Expert Advice for Your Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Routine

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By : Suvarna Sheth

If you have diabetes, and even if you don’t, what you have for breakfast is very important and can set the tone for the rest of your day. Are you satisfied with your breakfast routine, or does it need a little shake-up?

We talk with Cindy Dillard, RD, LDN, CDE of Novant Health Diabetes Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to get some expert advice on what many consider the most important meal of the day.

What should someone who has diabetes make sure they do during breakfast?

Eating breakfast is essential to good health, says Dillard regardless if you have diabetes or not. For people with diabetes, in particular, a healthy breakfast is key to giving your body the energy it needs to jumpstart the day.

“I encourage my patients to eat a breakfast that includes protein from eggs, cheese, nut butter or lean meat,” Dillard says. “Healthy carbs from high fiber foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables or whole grains are also great to help maintain blood sugar levels.”

Dillard says while mornings can often be hectic, it’s important for people with diabetes especially, to sit down, eat slowly and enjoy mealtime, even if it means waking up a few minutes earlier.

“By doing this, you’re more likely to eat healthier foods and less likely to skip the meal altogether, which can be detrimental for those with diabetes,” she says.

Finally, she reminds people to take diabetes medications appropriately. Certain oral medications should be taken 30 minutes prior to a meal and some should be taken after the meal.

Mealtime insulin, in most cases, should be injected 15 minutes before the meal.  Check with your doctor if you are not sure.

What are some of the biggest breakfast time mistakes you come across?

“The biggest mistake I see is patients skipping breakfast altogether,” Dillard says. “It can lead to high sugar levels, even if you don’t overeat later in the day.”

Other mistakes the nutritionist comes across in her practice are patients eating: pre-sweetened cereal and instant oatmeal, sweet Danishes and muffins, smoothies with too much fruit and not enough protein, flavored coffee beverages and fruit juice, and the worst, too many fast-food biscuits.

“I encourage my patients to opt for an egg sandwich on whole wheat toast or an English muffin instead,” Dillard advises. “Healthy breakfast choices are key for people with diabetes to manage and help to reduce blood sugars and weight.”

Is it ok to have coffee or tea, and what’s the best way?

“Coffee or tea are fine for people with diabetes and everyone loves a good cup of joe,” says Dillard. However, she says everyone reacts to caffeine a little differently and excess caffeine can induce a stimulant effect large enough to raise blood sugar.

“To be safe, keep it to 1-2 small cups in the morning,” she says, “I tell my patients black coffee, with a dash of cinnamon or vanilla extract for flavor, or a small amount of cream or even flavored creamer is okay.”

She says it’s important for people to remember there is a big difference between one teaspoon of creamer and half the cup of coffee full of creamer. “Cream can be okay in small amounts, we just do not want to see excess sugar or saturated fat added,” she explains.

When it comes to tea, unsweetened with lemon and a non-caloric sweetener should do the trick.

Any suggestions for breakfast for kids with diabetes?

Just as it is for adults, starting the day with breakfast is just as important for kids with diabetes. A healthy breakfast provides kids the boost they need to improve their energy levels throughout the day even help them to perform better at school, Dillard tells dLife.

Some of Dillard’s simple suggestions for kids’ breakfast include:

1. Whole grain waffle with peanut butter and banana slices.Waffle

2. Cheese toast (you can cut the prepared shapes with a cookie cutter).

Cheese toast

3. Fresh apple slices.


4. Peanut butter and low-sugar jelly sandwich on a whole grain bagel thin.

Bagel thin

5. Egg and cheese “muffins” which you can bake ahead of time, freeze and reheat.


6. Whole grain mini-bagels.


How can someone make sure they are on the right track if they are having brunch at a restaurant?

Dillard says it can be difficult to stick to a diabetes meal plan when eating out at restaurants, but there are a few ways to ensure you’re making healthy choices.

For example, she says ordering eggs or egg whites (scrambled, boiled or over-easy), or omelets filled with vegetables or lean meats is a good choice.

You could opt for whole grain toast, or steel cut oatmeal, and a cup of fruit as a side.

“I recommend staying away from large stacks of pancakes or French toast with syrup, gravy biscuits or omelets that include several types of meat and cheese and fruit juice,” she advises.

For Dillard’s top 6 breakfast ideas for busy mornings check out this slideshow.