For many people, breakfast is the most neglected meal of the day. But if you have type 2 diabetes, breakfast is a must, and it can have real benefits for your health. “Breakfast is especially important for someone who has diabetes because it helps control blood sugar for the rest of the day,” says Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, CDCES, a Baltimore-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the owner of Olive Tree Nutrition.
Julie Stefanski, RDN, CDCES, agrees. “It’s important for people with diabetes to keep in mind that the first meal of the day sets the tone for how they’ll feel as the day progresses,” says Stefanski, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a certified diabetes care and education specialist in York, Pennsylvania.
The key is to choose a nutritious breakfast that will keep you full and your blood sugar levels in a healthy range, which can vary depending on your age and health, notes the American Diabetes Association (ADA). “A diabetes-friendly breakfast is one that includes a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats in the right proportions, which helps balance blood sugar,” says Al Bochi. A simple diabetes-friendly breakfast she recommends is a plate of eggs and avocado on whole-grain toast.
On the other hand, an unbalanced breakfast won’t do your blood sugar any favors. “As an example, a sugary cereal paired with a plant milk or coffee with a lot of sugar has very little protein or fat, and blood sugar will immediately begin rising,” says Stefanski.
And don’t even think about skipping breakfast (or lunch or dinner, for that matter). “Skipping meals can create blood sugar fluctuations and extreme hunger cravings, which then lead to overeating at meals and high blood sugars,” says Al Bochi.
By the way, the same rule applies if you’re at an elevated risk for type 2 diabetes but don’t have the condition. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2019 found that adults who skipped breakfast had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes and its precursor, prediabetes, include being older than 45, carrying extra weight; having a family history of type 2 diabetes (particularly a brother, sister, or parent with the disease); having had gestational diabetes (during pregnancy); and being a member of the Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color (BIPOC) communities, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So, it’s time to up your breakfast game. Pressed for time? There are plenty of nutritious, easy-to-make recipes that taste delicious, too.
Here are 10 diabetes-friendly breakfast ideas to help you stay healthy and get on with your day.
Diabetes Tips for the On-the-Go Eater
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1. Breakfast Smoothie With Berries and Greek Yogurt
You don’t have to say “so long” to smoothies for breakfast, even if you have type 2 diabetes. The key is to make sure it’s a balanced smoothie, with protein and fiber, and that it’s relatively low in sugar. Moderation is key, so stick to a small glass.
Take this Very Berry Smoothie recipe from Jill Weisenberger, RDN, CDCES, of Yorktown, Virginia, the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week. “What I love about this smoothie — besides that it’s delicious — is that it’s packed with protein just from the Greek yogurt — no protein powders needed,” she says. Each 1½ cup serving of this smoothie offers a whopping 22 grams (g) of protein, making it an excellent source, with 30 g of carbs and 5 g of fiber, making it an excellent source of fiber, too!
Plus, because the recipe has just four ingredients — yogurt; frozen, fiber-rich berries; milk; and a sweetener if you’d like — it’s a perfect breakfast when you’re in a rush. “It’s fast and even portable, and all the ingredients are something you’d have at home or that are easy to substitute,” adds Weisenberger.
Nutrition per serving (1½ cups): 205 calories, 0g total fat (0g saturated fat), 22g protein, 30g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 100mg sodium
2. Whole-Wheat Blueberry Muffins With a Protein-Rich Side
Baked goods like muffins don’t have to be off the table if you have diabetes, especially if you whip up a batch of whole-wheat blueberry muffins like these from Vincci Tsui, RDN, who’s based in Calgary, Alberta. “A common myth about diabetes is that sugar and carbs need to be avoided in order to manage blood sugars,” says Tsui. Combining smaller portions of foods that have a higher glycemic index with protein-rich foods in moderation can make for a meal with lower glycemic load than large portions of food high on the glycemic index, she explains.
The glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) sound similar, but they’re different.
GI measures how certain foods affect blood glucose, or sugar, levels, according to Johns Hopkins. GI accounts both for how high the food raises blood sugar levels and for how long after your meal. All foods are ranked from 1 to 100, and foods seen as “high” on the GI (greater than 70) increase blood sugar quicker than those considered low (less than 55), Johns Hopkins notes.
GL is another metric that some healthcare professionals believe offers a more accurate picture of how a food impacts your glucose numbers, according to Harvard Medical School. It takes into account not just the GI but also “glucose per serving.” So, watermelon has a GI of 80 (which is considered high), but because one serving has so few carbs, the GL for watermelon would be 5, which is low.
Still, the food you eat does not stand alone, as Tsui hints at above. People often group foods together, which in some cases can have a positive impact on the GL, according to Johns Hopkins. For example, they say that if you eat plain bread, your glucose afterward isn’t the same as when you eat bread with peanut butter, which provides protein — specifically 3.6 g of protein per tablespoon (tbsp), notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Tsui recommends combining a fiber-filled muffin, like this one, with Greek yogurt for a yummy take on a parfait; a slice of cheese; or a hard-boiled egg for a quick, satisfying and diabetes-friendly breakfast. If you’re opting for yogurt, reach for the nonfat, plain Greek variety to cut down on total fat and potentially help regulate your weight. A 156 g container of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt provides 16.1 g of protein, according to the USDA.
