Sugary cereals, bagels with cream cheese, and fried bacon are all popular breakfast foods, but they are not healthful options and can be poor choices for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Breakfast is an essential meal. Research shows that people with diabetes who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat throughout the day.
Unfortunately, many breakfast options contain processed carbohydrates and sugars, which can lead to blood sugar spikes. In addition, people with type 2 diabetes who are trying to control their weight need to avoid or limit foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Diabetes also increases the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, so a person with this condition should minimize their intake of salty foods and unhealthful fats, especially animal fats.
However, there are many alternatives to sweet, high-fat, or salty breakfasts. People can make a few tweaks to classic breakfasts to make them suitable, while some less traditional options can be surprisingly tasty and satisfying.
The best breakfast is one that is high in fiber but low in added sugar, carbohydrates, and salt. Nutrient-dense foods provide a feeling of fullness, which can make it easier for people to resist unhealthful snacks.
In this article, we look at some healthful and tasty breakfast options for people with diabetes.
Premade fruit juices often contain added sugar that the body absorbs rapidly. Some contain artificial sweeteners, which research suggests may trigger blood sugar spikes or affect insulin sensitivity and gut bacteria.
A homemade smoothie offers the same sweet taste as juice, but it can also provide nutrients that boost overall health and help fight hunger.
Here are some ways to include different nutrients in a smoothie:
Fiber: Load up on fiber by including spinach, kale, or avocado in a smoothie and also mixing in a handful of oats or seeds, such as chia or flax. Add sweetness by blending in frozen berries, bananas, apples, or peaches.
Studies show that fiber — especially cereal fiber — can help reduce the absorption of glucose and contribute to the effective management of blood sugar levels.
Fiber can also help control cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart disease.
Fat and protein: Adding some protein and healthful fat can make the smoothie more satisfying and leave a person feeling full for longer. Protein can also slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates. Sources of healthful fat include nuts, seeds, and avocado.
For protein, adding one-half of a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt can create a creamy and satisfying texture. Alternatively, a person can mix in a protein powder.
Diabetes-friendly smoothie idea
This smoothie recipe should be suitable for most people with diabetes:
- Blend 2 cups of frozen raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries with a whole avocado and one-half of a cup of kale.
- Add either water, almond milk, green tea, or low-fat milk to thin the consistency.
- Mix in chia seeds to add good fat and extra fiber. In balance with the fruit, the seeds will not affect the taste.
Risks of smoothies
Remember that while a smoothie is a drink, it provides all the nutrients and calories of a meal. It is important to take into account the carbs and calories that it contains and to avoid eating a full meal alongside it.
Berries and other fruits lose some of their nutritional value during blending. Any processing will break down fibers, making a food’s carb content easier for the body to digest and potentially increasing the risk of a sugar spike.
Oatmeal is rich in fiber, which means that it can slow blood sugar absorption, ease digestion, and fight hunger. It can be a nutrient-dense breakfast option, but a person should take care with how they prepare it and what toppings they add.
Oatmeal is high in carbs, but the carbs present in a 234-gram (g) cup of oatmeal cooked in water include 4 g of fiber and only 1.08 g of sugar.
The same portion of oatmeal also contains:
- calories: 159
- carbs: 27.31 g
- protein: 5.55 g
- calcium: 187 milligrams (mg)
- iron: 13.95 mg
- magnesium: 61 mg
- phosphorus: 180 mg
- potassium: 143 mg
- sodium: 115 mg
- zinc: 1.45 mg
Other nutrients include A and B vitamins, including 166 micrograms (mcg) of folate.
Using fresh fruit or cinnamon to add flavor instead of sugar, honey, or brown syrup will make oatmeal a satisfying, low-sugar option.
Walnuts, almonds, and other nuts can add texture as well as protein and heart-healthful omega-3 fats for an even more nourishing breakfast.
