5 Best Diabetic Breakfasts

5 Best Diabetic Breakfasts

It’s said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For people with diabetes, that can be especially true. Why? Skip it, and your blood glucose levels can plummet if you take medication that needs food to work properly. But eat something that makes your sugar levels soar, and you’ll spend time and energy bringing them back in range. Plus, going low means you may feel sweaty, shaky, or physically uncomfortable. Going high can make you feel thirsty, sluggish, or worse—and the complications of long-term high blood sugar levels are serious.

Figure out what works best for you

Everyone’s experience with diabetes can vary. I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for nearly 40 years; I use an insulin pump, carbohydrate counting, insulin ratios, multiple daily finger-sticks for blood glucose testing and a continuous glucose monitor to see trends. You may be new to diabetes, or manage with diet or oral medications. If you’re committed to tracking exactly how different foods affect you, you can try eating your favorite foods and do multiple finger-sticks after you eat so you can learn how to fine-tune your control. (Maybe you want to eat pancakes, but will avoid maple syrup and will go for a 30-minute walk immediately after eating them if it helps you keep your post-meal blood sugars in a healthy range, for example). If you don’t want to be that detail-oriented, consider eating foods lower in carbohydrates and simple sugars and avoid the higher-carb items.

So what makes for a great morning meal?

Here are my top 5 tips for choosing breakfasts to help control your blood sugar.

1. Protein and fat — Where it’s at

Think omelets with veggies and cheese, eggs prepared other ways, avocados, bacon, sausage, and various nut butters. Smaller portions of these foods can fill you up faster because of their higher fat content, and they typically affect blood glucose levels minimally. If you are eating a meal with very few carbohydrates, ask your diabetes educator, nutritionist or physician how that might affect the medication you take, whether it is insulin or an oral treatment. For people worried about gaining weight or causing heart troubles due to the higher fats, eating reasonable amounts of these foods can help keep you fuller, so you are less likely to overeat overall. (Regular exercise should also be a part of your diabetes management regimen to help counteract or prevent weight gain, which is also crucial for heart health.)

2. Higher-fiber whole grains —Healthier for you 

With blood sugar control, some carbs are better than others. Look for higher fiber foods such as oatmeal or whole grain bread, instead of those made with white flour such as white bread or white potatoes such as home fries. Fiber helps slow down how fast carbs move through your body, and therefore help slow the blood glucose rise. My favorite breakfast is a half-cup of oatmeal, mixed with a half-cup of water, two tablespoons of flaxseed (ground or whole) and a half-cup of raspberries, all heated up. I then swirl in a tablespoon of natural peanut butter and a tiny amount of sweetener such as Stevia, Swerve or Splenda. People have different thoughts about using artificial sweeteners, but if you are open to them, they shouldn’t alter your blood sugar levels.

3. Choose whole instead of processed foods

Minimally processed foods—such as fresh raspberries instead of a raspberry-flavored cereal bar that can have added sugars, chemicals, and unpronounceable ingredients—typically help you manage your blood sugar levels better. For example, natural peanut butter with only ground nuts and peanut oil is a cleaner option than a commercial peanut butter with added ingredients such as honey or high-fructose corn syrup along with other ingredients to make the product more shelf-stable. Similarly, heating up your own steel-cut oats overnight in a slow-cooker is a better blood sugar bet than eating a microwave-heated packet of instant oatmeal that also has added sugars and dried fruits.

4. The trouble with morning treats

Many typical breakfast foods in the standard American diet are, unfortunately, terrible for blood glucose control. Breakfast favorites include sugary processed cereals, French toast, bagels, pancakes, waffles, white toast, donuts, pastries, and muffins. Most of these are loaded with sugar and white flour. Such carb-rich foods will spike blood sugar readings rapidly—often even if you are taking insulin and are matching your insulin dose to the amount of carbohydrates in the meal. Other breakfast flavorings, sides such as maple syrup, and other pancake fillings such as chocolate chips, fruit syrups, and powdered sugar, are also tough for diabetes control.

If you are on a fast-acting insulin and feel strongly about eating such foods, talk to your doctor about adjusting the timing of when you take your insulin. You may want to take your insulin dose 15-30 minutes ahead of your meal so it gives your insulin a head start on when it becomes most effective, which may help counteract the rapid blood sugar rise that typically results from eating high-carb foods. This may require some trial and error: it’s crucial to use a continuous glucose monitor to measure the trend of how your insulin works while eating carbohydrates or to test your blood sugar levels every 15-30 minute and record how your sugars respond. Noticing the patterns can help you fine-tune how your body handles eating such carbohydrates, which can make it easier to keep your blood glucose levels within a recommended range.

5. AM Alternatives: Lower-carb versions of high-carb favorites

Strictly limiting carbohydrate intake is the hallmark of a way of eating made famous by the book “The Diabetes Solution,” written by Dr. Richard K. Bernstein. This model advocates that people with diabetes should limit carbohydrate intake to 6 grams at breakfast, 12 grams at lunch and another 12 grams at dinner. Eating this way takes commitment; it’s considered against the standard recommendations from traditional diabetes organizations that recommend much higher amounts of daily carbs. However, eating this way can result in very tight blood glucose control, with fewer lows and highs. For recipes that are lower or no-carb versions of pancakes, muffins, and other traditional, high-carb breakfast foods, check out the Type1Grit Pinterest page.


Learning what works best for you—based on what you like to eat, how foods affect your readings, and how you feel each day—is ultimately one of the most important elements of living well with diabetes. Try out different types of breakfasts and decide which ones suit your individual needs.


Additional Resources:

The Diabetes Solution - By Dr. Bernstein

Typeonegrit Pinterest page: Breakfast Ideas