One of the many questions I get from my patients is whether they should eat breakfast and what its components should be. As Indians, we are carbohydrate eaters and have them in breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as as a snack in between. This carbohydrate overload leads to a sharp increase in blood sugar levels. We must therefore evaluate our carbohydrate intake throughout the day.
Blood sugar levels in people with diabetes tend to drop at night, reaching their lowest between 3 and 4 a.m. Afterwards, even if they sleep and don’t eat anything, their blood sugar starts to rise. It’s called the Dawn Phenomenon, a normal effect produced by hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine as they prepare the body for the day. At night, all muscles are at complete rest except for heartbeat, breathing, digestion and a few other important functions. Therefore, most hormones turn off at night, lowering blood sugar levels in the body.
Of all the hormones in the body, insulin is the only one that reduces sugar. Most other hormones increase their levels as they are activated during the waking hour. This is why when we eat breakfast, our blood sugar levels start to rise. In my experience, the highest blood sugar levels are recorded after breakfast, the lowest after lunch, and increasing levels after dinner. It is therefore important to ensure that the foods we eat for breakfast do not raise our blood sugar levels too much. Many studies have shown that while sugar levels after breakfast increase, they tend to be high throughout the day.
COUNT YOUR CARBOHYDRATES
The total amount of carbohydrates you consume at breakfast will depend on your personal eating plan, your daily calorie intake, and your body’s ability to handle carbohydrates in the morning. Most traditional breakfast foods, like cereal, milk and fruit, contain carbohydrates, so measure what they add up to when combined. Breads can contain more than 50 g of carbohydrates per 100 grams. Limit your breakfast calories to less than 300 calories.
WHAT IS THE BEST BREAKFAST THEN?
Include foods high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. Examples are rolled oats (steel cut oats), whole grain bread and cereals. Whether plant-based or animal-based, protein adds satiety value and won’t make you hungry at lunch, ensuring portion control. You can eat whole eggs, but limit the yolk to one because each contains 300 mg of cholesterol, which is your total limit for the day.
On the other hand, if you have egg white omelettes, you can eat them from three or four eggs. Good quality protein, no fat and no carbohydrates. Other lean proteins, including beans, nuts and fish, can be eaten. Plain, unsweetened yogurt is a good accompaniment. A bowl of milk with seeds (pumpkin, chia or flax seeds) also works well. Berries are good, but in some people with diabetes, they tend to sharply increase sugar levels.
Low-carb smoothies, especially those made from vegetables, are popular and safe. Wheat bran cereal and cottage cheese are other alternatives. If you prefer fruits, they should have a low glycemic index like apple, guava, papaya and orange. Eat them in cubes and not in juice because the quantity of fruit increases and therefore their sugar content. For those who eat meat, sausages might be a good choice. However, they contain a lot of fat.
Indian foods like idli, dosa, poha or chapati can be eaten, but controlling their portions is important to avoid sugar spikes. Mix them with protein and fiber, like sprouts, to lower their glycemic index. If you have tea or coffee for breakfast, make sure to add less milk to it. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet is important throughout the day and starting the day with a nutritious and balanced diet is the first step.