggs and cheese, says Rizzo, plus the recipe has 4 g of fiber. The mushrooms provide you with other nutrients, like vitamin D and B vitamins, per Rizzo and the USDA. According to the NIH, vitamin D helps regulate mood, promotes bone health, and may even boost immunity. Meanwhile, B vitamins have a variety of functions, from helping generate red blood cells and form brain and nerve cells, to protecting the heart and supporting healthy pregnancies, notes Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“The combination of eggs, mushrooms, and goat cheese creates a savory, umami taste that will make you crave this breakfast burrito every day,” Rizzo says.
The best part? “Make a batch ahead of time and stick them in the freezer for a quick microwaveable healthy breakfast on the go,” she says. Each burrito has 28 g of carbs.
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Bagels and diabetes-friendly aren’t two concepts that usually go together, but this flavorful spin on the New York staple, from Family Food on the Table founder and editor Kathryn Doherty, makes it possible. Take a whole-wheat mini bagel, top it with nut butter and banana slices, and add a sprinkle of chia seeds and a drizzle of honey. It’s that easy to make!
Don’t worry about the sugar in the honey — as long as you enjoy it in moderation and consider how this breakfast fits into your broader carb budget. “Maple syrup and honey may be included in your diet, but it is important to be mindful of how much you’re adding and how they fit into your specific meal plan,” says Al Bochi. If those sweeteners don’t fit into your plan, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or a sugar substitute that won’t pose the risk of a blood sugar spike.
The protein from the almond butter and chia seeds, and the fiber from the whole-wheat bagel and banana, make this a balanced meal. You’re getting over 1 g of fiber from the banana alone, according to the USDA.
One mini bagel (one serving) weighs in at around 48 g of carbohydrates. Enjoy this recipe when you have a bread craving but want something more satisfying — and less carb-laden — than a traditional bagel. A typical plain large bagel has a whopping 70 g of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.
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RELATED: The 9 Best Sugar Substitutes for People With Type 2 Diabetes
For a breakfast you can eat on the run, grab a hearty handful of whole, raw almonds and a small serving of low-glycemic-index fruit, such as berries, a peach, an apple, or an orange.
If you want to take the basic fruit and nuts combination to the next level, try these no-bake blueberry almond energy bites from Blair Lonergan, creator of The Seasoned Mom blog. With only five simple ingredients (chopped almonds, dried blueberries, old-fashioned oats, almond butter, and salt), they’re super simple to make. Plus, they’re portable for breakfast-in-a-hurry days. Pop them in a ziplock bag and take ’em with you on your morning commute.
With only 10 g of carbs and 2 g of protein per serving, you’ll be able to kick off your morning right.
In this case, don’t worry about the dried fruit. According to the ADA, dried fruit is a nutritious choice for you, but it’s still all about moderation. These bites aren’t overloaded with dried blueberries; plus, they’re combined here with the protein from the almonds, which lowers the glycemic load of this breakfast.
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RELATED: The Best and Worst Foods to Eat in a Type 2 Diabetes Diet
“You can make these flavor-packed frittatas ahead of time and store them in the fridge for on-the-go breakfasts,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition and wellness expert in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Eating in Color.
There’s more good news: “The mini frittatas make a great breakfast for anyone, but they’re an especially good pick for diabetics, because they have about 6 g of protein in each one and are low in carbs,” she says. “That means there’s room left over to add some high-fiber fruit to your meal, such as berries.”
While starchy carbs pose a greater risk of raising blood sugar than nonstarchy carbs, you can still enjoy them in moderation. Corn, along with green peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin fall into the starchy-carbs category that the ADA notes are in the “eat more of these” category. (Conversely, nonstarchy carbs are in the “eat most of these” category.) Not only do you get fiber from the corn, but you also score antioxidants like carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, according to the Mayo Clinic
And as for those carbohydrates, one serving of these egg bites has only about 5.2 g, making this a super, low-carb way to start your day.
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RELATED: Are Eggs Safe for People With Diabetes to Eat?
Did your registered dietitian tell you it’s important to fit more veggies into your meals? Here’s an easy way to do that: white cheddar zucchini muffins. “It's a satisfying option that can easily be made ahead for a quick and easy breakfast,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a culinary and integrative dietitian in Atlanta.
Another perk? They’re made with almond flour, which helps pump up the protein, per the USDA — you’ll get 10 g in each serving (one muffin is a serving). You’ll also get only 5 g of carbs, plus 2 g of fiber.
On the zucchini front, the ADA puts this veggie on its list of the nonstarchy vegetables they encourage people with diabetes to eat more of. Plus, zucchini is low in carbohydrates — with one-eighth of a small zucchini per serving, you’re getting less than ½ g carbs from the zukes, according to the USDA.
Bonus: You can put together these gluten-free and ketogenic diet–friendly muffins in a blender, so you won’t have a sink full of tools to scrub down when you’re finished.
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RELATED: 7 Low-Carb Veggies for a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
Feel free to embrace this classic Southern breakfast — shrimp and grits — which is diabetes friendly, says Maya Feller, RD, of Brooklyn, New York, the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes for a Healthy Life. This is especially true when you stick to the CDC recommended ½ cup or less.
Her recipe calls for corn grits and savory scallions, and uses fat-free milk. If you don’t have grits in your pantry, Feller suggests using quinoa, for a protein-packed switch.
A ¼ cup serving of quinoa provides 2-plus g of protein (in the serving size for this dish), according to the USDA, and about 1 g of fiber. The combination of protein and fiber is a winning one for people with diabetes because, according to Massachusetts General Hospital, protein takes longer to digest than carbs, thereby acting as a steadying influence on blood sugar levels.
The recipe has 25 g of carbs per serving (¼ cup grits and 4 to 5 shrimp each), and 20 g of protein, says Feller.
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When you're planning your healthy breakfast, keep these points in mind:
To get more breakfast ideas and make sure you are eating the right portion sizes and types of foods, work with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes care and education specialist, says Al Bochi. These professionals can help create a meal plan that is right for you.
Check out Diabetes Daily's article "Why Your Breakfast Matters" to learn more about the importance of your morning meal!
Additional reporting by Hedy Marks.
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