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9 Must-Follow Breakfast Rules for People With Diabetes

A healthy diabetic breakfast is high in fiber and antioxidants. Kickstart your morning metabolism the right way with these tried and true tips.

person at table with fruit, orange juice, and coffeeiStock/ShotShare

First, eat it


Even if your blood sugar is high in the morning, don’t skip breakfast. “People with diabetes have fluctuations in blood sugars that can be more stable when they spread their food throughout the day,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Chicago, Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “Skipping meals such as breakfast can lead to overeating later in the day due to hunger and low blood sugar levels.” In fact, one study, published in a 2015 issue of Public Health Nutrition, found that adults with type 2 diabetes who ate breakfast noshed less throughout the day.

And a study of obese people with type 2 diabetes who take insulin, presented at the 2018 meeting of the Endocrine Society, found that following a meal plan that includes a high-calorie breakfast resulted in weight loss, improved diabetes, and decreases the need for insulin.

Aim to eat breakfast at the same time every day to help keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day.

plate of eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, and orange slicesiStock/EasyBuy4u

Pick diabetes-friendly foods off the menu

Diner-style breakfasts can include 1,000 calories or more with astronomical amounts of carbohydrates and fats if you’re not careful. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid eating breakfast out. The most important thing to keep in mind if you have diabetes: Aim for a certain amount of carbs and pair that with a lean protein and heart-healthy fats.

“There are a variety of choices when dining out for breakfast, and some are healthier than others,” says Dobbins. “For people with diabetes, eating a balanced meal–a combination of carbs, proteins and perhaps a little fat–can easily be accomplished by choosing something like a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin, instead of a higher fat biscuit, with lean meat or a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and nuts.”

bowl of granola with raspberries and blueberriesiStock/MarkGillow

Top your cereal with fruit

We assume you’re already starting out with a cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. (A review of studies published in 2019 in The Lancet found that eating a fiber-rich diet reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer by 16 to 24 percent.) Make that bowl of cereal even more diabetes-friendly by adding half a cup (one serving) of fresh fruit, such as raspberries or blueberries. Check out more tasty superfoods all people with diabetes should enjoy.

glass bowl of whole flaxseedsiStock/Sasha Radosavljevic

Sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed on hot or cold cereal and yogurt

Rich in protein and fiber, these tiny seeds are a godsend to your blood sugar as well as your heart. A study published in a 2016 issue of Current Pharmaceutical Design suggests flaxseed may help reduce the incidence of type 1 diabetes and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes. They also contain fatty acids that the body uses to make the same type of omega-3 fatty acids you get from fish. And, like fish, the seeds lower cholesterol and help guard again inflammation. Plus, their slightly nutty taste is delicious! Store whole seeds in the fridge, and grind the amount you need with a spice or coffee grinder.

woman eating bowl of cereal at table with coffee and smartphoneiStock/warrengoldswain

Eat oatmeal several days a week

Oatmeal is one of the most diabetes-friendly breakfasts you can eat. It contains 4 grams of fiber per cup, which helps keep blood sugar levels steady in people with type 2 diabetes, suggests research, including one study published in 2015 in Nutrients. Skip the instant flavored oatmeal, which usually contains added sugar and salt, and uses more-processed oats; opt for steel-cut oats, instead. To save time (steel-cut oatmeal takes up to 50 minutes to cook), make a large batch on Sunday mornings. Enjoy one serving, and then refrigerate the rest. On weekday mornings, simply reheat in the microwave. Add raisins and cinnamon if you like. Here are more of the best foods for people with diabetes, according to science.

glass bottle of milk with red-striped paper strawiStock/DNY59

Have nonfat milk or yogurt with breakfast

When researchers studied almost 170,000 adults ages 40-69, they found that the more milk participants consumed, the less likely they were to have metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that increases your risk for diabetes and heart disease (their findings were published in a 2017 issue of the journal Nutrients). Vitamin D, which is used to fortify milk, also helps the body use insulin, and consuming more calcium is associated with lower cholesterol levels. Just make sure you avoid the worst eating habits for people with diabetes.

wooden spoon full of yogurt over containeriStock/jxfzsy

Choose plain, nonfat yogurt over fruit yogurt

You can save 11 grams of carbohydrates this way. And don’t be fooled into thinking that vanilla yogurt has the same calories as plain; a cup of low-fat plain yogurt contains about 50 calories less than a cup of low-fat vanilla.

partially peeled orangeiStock/Maria_Lapina

Have an orange instead of orange juice

Juice is a source of concentrated carbs and lacks the fiber of the whole fruit. And the fruit will make you feel more satisfied and full.

mason jar mug of ice and orange juice with strawiStock/greenwatermelon

When you drink juice, use a real juice glass

A juice glass holds just 4 ounces, providing instant portion control. Fill it with orange juice, which contains 12 grams of carbs, instead of grape juice, which contains 16 grams of carbs. Don’t miss the best and worst drinks for people with diabetes.

glass mug of tea with cinnamon stick and lemoniStock/MmeEmil

Doctor your tea or coffee with cinnamon

One way to get more blood-sugar-lowering cinnamon is to add a cinnamon stick to your tea, or make a cinnamon tea by stirring a cinnamon stick in a cup of hot water. Or add half a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon to ground coffee before starting the pot.

  • Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, certified diabetes educator and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators, Chicago, IL.
  • Endocrine Society, "High-energy Breakfast Promotes Weight Loss, Helps Reduce Total Daily Insulin Dose for Type 2 Diabetes."
  • Public Health Nutrition, "Breakfast Intake Among Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: Is Bigger Better?"
  • The Lancet, "Carbohydrate Quality and Human Health: A Series of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses."
  • Current Pharmaceutical Design, "Flaxseed and Diabetes."
  • Nutrients, "The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."
  • The Journal of Nutrition, "Higher Whole-Grain Intake Is Associated with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes among Middle-Aged Men and Women."
  • Nutrients, "Association between Milk Consumption and Metabolic Syndrome among Korean Adults: Results from the Health Examinees Study."