Eating three balanced meals a day helps control diabetes. However, incorporating breakfast into the daily routine and making nutritious and appetizing breakfasts can sometimes be a challenge for people with diabetes.

Why eat breakfast?

1. Better blood sugar control after meals

Unlike lunch and dinner, breakfast ends a long period of fasting during which you must rely on your liver to produce the glucose needed to maintain your glycemic (blood sugar) levels. When you eat breakfast, you are sending a message to the liver to stop producing glucose because the fast is over. If you’re a person with type 2 diabetes and your blood sugar is high in the morning, you would benefit from eating breakfast, if you aren’t already doing so!

2. Improve the nutritional value of your diet

The foods that make up a balanced breakfast provide important nutrients for the proper functioning of your body, such as fibre and many vitamins and minerals (calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, etc.). Protein eaten in the morning also promotes the maintenance of muscle mass in people with diabetes over the age of 50, which contributes to healthy aging.

3. Increase your energy and concentration levels in the morning

A balanced breakfast provides the body with the necessary fuel to start the day and efficiently perform the morning’s physical and intellectual activities.

4.Reduce the work of your pancreas and control your weight

The addition of breakfast reduces the amount of carbohydrates consumed at each meal since the carbohydrates are being divided between three meals instead of being concentrated at lunch and dinner.

In addition, for some people, eating a balanced breakfast can reduce snacking in the morning and reduce overeating at the next meal.

5. Prevent hypoglycemia

For people with diabetes at risk of hypoglycemia, eating a breakfast with enough carbohydrates is recommended to prevent hypoglycemia.

The ingredients of a balanced breakfast

Protein: minimum 15 g

Protein is satiating and contributes to feeling full. 

Food groupIdeal food choices
Meat and alternativesPeanut or nut butter, nuts and seeds, tofu, egg or liquid egg whites, hummus, cheese with less than 20% fat
Milk and alternativesMilk with 2% or less fat, Greek or regular yogurt with 2% or less fat, fortified soy beverage

Fibre: 5 to 20 g

Fibre is satiating and reduces the rise in blood sugar after meals.

Food groupIdeal food choices
StarchesWhole grain bread, hot cereal (oatmeal, oat bran), cold whole grain cereal
FruitFresh whole fruit, frozen fruit or canned fruit in water
VegetablesWhole fresh or frozen vegetables
FatGround flaxseed, chia seeds, nuts

Carbohydrates: 45 to 75 g

Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy.

Food groupIdeal food choices
StarchesWhole grain breads, hot cereals (oatmeal, oat bran), cold whole grain cereal
Milk and alternativesMilk with 2% fat or less, Greek or regular yogurt with 2% fat or less, fortified soy beverage
FruitFresh whole fruit, frozen fruit or canned fruit in water

Are breakfasts from fast food restaurants a valid alternative when you are in a hurry?

The most popular fast-food restaurants offer few food choices that let you put together a healthy and balanced breakfast. The popular sandwiches or wraps that combine eggs, cured meat and cheese contain too much salt, added sugar and saturated fat, and very little fibre, and some contain trans fats that are known to have a negative effect on heart health! The same applies to their muffins and other pastries which, in addition, do not contain enough protein and are too high in carbohydrates. Fruit is almost absent from the menu except for smoothies. However, these smoothies are very sweet and contain little fibre or protein. This type of breakfast should be considered an occasional treat only and should not be your daily breakfast.

And anyway, do you even save time by lining up at the drive-thru at these restaurants?

On the menu this morning

Are you lacking inspiration or eager to break your routine? Here are some suggestions for balanced breakfasts to suit all tastes, to eat at home or on the go. These breakfasts provide:

  • 45 to 60 g of carbohydrates (after subtracting the fibre)
  • 5 to 20 g of fibre
  • 15 g or more of protein
Breakfast ideasMake the day beforeMake on the spotQuick to make
Cold oatmeal with blueberries (overnight otmeal)xxx
Raspberry smoothie

plus en avant-midi: 2 Ryvita™ type whole grain crackers and 1 oz (30 g) of cheese with less than 20% fat

Tofu cream with bananas and kiwi xxx
Yogourt parfait

plus later in the morning: ½ whole whaet pita bread (6 in. diameter) and 2 tbsp (30 ml) hummus 
2 slices whole grain bread, ½ cup (125 ml) 5% fat ricotta and 1 sliced pear xx
Tortilla wrap with eggs, vegetables and cheese with a café au lait/latte or ½ cup (125 ml) fortified soy beverage   x
Chia pudding, a whole fruit and a homemade banana and oatmeal muffinxx 
Whole grain English muffin spread with 2 tbsp (30 mL) homemade hummus, and tomato and cucumber slices

plus, later in the morning: 100 g Greek vanilla yogurt and an apple
Whole wheat tortilla (10 in or 25 cm diameter) spread with 2 tbsp (30 mL) plain peanut butter or almond butter, topped with banana slices, then rolled

plus, later in the morning: 100 g Greek vanilla yogurt
2 to 3 buckwheat pancakes stuffed with applesauce and cheese with less than 20% fatx x

1 orange, 1 cup (250 mL) whole wheat and bran bites (Shredded Wheat & Bran™ cereal) in 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk or fortified soy beverage, a café au lait/latte

plus, later in the morning: 6 walnut halves
1 cup (250 mL) oatmeal cereal (plain Cheerios™), 1/3 cup (75mL) bran and psyllium cereal (All Bran Buds™), 2 tbsp (30 mL) raisins, 10 toasted sliced almonds in 3/4 cup (175 mL) milk or fortified soy beverage  x
Tortilla wrap with scrambled tofu and 2 clementines  x

Overcoming barriers to incorporating breakfast into your routine

Short of time? Plan!

From the tips below, identify the ones that seem easiest for you to apply right away. Why not start tomorrow?

The day before:

  • Prepare a few breakfast items at the same time as you make the next day’s lunch: pancake mix, fruit, muesli prepared in a take-out container, etc.
  • Measure out and store individual servings of breakfast cereals and portable foods in sealed containers (e.g., yogurt, milk, fruit salad, fruit sauces, cheese, peanut butter wrap, nuts, hard-boiled egg, homemade muffin), as well as the ingredients for the recipes you will make the next morning.
  • Set the table (including with non-perishable foods) and take out the utensils and pots you will need when you cook.

On weekends or when you have a free time slot:

  • Bake muffins and freeze them in individual servings.
  • Plan your breakfasts in addition to the other meals of the week when planning your weekly menu and add any missing ingredients to your grocery list.

Not hungry when you get up in the morning?

  • Eat breakfast after finishing the other activities in your morning routine.
  • Eat your breakfast in several stages.
  • Take your breakfast with you to eat on the way to work or later in the morning.

As with any behavioural change, it is important to set a realistic, clear, precise goal and set a date when you will begin to do it. We encourage you to observe and note how you’ve benefited by adding a balanced breakfast to your routine.

Research and writing: Diabetes Québec team of dieticians and nutritionnists

June 2017 (update July 2018)

Adapted from: Andrée Gagné (Été 2016). Le déjeuner, un repas à ne pas négliger. Plein Soleil, Diabète Québec, p.22