Over the years, I’ve heard many people who are trying to lose weight and manage their blood sugar say they skip breakfast to save calories and push those morning numbers down. What do I tell them? That skipping breakfast, though it may seem logical, doesn’t work! This is what many of my clients eventually learn. Take Sherry, for example. She was always rushed in the morning and not terribly hungry. Every day she left for work without breakfast, feeling certain it would help her drop some weight and tame her blood glucose. Years later, she wasn’t any thinner, and her diabetes wasn’t any better managed.
When Sherry decided to give breakfast a try, she found that it helped her eat fewer calories overall. She no longer binged on high-calorie, high-carb snacks in the late morning. Her blood glucose improved when she made smarter food choices and spread her food intake out over the day. I’ve found this to be true over and over again, with many of my clients through the years.
Talk to your diabetes care team about any changes you’re interested in making in your individual meal plan, but in general, I do think eating breakfast is usually a good idea. Among participants in the National Weight Control Registry – a listing of more than 10,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year – 78% eat breakfast every day.
Here are five ways to help make breakfast work for you:
Choose the right carbs
Don’t shun carbs if they fit in your meal plan, but do try to choose those that fuel and nourish your body. Skip highly processed foods that may resemble dessert more than breakfast! I’m talking about toaster pastries, sugary cereals, and granola bars, which are often high in sugar and low in nutrients. (Learn about reading food labels here.) The good-for-your-body carbohydrate-rich foods I recommend are fruit, nonfat and low-fat milk and yogurt (without added sugar), whole grains like oats and whole-wheat toast, and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.
Eat the right amount
Once you’ve picked healthier foods, the next step is to choose an appropriate amount for your individualized meal plan. To give you an idea of some meal amounts, here are two examples of small meals with about forty-five grams of carbohydrate each:
- 1 cup 1% milk, 1 slice whole grain toast, ¾ cup blueberries
- 1 cup oatmeal, ½ cup no sugar added applesauce
To see how your breakfast affects your blood glucose, measure it just before eating, and again two hours later. The difference is largely the result of the meal. Your healthcare team can help you understand these numbers.
Balance your breakfast – and those carbs – with lean protein, healthy fats, or both (read more about fats and diabetes here). I suggest adding a tablespoon of peanut butter, an egg, or mashed avocado to your toast. Pair fruit with low-fat cottage cheese, or sprinkle walnuts or almonds over oatmeal. And try to stay away from most breakfast meats; they tend to be high in both sodium and saturated fats. If eggs are not your favorite, try scrambled tofu (the silken kind) with veggies wrapped in a tortilla for a tasty vegan treat. Interested in eating vegan, vegetarian or raw? Learn about these eating plans here.
Plan for the rush
Perhaps you got out of bed late or you’re just moving more slowly than usual. You still need your morning meal. Be prepared with a few grab-and-go options. These ideas may help get you started (always check first to see how they fit into your meal plan):
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich, plus a small container of milk.
- Greek yogurt, almonds, and fresh or dried fruit.
- Cottage cheese, berries, and walnuts.
- Hard-boiled egg, mixed nuts, and dried fruit.
Know what to pick when you eat out
Stick to your meal plan as closely as possible when eating out. Most fast food and chain restaurants have their menus and nutrition facts online, so take a look before heading out. If you have favorite breakfast spots, jot down their best choices on an index card or in your smartphone, so you’ll be prepared to order when you arrive. (Consider using a food app or tracker to help you stay on track.) Remember that most restaurants serve portions that are larger than a single serving and may have too much sodium, carbs, and calories. Again, to give you an idea: one four-inch pancake without syrup averages about fourteen grams of carbohydrates. A single large bagel may have seventy grams!
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience