Type 2 diabetes is a common chronic condition in the United States and across the world that affects millions of people.¹
Whether you have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or have been managing the condition for many years, eating a balanced and nutritious breakfast is essential for helping keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Find out why breakfast is such an important meal for people with type 2 diabetes and discover some suitable and enjoyable breakfast options.
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Some people skip breakfast because they’re running late to work, have to get their kids to school, or simply don’t feel like eating so soon after waking up. However, skipping the first meal of the day can cause negative health consequences.
Interestingly, those who regularly skip breakfast tend to develop type 2 diabetes at higher levels than those who don’t. A 2019 review² demonstrated that people who skip breakfast four to five times per week have a 55% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes further down the line. This shows why eating a healthy breakfast is so important for your long-term health.
For people who already have type 2 diabetes, skipping breakfast can cause many problems.
Eating at regular intervals helps people with type 2 diabetes stay in control of their blood sugar levels, so skipping meals is not recommended.³ Skipping breakfast is more problematic than skipping lunch or dinner, as it usually means not eating for 12 hours or more. It is challenging for your body to regulate blood sugar levels with regular, long fasting periods.
Meal skipping can lead to low blood sugars, especially if you are taking a sulfonylurea medication. Symptoms associated with low blood sugars include:
Skipping breakfast can also lead to high blood sugar spikes after lunch or dinner,⁴ making it more challenging to stay in control of your blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Some breakfasts, like sugary pastries, donuts, and many breakfast cereals can spike your blood sugar too, which is why it’s important to consume a diabetes-friendly breakfast as often as possible.
Some important nutrients must be included in a breakfast meal to ensure your blood sugar levels don’t spike too high after eating. These components include fiber, healthy fats, and protein.
Fiber is a carbohydrate found in numerous foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble —and both can help with diabetes management.⁵
Although some experts don’t consider fiber a nutrient because it is not digested, it helps promote health by keeping your bowel movements regular and your blood sugars in check. It also helps lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Many people don’t realize that some fats are essential for keeping healthy. Healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) can also slow digestion and keep us feeling full for longer. Fats also play a role in maintaining heart health and reducing inflammation.
Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, nuts, and plant-based oils like olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are found in oily fish, chia seeds, tofu, and other foods.
You should avoid eating trans and saturated fats when you have type 2 diabetes. Trans fats are found in processed foods, and saturated fats are commonly found in animal products and some tropical oils.
Saturated fats should count for less than 10%⁶ of your daily calorie intake. This means around 20 grams of saturated fat per day for those on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Protein is an essential nutrient that helps our bodies feel fuller after meals, maintain muscle mass, make hormones, and carry out other vital functions.
Getting enough protein⁷ is important for people with type 2 diabetes, as it can help with weight management, keep blood sugars at normal levels, and provide energy. Lean protein sources⁸ — like beans, nuts, tofu, poultry without the skin, eggs, and some types of fish — provide plenty of protein but are low in fat and calories.
It might seem tricky to create a breakfast plan that incorporates these elements in adequate amounts, but there are several options for balanced and nutrient-dense breakfasts.
Here are some great breakfast options for helping you stay in control of your blood sugar levels and feel your best:
Smoothies are a great option for people with type 2 diabetes because they’re easy to make, handy to consume on-the-go, and allow you to eat several healthy foods at once. However, you should avoid smoothies that don’t include enough fat, fiber, and protein, as they can cause blood sugar to spike significantly.
When crafting a smoothie, be sure to add sources of protein and fat, like peanut butter, chia seeds, Greek yogurt, and even avocado.
Cereals are a convenient way to get some nourishment before starting your day. Unfortunately, not all cereals provide the same amount of nutrients. Many breakfast cereals contain high levels of added sugar and are unsuitable for people with type 2 diabetes.
When choosing your breakfast cereal, opt for an unsweetened, whole-grain option.⁹ Cereals made with bran, oats, and wheat are good choices, and you can add nuts or fruits to make your portion larger and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
You might agree that there is no better breakfast on a cold winter morning than a hearty bowl of oatmeal!
