How Breakfast Affects Blood Sugar: What You Need To Know
Breakfast comes with a lot of drama. Is there time to eat? If so, what can be grabbed quickly? Is there anything in the pantry that is halfway healthy and can be eaten in 5 minutes or—preferably—in the car? Is there anything at the coffee shop that’s reasonably priced and not also a giant carbohydrate bomb?
No wonder some restaurants serve breakfast food 24 hours a day—it may be dinner time before we finally get around to eating breakfast!
You likely take at least a small break for lunch, and hopefully you get to sit down for dinner, but it sometimes seems that the only folks who get to sit down at the table for a decent breakfast are those kids on the Saturday morning cereal commercials.
The important of breakfast is well-established. Consuming a morning meal helps reduce hunger, prevent overeating, and encourages healthier choices throughout the day. It can also help us stay physically active by providing energy to get us going in the morning. Sure, there are excellent breakfast benefits, but the reality is that less than half of Americans eat breakfast every day.
For people with diabetes, skipping morning mealtime may set up a blood sugar rollercoaster for the rest of the day.
Why is breakfast even more important for those with diabetes?
A study out of Tel Aviv University took a look at how eating breakfast helps regulate glucose and insulin levels in both diabetic and non-diabetic test subjects. The study concluded that eating breakfast signals “proper cyclic clock gene expression.” Basically, breakfast starts the internal clock that regulates the rest of your day.
Your body is designed to function in a natural, predictable rhythm, and that rhythm is referred to as your internal clock. This internal clock helps you feel sleepy at bedtime and wake up in the morning, and it explains why we feel so out of sorts when we visit different time zones. But our internal clock does more than regulate sleep patterns. It helps regulate glucose absorption, blood pressure, body weight, and other body processes. The human body, much like pets or young children, thrives on routine.
Eating breakfast signals to the body that it’s time to start absorbing glucose and start up its metabolism. In the Tel Aviv University study, eating a pre-9:30am meal was associated with improved glucose and insulin levels after lunch. When study participants did not eat breakfast, the body’s glucose regulation was downgraded, which meant poorer blood sugar control for the rest of the day.
The genes regulating weight loss were also under-stimulated in the absence of a morning meal, indicating that skipping breakfast may lead to weight gain even if a person does not overeat for the rest of the day.
Of course, it’s hard not to overeat when you don’t eat breakfast. Without some AM calories to provide much-needed energy after a night of sleeping, your body may release more hunger-inducing hormones, like ghrelin, that tell you to eat more. With these hormones sending signals to your brain that calories are desperately needed, it is even harder to resist fatty and sugary foods and take the time to eat a healthy meal. The fact that sugary, nutrient-poor foods also tend to be the most readily available compounds the problem.
Even if you do make it to lunchtime without snacking on unhealthy foods, the long fast can increase your body’s insulin response which will increase fat storage. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Our bodies are supposed to produce insulin after we take in calories. For someone with diabetes, proper insulin response is challenging enough. But the body has an even tougher time producing insulin if it has to wait until lunchtime for its first meal.
In one study, breakfast eaters had a 10% improvement in insulin sensitivity over non-breakfast eaters. Eating breakfast essentially revs up your metabolism to manage calorie intake for the rest of the day, but not eating anything keeps your metabolism slow.
If you’ve waited to eat, a flood of calories at lunchtime will signal the pancreas to go into overdrive in order to deal with the incoming glucose. Over time, this can burn out the pancreas and lead to type 2 diabetes or exacerbate existing diabetes. It’s better to start up the pancreas early so that it’s up and running by the time lunch rolls around.
Convinced yet? Well, maybe so, but like lots of good advice, eating a good breakfast every day is easier said than done. There are tons of great breakfast ideas out there, but here are a few solid guidelines to keep in mind:
- 1. Stay Away From Sugary Foods. This is no surprise, right? Choose something that won’t send you soaring on a sugar high and then drop you like a load of bricks later on. Pay attention to labels—lots of breakfast foods pack loads of sugar. A store-bought blueberry muffin may essentially be cake with fruit in it.
- 2. Embrace Whole Grains. Whole grains are great for providing long-lasting, steady energy. Oats are a great choice when you have time, but whole-grain oat cereals are good choices too (though we prefer these yummy oatmeal pancakes). Check the nutrition labels to make sure whole grains are the first ingredient, and sorry, multi-grain is not the same thing.
- 3. Be Pro-Protein. Of course you have to be careful with carbs anyway, and including protein will help you feel fuller longer and help keep blood sugar steady.
- 4. Be Fiber Friendly. Fiber is excellent for satiety, and it also helps regulate bowel movements. Hey—it’s important!
A good breakfast, even if it’s a quick one, helps set you up to have more energy and make healthier choices throughout the day. If breakfast is lost in the rush, the rest of your day can feel like a blur, and your body will struggle to keep up.
Of course, on some days it can seem impossible to find even five minutes for a bowl of cereal. Our advice is to set yourself up for success by planning ahead, celebrating successes large and small, and finding out what works for you!
Stay healthy, friends!