A large boiled egg contains about:
- calories: 78
- protein: 6.29 g
- fat: 5.30 g, of which 1.63 g are saturated fats
- sugar, at 0.56 g, is the only type of carbohydrate
- calcium: 25 mg
- magnesium: 5 mg
- phosphorus: 86 mg
- sodium: 62 mg
- vitamin D: 44 international units (IU)
A boiled egg also contains around 186 mg of cholesterol. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 note that studies have linked a low intake of cholesterol with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.
However, they also point out that while egg yolks are higher in cholesterol than some other foods, they are also lower in saturated fats, which experts see as the more significant concern for heart health.
Eggs may also help prevent diabetes.
According to a 2015 study in men aged between 42 and 60 years, those who ate the most eggs were 38% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate the fewest eggs, despite the cholesterol content of this food. The explanation for this finding may be that eggs provide essential nutrients that can benefit overall health and help replace higher-carb or more processed breakfast choices.
Another study found that people who ate two eggs a day for 12 weeks saw a significant reduction in their body fat and body mass index (BMI) compared with those who ate no eggs during this period.
Breakfast ideas for eggs
There are many different ways of eating eggs. People can try:
- boiling an egg and seasoning it with black or cayenne pepper
- making a spinach or kale omelet
- layering poached eggs on wholemeal or Ezekiel bread or sweet potato “toast”
- using cayenne pepper or diced jalapenos for flavoring instead of salt
The fiber in cereals may help a person control their blood sugar levels, but many popular brands of cereal are high in sugar and low in fiber, including those that manufacturers advertise as being healthful.
Unsweetened muesli with unsweetened almond milk offers a fiber-rich, low-sugar alternative.
People can use the 5-5 rule when navigating the cereal aisle, which means aiming for a product that contains at least 5 g of fiber and less than 5 g of sugar per serving.
When checking the label on any packaging, a person should also be wary of added salt and sugar.
Sweetened and flavored yogurts can be high in fat and sugar, which means that they are often not a good choice for people with diabetes, but unsweetened yogurt is a perfectly healthful breakfast option.
A 100-g serving of unsweetened, nonfat Greek yogurt contains:
- calories: 59
- protein: 10.19 g
- fat: 0.39 g
- carbohydrate: 3.60 g, of which 3.24 g is naturally occurring sugar
- calcium: 110 mg
- magnesium: 11 mg
- phosphorus: 135 mg
- potassium: 141 mg
- sodium: 36 mg
- cholesterol: 5 mg
It also contains A and B vitamins, including 7 mcg of folate.
To add flavor, texture, or sweetness, a person can sprinkle the yogurt with raspberries, blueberries, or other berries as well as pumpkin seeds or nuts.
Adding these accompaniments will make a protein-rich breakfast that also offers some fiber and some good fats.
Whole fruits can be an excellent option for breakfast, especially with yogurt, muesli, or oatmeal.
Avocados are filling and offer about 10.10 g of fiber and less than 1 g of sugar per 150-g cup.
They also provide many other essential nutrients, including:
- protein: 3 g
- calcium: 18 mg
- potassium: 728 mg
- vitamin C: 15 mg
- vitamin E: 3.1 mg
- cholesterol: 0 g
- fat: 21.99 g, of which only 3.19 g is saturated fat
However, a cup of avocado also contains 240 calories, so a person who is trying to lose weight should account for these and only eat avocado in moderation.
People with diabetes can try:
- filling an avocado with an egg or low-fat, low-salt cottage cheese
- spreading avocado on whole-meal toast or bread
- pairing avocado with a veggie omelet
- dicing an avocado and making a quick salad with cherry tomatoes and chopped boiled egg
Bacon and sausage alternatives
Sizzling bacon and sausages can smell great, but they are high in fat, salt, and carcinogens, which makes them unhealthful choices, particularly for people with diabetes.