Oatmeal is high in fiber and several vitamins, and it is known to support a healthy gut and heart.¹⁰ One study¹¹ also found that people with type 2 diabetes who eat oats regularly have better glucose control and lipid profiles.
The best oats for overall health are rolled oats and steel-cut oats, as quick oats tend to be less filling and offer less fiber. Oatmeal packets usually contain added sugar, so stick to making your own oatmeal at home.
You can mix it with water or a milk of your choice and add your favorite toppings, like fresh or frozen berries, chopped apple, peanut butter, chia seeds, or cinnamon. If you prefer savory breakfasts, you can also incorporate vegetables and herbs for a savory oatmeal that you can eat at any time of day!
Yogurt is another convenient, low-cost breakfast option. Greek yogurt,¹² specifically, is packed with protein, calcium, and iodine. Yogurt made with live active cultures can also support gut health.
Be careful when choosing a breakfast yogurt as many contain large amounts of added sugar. Check the nutrition label before buying. It’s often cheaper to buy unsweetened yogurt in bulk than in pre-portioned cups. This also allows you to add your own toppings, like berries, nuts, and a little bit of honey for a filling and satisfying breakfast.
Eggs have long been a staple at the American breakfast table, and for good reason. Not only are they affordable, but they are also high in protein, vitamin D, and choline, which is essential for brain function.¹³
You don’t have to stick with scrambled eggs every morning as there are many different options. You can try making omelets with fresh vegetables in a mug,¹⁴ hard-boiled eggs to take on the go, and quiches that you can pre-cook and enjoy over the next few days.
Toast is another breakfast staple, and is a good option for those with type 2 diabetes if it is made with whole-wheat bread¹⁵ and nutrient-dense toppings. It’s not enough to look for brown bread when shopping. Instead, look for the words “100% whole wheat” or “whole grain” at the top of the ingredients list.
For a healthy breakfast option, try eating two slices of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, low-fat cream cheese, fruits, or even eggs and avocado.
Some people simply don’t enjoy eating traditional American breakfast foods like those listed above, and this could make them more likely to skip the meal altogether.
However, you can also eat healthy lunch and dinner foods in the morning if it would make you more likely to eat after you wake up. Many cultures outside of the US don’t have traditional breakfast foods, and they tend to eat the same things in the morning as they would at other meals.
If you have a busy lifestyle, you might find it helpful to prepare your breakfast the night before to ensure you have enough time to eat it. You can put oatmeal in the fridge overnight, and you can also make omelets and other egg dishes ahead of time to reheat in the microwave.
Registered dietitians are experts in diet and nutrition. They can help you create a type 2 diabetes meal plan that works for you, including breakfast options.
Lifestyle interventions are the first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes, so your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian shortly after you are diagnosed. If your doctor doesn’t refer you initially, you can always ask for one or find a dietitian independently.
Commonly, the dietitian will meet with you for an initial consultation to learn more about you, your lifestyle, food preferences, and budget. From there, you may see your dietitian on a weekly or monthly basis for a few months for check-ins and to learn more about managing your diabetes with food and physical activity.
Living with type 2 diabetes means making changes to your lifestyle, including what you eat. Breakfast is an essential meal for people with type 2 diabetes, and skipping it can make it more difficult for your body to regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Making the right choice about the types of food you eat for breakfast can play an important role in regulating your blood sugar levels throughout the rest of the day. You could try low-carb smoothies, oatmeal, eggs, and unsweetened yogurt and cereal.
If you are struggling to make healthy breakfast choices, you may benefit from speaking to a dietician. Your doctor may refer you when you are diagnosed, and if not, you can ask for a referral or find a dietitian independently.
Type 2 diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Missing meals? Avoid dangerous blood sugar if you have diabetes | Cleveland Clinic
Fiber: The carb that helps you manage diabetes | Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Fats | American Diabetes Association
Nutritional strategies to combat type 2 diabetes in aging adults: The importance of protein | Frontiers in Nutrition
Protein | American Diabetes Association
The #1 best cereal to eat if you have diabetes, dietitian says | Eat This, Not That
Health benefits of oatmeal | Web MD
Top 5 health benefits of Greek yogurt | BBC Good Food
Veggie omelet in a mug | Medline Plus