Should You Eat Cereal for Breakfast If You Have Diabetes?

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We've heard countless times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day—it can jump start metabolism, prevent food cravings, and help people lose weight. The most common complaint of "non breakfast eaters" is that they don't have time in the morning to eat and that they are looking for quick breakfast ideas. Therefore, people often ask me, "Can I eat cold cereal for breakfast?" While it's probably better to eat something for breakfast than nothing at all, cold cereal is typically not the best choice for someone with diabetes who is trying to lose weight.

The reason is multi-factorial. 

First off, studies have shown that those persons with diabetes tend to have better blood sugars and weight control when starting the day with a higher fat, higher protein, lower carbohydrate breakfast. Protein and fat tend to be more satiating which can keep you feel full for longer, typically resulting in less overall calorie intake. In addition, blood sugars tend to rise higher after breakfast and many people are resistant to insulin in the morning which can also cause blood sugars to spike. Elevated blood sugars may cause additional carbohydrate cravings, which can lead to excess calorie and carbohydrate intake, often resulting in excess sugar in the blood. 

Secondly, many people overeat cereal which can lead to excess calorie and carbohydrate intake. A single serving of cereal is about 3/4 cup. Three-fourths cup of cereal will generally cost you about 120 calories and 24 grams of carbohydrate.

This amount of carbohydrates is equivalent to eating almost two slices of bread and this is without adding fruit or milk to your bowl. A typical cereal meal, such as 3/4 cup with one banana and one cup of low-fat milk contains roughly 340 calories and 66 grams of carbohydrate (about four slices of bread).

Although the calories are not too high, the quantity of food is small and the carbohydrate content is high. Most people with diabetes should eat about 30-45 g of carbohydrates for breakfast and many do best when eating less than 30 g for breakfast

Thirdly, not all cereal is created equal. Processed, refined, high sugary cereals are rich in calories, carbohydrates and sugar. When choosing a cereal, it's important to choose a cereal that is low in sugar and high in fiber. Aim to choose a cereal that has less than six grams of sugar and at least three grams of fiber. Choosing a whole grain cereal would be best, as studies have shown that eating a diet rich in whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease. 

But, I Thought Cereal Was Healthy? 

Some cereals are healthier than others. For example, whole grain cereals made with healthy ingredients such as nuts are healthy, but can also be rich in calories and fat for a small portion. The good news is that if you chose wisely and watch your portions, you can enjoy cereal. In fact, many cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, which can help people meet their nutritional needs. For someone with diabetes, a good time to eat cereal can be before exercise.

Physical activity helps to burn sugar (or glucose). If you are someone who takes an oral medication or insulin that can cause your blood sugar to drop, you'll likely need to eat carbohydrates before exercise to  prevent low blood sugars during physical activity. 

If You Enjoy Eating Cereal Try These Tips to Lower The Carbohydrate Content: 

  • Choose a hot cereal like oatmeal, quinoa or another whole grain blend and add chopped nuts or nut butter for added fiber, protein and healthy fat. For example: 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 3/4 cup blueberries, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, topped with cinnamon. 
  • If you are choosing a cold cereal: 
    • Read the label and stick to one serving, measure it with a measuring cup and use a small bowl to make the portion appear larger
    • Choose a cereal that is a whole grain (the first ingredient should say whole)
    • Choose a cereal that has at least three grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar 
    • Avoid adding dried fruit, sugar, or other calorie sweeteners, such as agave, honey, table sugar 
    • Add one serving of high fiber fruit to increase fiber content such as: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
    • Choose unsweetened almond milk for less carbohydrate than cow's milk 
    • Skip the milk altogether and make a yogurt parfait: using low-fat Greek yogurt which will boost protein content and reduce carbohydrate content 

What are Some Good Brands: 

If you are someone with diabetes, you can assess which cereals work best for you by testing your blood sugar before and two hours after you eat. If your blood sugar is at goal, then you're on track. Many of my patients tell me that their blood sugars are best and they feel the most satisfied when they eat the following brands of cold cereal:

Cascadian Farm Organic Purely O's®

Cheerios®   

Post Bran Flakes®

Wheaties®

Quaker Crunchy Corn Bran®

Kix®

Fiber One®

Barbara’s Bakery® Puffins (Cinnamon and Honey Rice)      

Kashi® (certain varities), such as, Puffed Rice, GoLean

Kellogg’s® Special K High Protein

Kellogg’s ®All Bran

A Note From Verywell

Cereal isn't a good choice for everyone with diabetes, but it maybe better than eating nothing-at-all and can add vitamins, minerals, and fiber to your diet as well as help to prevent low blood sugars. The key to eating cereal is to stick to one serving and watch your add-on's. 

Sources: 

Rabinovitz, H. R., Boaz, M., Ganz, T., Jakubowicz, D., Matas, Z., Madar, Z. and Wainstein, J. (2013), Big breakfast rich in protein and fat improves glycemic control in type 2 diabetics. Obesity. doi: 10.1002/oby.20654

Lausch, Marnie. On the Cutting Edge Diabetes Care and Education. Carbohydrate, Insulin Pumps, and Continuous Glucose Monitoring Technology and Special Features to Manage Glycemia. 2014;V35;2,pp 7-11.