Tired of your usual breakfast? Here are a couple of nontraditional breakfast options to try if you have diabetes.
You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The truth is that each meal is important for different reasons. But breakfast is the first meal of the day, which makes it very important for establishing excellent blood glucose control in preparation for the rest of the day.
The foods you choose to eat at breakfast are crucial for giving your muscles and brain the energy they require to perform optimally. Whole carbohydrate- rich foods are excellent choices to rev up your physical and mental stamina, because they are extremely nutrient dense and contain easily available energy. Especially if you enjoy exercising in the morning hours—or want to start enjoying exercise in the morning—eating a generous portion of foods rich in whole carbohydrate energy is a simple way to stay energized during your workout.
For many people, breakfast usually contains foods that are packed with refined carbohydrates—breads, cereals, and processed grains like instant oatmeal and grits. These refined carbohydrates can cause unwanted glucose fluctuations, especially if the fat content of your diet remains high. Here’s how to replace those foods with other options that will kick-start the process of increasing your insulin sensitivity and help you feel energized.
The Perfect Breakfast Option 1: Fruit Bowl Topped with Ground Chia or Flax
One of the best ways to start your morning off right is to eat a generous serving of fresh fruit because it provides your body with easily digestible carbohydrate energy that lasts for hours and provides your brain with exactly the fuel it’s designed to run on: glucose.
Carbohydrate-rich whole foods require large amounts of insulin only if the total amount of fat in your diet is high, and especially if the amount of saturated fat in your diet is high. When you eat fat-rich foods, your ability to metabolize carbohydrate-rich foods declines immediately. Eating a low-fat fruit-centric meal first thing in the morning substitutes for fat-rich and protein-rich foods. Fresh fruits contain a complex collection of macronutrients including carbohydrate, fat, and protein, as well as micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. It’s the presence of a vast array of behind-the-scenes micronutrients that increases the nutrient density of your fruit-centric meal and helps protect your blood glucose from rising rapidly.
Sweeteners like table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and agave nectar, on the other hand, are much more likely to spike your blood glucose because they have been processed into potent concentrated sweeteners and are devoid of protective nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. When you eat foods containing these added and refined sugars, your blood glucose may spike because the glucose inside is unprotected by fiber and other valuable micronutrients.
We understand that it may be difficult to unlearn years of avoiding fruits, so if you find yourself struggling with the concept of eating a fruit bowl first thing in the morning, then take a deep breath and learn from thousands of others who have successfully transitioned their diets. Most of our clients are pleasantly surprised that eating a carbohydrate-rich breakfast containing fruits does not cause blood glucose spikes, even after they have avoided fruit for years. Though it may seem like a scary task, when you are ready to eat a fruit-centric breakfast, do so for seven consecutive days and be sure to document any changes you discover in your blood glucose in the one to three hours after your meal.
Start constructing a fresh fruit bowl by combining the following ingredients:
- 3 to 4 servings of fruit (or more if you’re highly active). A serving of fruit is one of the following:
- 1 whole fruit (banana, apple, orange, pear, mango, etc.)
- 1 cup of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.)
- 1 cup of grapes
- 1 cup of small fruits (figs, kumquats, etc.)
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground chia seeds or 1 tablespoon freshly ground flaxseeds
- Spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, or cumin to sprinkle on top for added flavor and antioxidant power
The Perfect Breakfast Option 2: Focus on Fiber and Nutrient Density
If you fall in the medium, high, or very high categories of baseline insulin resistance, pay attention to how many green light foods, (high-fiber, nutrient dense foods such as broccoli, mushrooms, legumes, and whole grains), you eat every day. The more green light foods you eat, the more fiber can help slow the absorption of glucose into your blood, which in turn will help to reduce unwanted blood glucose elevations. Here are our tips for eating a breakfast meal that is optimized for fiber and nutrient density:
Eat fruit with greens and/or non-starchy vegetables. When you’re living with a higher level of insulin resistance, include foods that slow the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream while still meeting your calorie needs. This can be accomplished by eating three to four or more servings of fruit with significant portions of leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, etc.) or non-starchy vegetables (cucumber, celery, zucchini, etc.).
Eat intact whole grains with fruit. An intact whole-grain fruit bowl is another great option for breakfast. This breakfast meal contains an intact whole grain such as quinoa, wild rice, or millet as the base, topped with fruits like berries, apples, peaches, or pears. We have found that eating oatmeal can cause unwanted blood glucose elevations in people living with a medium, high, or very high level of baseline insulin resistance. The presence of intact whole grains also delays the rate at which glucose enters your blood, which protects against unwanted blood glucose elevations when you are living with high levels of insulin resistance.
Add beans, lentils, and peas. Legumes are great foods to enjoy for breakfast, especially when you are beginning your transition from a highly insulin-resistant state. They include large amounts of resistant starch, which help prevent unwanted blood glucose spikes. Additionally, beans, lentils, and peas have a slightly higher protein content than other green light foods, and because of this you are likely to stay full for a longer period of time. Legumes are also incredibly nutrient dense, and not only help keep your blood glucose flat after the meal in which they’re eaten but also reduce blood glucose elevations at your next meal. This “second-meal” effect has been observed by many researchers, and results from happy gut bacteria that release short-chain fatty acids into circulation that moderate your post-meal blood glucose values brilliantly. Including legumes in your breakfast meal is a great way to control your blood glucose for many hours in the beginning of the day.
Add freshly ground chia, flaxseeds, and spices. We suggest adding 1 tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseeds or freshly ground chia seeds to any of the options presented above to ensure that you eat sufficient EFAs every day. Also including spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, or cumin can enhance the flavor and antioxidant power of your breakfast meal.
Reprinted from Mastering Diabetes by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. © 2020, Cyrus Khambatta and Robby Barbaro.