Last, keep in mind that a single muffin has 31 g of carbs.
Nutrition per serving (1 muffin): 214 calories, 9g total fat (5.1g saturated fat), 5g protein, 31g carbohydrates, 2.9g fiber, 13.1g sugar (9.5g added sugar), 212mg sodium
3. Whole-Grain Cereal With Oatmeal, Egg, and Ground Flaxseed
Hot or cold, the right cereal makes a great breakfast. “Oatmeal,” for example, “can either be a super bland, boring breakfast that leaves you hungry an hour later — or, done right, it can be delicious and satisfying,” says Anne Mauney, MPH, RDN, of Alexandria, Virginia, the creator of the website Fannetastic Food. “This high-protein oatmeal recipe has staying power — and is made diabetes-friendly by the addition of protein from eggs and milk and healthy fat from ground flaxseed, both of which will help keep your blood sugar more stable and also keep you full for longer.” You heard that right — the oatmeal recipe calls for eggs, which gives the bowl 16 g of protein total per serving, making it an excellent source.
What’s more, the flaxseed provides a nice helping of fiber. When eaten alone, 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed provides 1.91 g of fiber and 1.3 g of protein, notes the USDA. Your carb tally per serving for this recipe will be 53 g.
Oatmeal made with eggs and ground flaxseed might seem complicated, but all you have to do is add the ingredients (there are only six) in a pot on the stovetop, and cook while stirring for five minutes. It’s that easy!
One thing to keep in mind with this recipe is that relative to most of the other diabetes breakfast ideas on this list, the carb count is high. Be sure to avoid any high-carb add-ins such as dried fruit, and opt for a carb-free beverage such as water or plain coffee as your side.
Nutrition per serving: 376 calories, 12g total fat (2.5g saturated fat), 16g protein, 53g carbohydrates, 8.9g fiber, 10.8g sugar (0g added sugar), 88mg sodium
4. Vegetarian Eggs and Lentils on Toast
The old standby breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast can be a healthy way to start the day. And you can mix it up somewhat and still have a diabetes-friendly meal. Try this vegetarian lentils and egg toast dish from Amy Gorin, RDN, who’s based in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“You get a sunny-side-up egg on each slice of toast. That egg, in addition to the lentils, provides satiating protein to keep you fuller for longer and keep your blood sugar levels stable,” says Gorin. According to the USDA, one large egg contains 6.2 g of protein, in addition to 231 micrograms (mcg) of lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients are “associated with eye health, which is a particular concern for people with diabetes,” Gorin adds. Research also suggests those nutrients support eye health. As for the lentils, this vegetarian staple is associated with a lower risk of diabetes and better diabetes management, thanks to their hypoglycemic effect, according to a review published in the November 2017 International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Each serving has about 62 g of carbs, meaning this meal is on the higher end for someone with diabetes (again, be sure to watch your add-ins and opt for a carb-free drink), along with 20 g of fiber, making it an excellent source of the nutrient. You’ll also score a satisfying 25 g of protein in total per serving.
Nutrition per serving: 420 calories, 10g total fat (3g saturated fat), 25g protein, 62g carbohydrates, 20g fiber, 13g sugar, 480mg sodium
5. Mushroom Freezer Breakfast Burritos
Craving a breakfast burrito? You’re in luck. Not only is this a.m. favorite simple to prepare, but it has all the makings of a diabetes-friendly breakfast. “This mushroom breakfast burrito is full of protein and fiber, two nutrients that contribute to blood sugar control,” says Natalie Rizzo, RDN, of Greenletes, in New York City.
You’ll get 20 g of protein from the eggs and cheese, and a good amount of fiber, with 4 g. The mushrooms provide other nutrients, like vitamins D and B, per the USDA. According to the NIH, vitamin D promotes bone health and may boost immunity. Meanwhile, B vitamins have various functions, from helping generate red blood cells and fighting infection to supporting healthy pregnancies, notes the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“The combination of eggs, mushrooms, and goat cheese creates a savory, umami taste that will make you crave this breakfast burrito every day,” Rizzo says.
The best part? “Make a batch ahead of time and stick them in the freezer for a quick microwaveable healthy breakfast on the go,” she says. Each burrito has 28 g of carbs.
Nutrition per serving (1 burrito): 385 calories, 22g total fat (6g saturated fat), 20g protein, 28g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 4g sugar, 640mg sodium
6. Bagel Thins With Nut Butter, Banana, and Chia Seeds
Bagels and diabetes-friendly aren’t two concepts that usually go together, but this flavorful spin on the New York staple, from Kathryn Doherty, the founder of Family Food on the Table, makes it possible. Take a whole-wheat mini bagel, top it with nut butter and banana slices, and add a sprinkle of chia seeds and a drizzle of honey. It’s that easy to make!
Don’t worry too much about the sugar in the honey — as long as you enjoy it in moderation and consider how this breakfast fits into your broader carb budget. “Maple syrup and honey may be included in your diet, but it is important to be mindful of how much you’re adding and how they fit into your specific meal plan,” says Al Bochi. If those sweeteners don’t fit into your plan, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or a sugar substitute that won’t pose the risk of a blood sugar spike.
