Some breakfast options can be detrimental to blood sugar levels when you have diabetes. Here are the top 10 breakfast choices to steer clear of and healthier options to choose instead.

Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., F.A.N.D.
November 17, 2020
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Your mom always told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. For people with diabetes it is especially important to eat an appropriate balance of carbs, protein, and fat in the morning to help start your day right and keep blood sugar levels steady. While all foods fit in a healthy diabetes diet, some breakfast options can be particularly unhealthy when it comes to blood sugar or heart health. Here are 10 breakfast choices to limit and what you should choose instead for a healthy breakfast.

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1. Bagel and Cream Cheese

According to Toby Smithson, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., C.D.C.E.S., F.A.N.D., Diabetes Lifestyle Expert, DiabetesEveryDay and author of <em>Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies</em>, "A bagel alone can add over 50 grams of carbohydrate as your morning meal." If you think cream cheese is healthier Smithson says, "Do not be fooled by the name of cream cheese, there is little to no protein in cream cheese." Overall, this meal contains a lot of carbs and saturated fat.

Try this instead: Smithson recommends whole-grain toast spread with almond butter. You want to look at the nutrition facts panel to make sure the bread you are choosing has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. "This favorite breakfast option is helpful for diabetes management because it combines carbohydrate (with a good source of fiber) and a protein source that also contains fiber," explains Smithson. "This combination will help stabilize blood glucose levels post meal and keep you feeling fuller for most of the day."

2. Store-Bought Muffins

These bad boys can tip the scales at upwards of 400 calories and plenty of sugar and according to registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and author of <em>Healthy One Pan Dinners</em>, Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., A.T.C., "muffins are not ideal to keep morning blood glucose levels under control." Muffins are typically made with refined grains. Couple that with the added sugar and you get a lot of carbs without a lot of nutrition.

Try this instead: White suggests opting for a balanced breakfast of oatmeal and eggs. You can incorporate your favorite muffin flavors to the oatmeal by adding cinnamon and apples or blueberries. (Or, get your muffin fix in a healthy way with our homemade diabetes-friendly muffin recipes.)

3. Sausage and Eggs

If you're looking for a low carb breakfast you may go for sausage and eggs but, "the total grams of saturated fat in this familiar breakfast may raise your risk for heart disease," says Smithson as people with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, lowering the amount of saturated fat in your diet can help lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease.

Try this instead: Smithson recommends a veggie omelet instead of pairing your eggs with meat. You'll still have a low-carb breakfast but now your protein (eggs) is paired with some fiber and minerals in your vegetables.  The meal also won't be as high in saturated fat when you leave off the sausage. Try one of our diabetes-friendly egg recipes for breakfast.

4. Sugary Cereals

Private practice dietitian Melissa Halas, M.A., R.D.N., C.D.E. at Melissa's Healthy Living says that many cold breakfast cereals aren't ideal for people who diabetes. "It's easy to quickly surpass recommended serving sizes. Plus, even high-fiber cereals are often packed with sugar." (If you're really wanting cereal, see our picks for the best cold cereals for diabetes.)

Try this instead: Halas suggests trying overnight oats made from whole oats. Soak them in ½ cup of milk and add in a serving of fruit, nuts and cinnamon. Place in the fridge and the next morning, you can fuel up with a tasty meal, packed with fiber and balance nutrients for long-lasting energy.

5. Sweetened Yogurts

Yogurts that have fruit or flavors added can also have a fair amount of added sugars, which can spike blood sugar levels. Although yogurt does provide protein, it also provides natural sugar in the form of lactose. Instead of adding more sugar on top of that with fruity flavors, it should be balanced with other foods to help slow down the absorption of sugar.

Try this instead: Opt for plain yogurt instead and add your own flavor with a touch of sweetener or fresh or frozen fruit. Top with sliced almonds or sunflower seeds or stir in peanut or almond butter. Some flavored yogurts now have less added sugar, and some are made with alternative sweeteners that won't raise your blood sugars, so read labels to find another option if you just can't do plain yogurt yet.

6. Sugary Pastry

Donuts, croissants, bear claws and cinnamon buns may be staring at you from the bakery window, but they're filled with added sugar that can spike blood sugar levels. In addition, they're often high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease. People with diabetes have a higher risk for heart disease and are advised to minimize their consumption of saturated fat.

Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., registered dietitian in Dallas, Texas explains that, "The goal of breakfast is to set your blood sugar on a stable path for the day by eating a high-fiber carbohydrate with a protein. Protein and fiber help slow down digestion and thus slow down how fast sugar enters the bloodstream." The combination of protein and fiber is the key to stabilizing both your morning blood sugar levels, as well as, your energy levels. Pastries don't deliver much protein, so they're not the greatest choice.

Try this instead: Goodson recommends a bowl of warm oatmeal with peanut butter with a glass of milk or scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast and Greek yogurt for an energizing start to the day that will help keep your blood sugar stable throughout the morning. If you want to treat yourself to a pastry, consider saving half for later, and pairing your treat with a protein like Greek yogurt or an unsweetened latte.

7. Freshly Juiced Fruit

Juicing fruit for breakfast may seem like a healthy choice, especially if you choose 100% fruit juice or make your own juice at home. However, fruit juice can have as many grams of carbs as a regular soda and cause your blood sugar levels to rise. One cup of orange juice (8 ounces) has 28 grams of carbohydrates, 22 grams of sugar and no fiber. It's very quickly digested and isn't going to help fill you up, the way that eating fruit would.

Try this instead: Produce at breakfast is almost always a good idea, but eating the whole fruits and vegetables to get the benefit of fiber is your best bet. If you love juice, stick to a four-ounce serving and add water or seltzer to increase the volume.

8. Stack of Pancakes

A stack of pancakes dripping with butter and maple syrup, is certainly delicious but not necessarily the best choice if you have diabetes. All those carbs—from the pancakes and syrup—add up quickly and there isn't a lot of fiber to slow down the absorption into your bloodstream. A large portion of butter on top, makes the pancake breakfast higher in saturated fat.

Try this instead: Instead of a giant stack of pancakes, opt for one to two 4-inch whole wheat pancakes topped with fresh fruit and a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter. These diabetes-friendly pancake recipes are a great place to start.

9. Fruit Smoothie

Fruit smoothies sound healthy but they tend to have several fruit servings and can spike blood sugar levels rather quickly for a person with diabetes. Even though blending keeps the fiber in smoothies, they are often made with juice, frozen yogurt or sorbet on top of the fruit. Not only is that a lot of carbs and sugar, but they are often slurped down super fast and don't always have a balance of healthy fat and protein to slow down the sugar absorption.

Try this instead: If you want a smoothie, opt for one that includes peanut butter, avocado, spinach or kale along with one serving of fruit. The addition of protein and healthy fat helps slow down the absorption of sugar. These diabetes-friendly smoothie recipes can give you some good ideas.

10. Breakfast Bar

Although they may be quick and easy, many breakfast bars can have as much sugar and carbs as a candy bar. They're typically made with refined grains and lots of sugar, and despite having fruity flavors—not a lot of real fruit. Grabbing one can cause your blood sugar levels to go up quickly.

Try this instead: While breakfast bars are convenient, they usually lack nutrition. If you still want a quick option, try overnight oats or baked oatmeal that you reheat in the morning. Some granola bars and energy bars deliver more protein and less sugar, so read labels to find a good option to keep on hand for really busy mornings.