This is not the first time I’ve debunked the idea that oatmeal and Cheerios are good breakfast options, despite the frequent recommendation.
Breakfast is, without a doubt, one of the most important health decisions you’ll make in a given day. And that decision starts with actually having breakfast. The decision to skip breakfast is one of the most common problems I find in patients. Sometimes patients say they just aren’t hungry, don’t have time or are nauseous when they first wake up.
If you’re not hungry first thing in the morning, all it takes is a little amount of fuel to begin your day properly. A handful of raw almonds or a tablespoon of real peanut butter can be enough to jump start your system. Here’s the deal: Your brain needs fuel in the morning whether you feed it or not. If you choose to skip breakfast, your body will break down precious muscle to fuel your brain.
If you’re looking for the “less muscle, more fat” look, then by all means continue to skip breakfast. If, however, this isn’t the look you are deliberately going for, then breakfast has to be on the menu, hungry or not. Eventually, your body will get used to getting fed early and will let you know it’s ready for fuel from outside the body by stimulating hunger.
The time excuse is not a good one, either. I’ve had patients use the time excuse but will run through the drive-thru of McDonalds to buy an Egg McMuffin, which arguably takes time as well. Compare that to warming up an Amy’s breakfast burrito for 1 and a half minutes in the microwave (with the added bonus of being less expensive). The same goes for the aforementioned handful of almonds or bit of real peanut butter.
As for the nausea, this boils back down to your body looking inside for fuel. The sympathetic / adrenal pathway gets activated and this shuts down digestion, potentially leaving you feeling nauseous. Again, within a short period of time your body will adapt to being fed and you’ll find yourself being hungry instead of nauseous at breakfast time.
Which brings us back to the all-important “what” for breakfast. This has remained an avenue of very poor recommendations for a long time now. Yogurt, with very few exceptions, is not a good option. If you’re going to do yogurt, make sure you’re doing plain Greek yogurt with a higher protein content and lower calories (you’ll have to read the labels and compare…consider brands like Fage that can be found at Costco) only with a serving of fresh or frozen fruit added in.
Oatmeal, again with a few exceptions, is not a good option. Certainly the instant Quaker-type oatmeals are absolutely off the list. I’m usually ok with the steel cut, slow cooked oatmeal with some high quality protein source mixed in (real peanut butter, nuts, granola). But the vast majority of the oatmeal that people seem to choose for breakfast doesn’t cut it.
In general, the anti-diabetic breakfast (which we should all be eating) should be protein-based or very high fiber (8 grams or more). Good recommendations include:
- Eggs, either scrambled in olive oil or hard-boiled
- High fiber, unprocessed breakfast cereal in something other than cow’s milk (Nature’s Path, Cascadian Farms, etc…)
- Real peanut or other nut butter (no added oils) in celery or on true whole-grain bread
- Granola (just be careful of the calories!)
- Steel cut, slow-cooked oatmeal with a high quality protein mixed in
- Juicing (the blending type with the pulp included) so long as you add in some type of high quality protein like powered peanut butter, high quality whey or pea protein or high protein Greek yogurt.
Just how important are these breakfast decisions for fighting off or controlling diabetes? This particular study gives us some insight. In it, researchers looked at the effect of glycemic index (a score for how fast sugar shows up in the bloodstream after eating a meal, the lower the better) of 4 different meals on certain markers of diabetes in a small group of Type 2 diabetics. Here’s what they found:
- There was more glucose in the bloodstream in the high glycemic index diet with low fiber.
- The amount of insulin after patients consumed the high glycemic index, low fiber diet was 13% higher than the low glycemic index, high fiber diet.
- When consuming a low glycemic diet, the diet with high fiber led to 12% lower insulin levels after a meal.
- Ghrelin (a hormone that helps increase hunger) dropped ONLY after the low glycemic index diets (both with high and low fiber).
Overall, it is very clear that your breakfast choices will have a clear effect on how well your body does or does NOT respond after the meal. Choosing the options listed above will lead to a much stronger anti-diabetic effect and protect every other aspect of your health.
And you’ll notice that Cheerios, the go-to breakfast to lower your cholesterol (which is probably because you’re prediabetic…), in no way, shape or form fits these recommendations. And you will also notice that fruit, by itself, is NOT on the list. Nor is orange juice (all calories, little value). These items have way too much carb content without the needed protein or fiber to balance it out.