If someone with diabetes is craving an indulgent breakfast, they can try one of these options instead:
Meat substitutes: Some meat substitutes, such as tofu and other plant-based proteins, can taste similar to bacon and sausage, especially when a person mixes them into another dish. Before trying a meat alternative, however, people with diabetes should check the salt content. Chicken or turkey bacon may also be a lower-fat choice, although its sodium content may still be high.
Veggie BLT: For a more healthful take on the classic bacon, lettuce, and tomato breakfast sandwich, people can try layering vegetarian bacon, lettuce, and ripe tomatoes on sprouted or whole-grain bread.
Foods that contain processed white flour and sugar — such as white bread, cinnamon rolls, English muffins, and bagels — are low in nutrients but high in carbohydrates. They offer little nutritional benefit and can trigger a blood glucose spike.
However, not all bread is bad for people with diabetes.
Sprouted grain bread and sourdough bread are more healthful options as they contain fiber and probiotics.
Premade bread often contains added salt and sugar. A person should check the label before buying premade bread, or, better still, invest in a bread-making machine or make bread from scratch. Making bread at home allows people to choose the ingredients that they want to include.
Spreading bread with a little almond butter or unsweetened peanut butter can add to its nutritional value.
A person with diabetes should eat bread in moderation and monitor their blood sugar levels to assess the effect of this food. A doctor or dietitian can help the individual decide how much and what type of bread is best.
Healthful bread options
Here are some options for increasing the nutritional value of bread or substituting it:
Bagel substitute: Try toasting sprouted grain bread and spreading it with unsweetened peanut or almond butter. Raspberries or walnuts taste great on top.
Avocado sweet potato toast: Slice a sweet potato lengthwise into slices that are one-quarter of an inch thick. Toast the slices and spread the avocado on them, adding a poached egg on top if desired. Increase the flavor by adding jalapenos or cayenne pepper.
A person with well-managed diabetes can enjoy small pastries as an occasional breakfast treat.
However, they should balance a sweet breakfast with foods that are high in fiber, protein, or both, such as avocado and almonds. A person should plan to take a walk right after a high-carb meal. These strategies will help control blood sugar.
Having diabetes does not have to limit a person’s breakfast choices.
Here are a few tips that can help people eat according to their preferences:
Maximize protein intake: Protein helps people feel full and enables the development of healthy tissue and muscles. Nuts, legumes, and animal products, such as low-fat dairy, are excellent sources of protein.
Eat more fiber: Fiber can help manage blood sugar, support feelings of fullness, and encourage digestive health. Nuts, seeds, wheat bran, oat bran, most vegetables, and many fruits are rich in fiber.
Watch out for sugars: Foods and drinks can both be high in sugar. Water and unsweetened coffee or tea are more healthful choices than sweetened beverages, and whole fresh fruit is better than fresh fruit juice. Sugars and artificial sweeteners may affect insulin resistance and glucose levels. Premade foods often contain added sugar, so always check the label.
Have small, regular meals: Eating smaller meals can minimize blood sugar fluctuations while supporting a healthy weight. Eating five to seven small meals a day may be beneficial for a person with diabetes, but the person must ensure that these do not become large meals.
Limit sodium: Too much sodium can increase the risk of poor heart health and high blood pressure, both of which are complications of diabetes. Most salt comes from packaged foods, so fresh and home-cooked foods are generally a better option. Potassium-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, beets, sweet potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, and bananas will help offset sodium’s effects on health.
Watch portion size: Breakfast can help a person control their weight, but eating large portions can lead to weight gain. People should speak to their doctor or dietitian about the best portion size and meal frequency for them.
Breakfast is important for people with diabetes. It enables a person to feel full and can help keep blood glucose levels stable. Insulin sensitivity is often higher in the morning than the evening, so an eating schedule that includes breakfast and minimizes late-night eating is preferable.
Many conventional breakfast foods are high in sugar, fat, and salt, but many tasty and varied alternatives provide healthful fiber and other nutrients.
A person with a diagnosis of diabetes should work with their doctor or dietitian to create an effective diet plan that suits them.