The protein from the almond butter and chia seeds, and the fiber from the whole-wheat bagel and banana, make this a balanced meal. You’re getting over 1 g of fiber from the banana alone, according to the USDA.
Enjoy this recipe when you have a bread craving but want something more satisfying — and less carb-laden — than a traditional bagel. A typical plain large bagel has a whopping 70 g of carbohydrates, according to the USDA. And one serving of this bagel thin, loaded with nut butter, banana, and chia seeds, in total, has just 39 carbohydrates.
Nutrition per serving (1 bagel): 304 calories, 13g total fat (2.5g saturated fat), 10g protein, 39g carbohydrates, 2.7g fiber, 14.6g sugar (4.3g added sugar), 294mg sodium
7. No-Bake Blueberry Almond Energy Bites
For a breakfast you can eat on the run, grab a hearty handful of whole, raw almonds and a small serving of fruit, such as berries, a peach, an apple, or an orange.
If you want to take the basic fruit and nuts combination to the next level, try these no-bake blueberry almond energy bites from Blair Lonergan, the creator of The Seasoned Mom blog. With only five simple ingredients — chopped almonds, dried blueberries, old-fashioned oats, almond butter, and salt — they’re super simple to make. Plus, these bites are portable for breakfast-in-a-hurry days. Pop them in a ziplock bag and take ’em with you on your morning commute.
With only 10 g of carbs and 2 g of protein per serving, you’ll be able to kick off your morning right.
In this case, don’t worry about the dried fruit. According to the ADA, dried fruit in moderation is a nutritious choice for you. These bites aren’t overloaded with dried blueberries; plus, they’re combined here with the protein from the almonds, which lowers the glycemic load of this breakfast.
Nutrition per serving (1 piece): 102 calories, 5g total fat, 2g protein, 10g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 5g sugar, 1mg sodium
8. Mini Corn, Cheese, and Basil Frittatas
“You can make these flavor-packed frittatas ahead of time and store them in the fridge for on-the-go breakfasts,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition and wellness expert in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Eating in Color.
There’s more good news: “The mini frittatas make a great breakfast for anyone, but they’re an especially good pick for diabetics, because they have about 8 g of protein in each one and are low in carbs,” she says. “That means there’s room left over to add some high-fiber fruit to your meal, such as berries.”
While starchy carbs pose a greater risk of raising blood sugar than nonstarchy carbs, you can still enjoy them in moderation. Corn, along with green peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, fall into the starchy-carbs category, which the ADA says means “eat some of these.” Conversely, nonstarchy carbs are in the “eat most of these” category. Not only do you get fiber from the corn, per the USDA, but you also score antioxidants like carotenoids, a study in the August 2021 Applied Biological Chemistry found.
And as for those carbohydrates, one mini frittata has about 5 g, making this a super, low-carb way to start your day.
Nutrition per serving (1 frittata): 133 calories, 9g total fat (4.4g saturated fat), 8g protein, 5g carbohydrates, 0.5g fiber, 2g sugar (0g added sugar), 162mg sodium
9. White Cheddar Zucchini Muffins
Did your registered dietitian tell you it’s important to fit more veggies into your meals? Here’s an easy way to do that: white cheddar zucchini muffins. “It’s a satisfying option that can easily be made ahead for a quick and easy breakfast,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a culinary and integrative dietitian in Atlanta.
Another perk? They’re made with almond flour, which helps pump up the protein, per the USDA — you’ll get 10 g in each serving (one muffin). You’ll also get 2 g of fiber and just 5 g of carbs.
On the zucchini front, the ADA puts this veggie on its list of the nonstarchy vegetables they encourage people with diabetes to eat more of. Plus, zucchini is low in carbohydrates — with one-eighth of a small zucchini per serving, you’re getting less than ½ g carbs from the zukes, according to the USDA.
Bonus: You can put together these gluten-free and ketogenic diet–friendly muffins in a blender, so you won’t have a sink full of tools to scrub down when you’re finished.
Nutrition per serving (1 muffin): 196 calories, 15g total fat (4g saturated fat), 10g protein, 5g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 1g sugar, 209mg sodium
10. Scallion Grits With Shrimp
Feel free to embrace this classic Southern breakfast — shrimp and grits — which is diabetes friendly, says Maya Feller, RD, of Brooklyn, New York, the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook: Over 100 Recipes for a Healthy Life. This is especially true when you stick to the CDC recommended ½ cup or less.
Her recipe calls for corn grits and savory scallions, and uses fat-free milk. If you don’t have grits in your pantry, Feller suggests using protein-packed quinoa.
A ¼ cup serving of quinoa provides more than 2 g of protein (in the serving size for this dish), according to the USDA, and about 1 g of fiber. The combination of protein and fiber is a winning one for people with diabetes because, according to Massachusetts General Hospital, protein takes longer to digest than carbs, thereby acting as a steadying influence on blood sugar levels.
The recipe has 25 g of carbs per serving (¼ cup grits and four to five shrimp each), and 20 g of protein.