People tend to be divided when it comes to eating breakfast: they either love breakfast or hate it. Some people can’t imagine starting their day without this meal, while others can’t stomach the thought.
Breakfast has long been called the most important meal of the day, thanks to Seventh Day Adventists James Caleb Jackson and John Harvey Kellogg (developer of cornflakes and other food products). After all, the word “breakfast” literally means to “break a fast,” assuming that you slept for at least several hours the night before. But is breakfast all that it’s cracked up to be? And if you’re not a fan, are you losing out on health benefits by skipping this meal? Read on to find out!
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Many of us grew up with having to wolf down a bowl of cereal or a plate of eggs before heading out for school. These days, many people would rather catch a few more minutes of sleep than eat something. Other people, for various health reasons, choose not to eat in the morning. In fact, some people with diabetes who wake up with higher-than-target blood sugars decide not to eat because doing so might only raise their blood sugars even further. And still others forgo a morning meal because they are trying to lose or maintain their weight, especially if they are following an eating style called intermittent fasting, in which a person limits food intake to a specific period of time during the day.
A Kitchen Infinity National Survey conducted this year surveyed 2,500 adults in the U.S. and revealed that one in five adults (20%) skip breakfast, while 80% tend to eat breakfast every day. Are the 80% of breakfast eaters on to something, then? Possibly. Here’s why eating breakfast can do you good:
- Breakfast fuels you. After sleeping for seven or eight hours a night, your body needs some fuel or energy to get you up and going for the day ahead. Think of driving your car on a minimal amount of gas — you won’t get too far. A lack of fuel can impact how you function at work or school.
- Breakfast may help you lose weight. Some research indicates that eating first thing in the morning leads to a higher resting metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn when you are sitting or lying down. Other research points to breakfast eaters as having a lower body-mass index (BMI) than breakfast skippers. And people who eat breakfast may have fewer cravings and eat less during the rest of the day.
- Breakfast gives you nutrition. Along with giving you calories (aka, fuel), eating a healthy breakfast is a way to get a jump-start on all of the nutrients that you need for good health.
- Breakfast supports heart health. People who skip breakfast are more likely to have high cholesterol levels than breakfast eaters, especially if they choose heart-healthy options such as oatmeal and other foods high in fiber.
- Breakfast can help you think more clearly. Studies of children who eat breakfast have found that kids do better at school — meaning, improved academic performance compared with kids who run out the door without eating. The same findings can apply to adults, as well. When adults eat breakfast, they tend to be more alert and have better concentration, memory, and energy levels.
Breakfast and diabetes
If you have diabetes, you might be wondering if breakfast is a good idea for you. After all, not eating breakfast seems like an opportunity to help prevent those blood sugar spikes. In a small study of 22 people with type 2 diabetes published in 2017 in the journal Diabetes Care, those who skipped breakfast had blood sugar “peaks” of 268 mg/dl after lunch and 298 mg/dl after dinner. When they ate breakfast, the post-lunch peak was 192 mg/dl and the post-dinner peak was 215 mg/dl. So, even eating a healthy, reasonable lunch and dinner on days that they skipped breakfast led to higher blood sugars after those two meals. Other research supports these findings, concluding that skipping breakfast is associated with poor glycemic control.
Eating breakfast may be one way to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well. Research looking at more than 96,000 people shows that breakfast skippers increased their risk of diabetes by 55%.
You might argue that it’s hard to imagine eating anything in the morning if you wake up with a high blood sugar. If you’re seeing a pattern of high morning blood sugars, try checking your blood sugar before you go to bed, in the middle of the night (around 3 a.m.) and first thing in the morning when you wake up. Another option is to use CGM (continuous glucose monitoring). Then, look at your results. You might discover that you’re running high before bed. If this is the case, you may need to decrease your food and/or carb intake in the evening and/or increase your medication. If you find that your bedtime blood sugars are in range but they start to climb overnight into the morning, you may need a medication adjustment. Let your provider know your results.
Skipping breakfast won’t solve the issue of your high morning blood sugars. Plus, if you take morning insulin or diabetes pills such as sulfonylureas, taking these medicines without eating puts you at risk of having low blood sugars later. So, rather than not eat breakfast, eat a breakfast that has less carbohydrate and a little more protein.
Diabetes-friendly breakfast tips
To put together a breakfast that can fill you up and not send your blood sugars soaring, consider trying the following tips:
- Start with a healthy source of protein: e.g., nuts, nut butters, low-fat cottage cheese, eggs, beans, fish, low-fat milk, Greek yogurt
- Add a fiber source: e.g., rolled oats or oat bran, whole-grain bread, berries
- Include a healthy fat: e.g., nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil
- Fit in some veggies: e.g., green or red peppers, spinach, tomatoes, onions
If you need more guidance on breakfast carb goals or would like an eating plan, ask your provider for a referral to meet with a registered dietitian.
For a healthy dose of protein, give this tasty frittata recipe a try.
Want to learn more about breakfast and diabetes? Read “What Should You Eat for Breakfast If You Have Diabetes?” and “The Benefits of Breakfast.”