What’s For Breakfast? Whole Grains and Calcium!

“What should I eat?” is one of the most common questions asked by people with diabetes, and for good reason. With almost every bite of food there are carbohydrates to count, not to mention calories, fat, vitamins, and minerals to consider. Two new studies may not have all the answers, but their results may help narrow the field down when it comes to breakfast choices for people with diabetes who are trying to lose weight and protect their hearts.


The first study, published this month in the journal Diabetes Care, found that a diet rich in calcium from low-fat dairy products led to more weight loss in overweight people with Type 2 diabetes. This finding was actually the by-product of a six-month study of three different diets: a modified Mediterranean diet, a mixed glycemic index diet, and a low glycemic index diet. (A Mediterranean diet tends to be rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, olive oil, and fish; the glycemic index measures how quickly different foods raise blood glucose levels, and foods that have a higher glycemic index tend to raise blood glucose levels more quickly. Click here and scroll down to view the glycemic index values of some common foods.)

In the study, 259 overweight people with Type 2 diabetes, average age 55 years old, were randomly assigned to follow one of the three diets for six months. However, dairy consumption was not specified by the diet plans, and it varied from participant to participant depending on personal choice. When the numbers were crunched at the end of the study, the researchers found that the people in all groups who ate the most calcium from low-fat dairy had 2.4-fold better odds of losing more than 8% of their body weight than the people who had the lowest intake of low-fat dairy. This finding held fast even though the high-dairy group consumed more calories than the low-dairy group.

Why did this happen? The researchers write that “Dietary calcium plays a pivotal role in the regulation of energy metabolism,” a phenomenon that had been seen in rodent studies in the past. The researchers also hypothesize that the inclusion of good-tasting, low-fat dairy products may help overweight people stick to a reduced-calorie diet.

The results of another recent study found an association between eating whole-grain breakfast cereal and a lowered risk of heart failure. This finding, presented on March 2 at an American Heart Association conference, came out of the Physicians’ Health Study. The study followed 10,469 doctors from 1982 to 2006 and assessed their diets and heart health each year by questionnaire. At the start of the study, participants’ average age was about 54.

The study found that participants who reported eating whole-grain breakfast cereal (defined as containing at least 25% oat or bran content) seven times a week or more at the beginning of the study had a 28% lower chance of developing heart failure over the course of the study compared to those who never ate whole-grain cereal. Participants who ate whole-grain breakfast cereal two to six times a week had a 22% lower risk of heart failure, while those who ate it up to once a week had a 14% lower risk.

Whole-grain cereals are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which may account for the reduced risk. While this study did not focus specifically on people with diabetes, the findings are relevant to them because having diabetes puts people at an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Years of research have shown that eating breakfast helps people lose weight or maintain weight loss. Now, these two new studies have suggested that starting the day with a bowl of whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk or yogurt can play an important role in achieving both weight loss and heart health.

For more information about diabetes and dairy, check out dietitian Amy Campbell’s recent blog entries on the topic: “Can Dairy Prevent Diabetes? Help with Weight Loss?” and “Diabetes and Dairy: Soy Yogurt—As Good as Insulin?”.

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  • Ephrenia

    I have started using low-carb dairy products. HOOD Calorie Countdown milk (3-4g carbs per 8 oz glass) and DANNON Carb and Sugar Control Yogurt (3g carbs per individual serving).

    For cereals, I stick to KASHI GoLean or SPECIAL K Hi Protein (blue box) or STURMS No sugar added oatmeal (with flax seed)

    I’ve heard of Laughing Cow cheeses, but haven’t found them in my area, so I still eat regular cheese. Anybody have other suggestions on this part?

  • anthony serpe

    i have type 2. my doctor switched me over to actos 15mg. i exercise early am afterwards i have breakfest. cherrios half banana 3 prunes skim milk little cinnamon. i check my blood sugar 1 hour and i’ve been seeing a increase in my blood sugar today it was over 200? any info.

  • acampbell

    Hi Anthony,

    Congratulations on both exercising and checking your blood glucose after breakfast. It’s possible that your breakfast may be a little too high in carbohydrate, based on the amount of Actos you’re taking, although you don’t indicate your portions of Cheerios and skim milk. However, it might actually be more useful to check your blood glucose two hours after your meal, rather than at one hour, and then again before lunch. You don’t have to do this everyday, but this will give you a sense of how your carb intake, Actos and exercise help to lower your pre-meal glucose close to your target range (usually 90-130 before a meal). If you’re still running high two hours after breakfast and before lunch, think about decreasing your carb intake at breakfast (have either prunes or the 1/2 banana, for example, rather than both) and talk to your physician about possibly changing your dose of Actos. You might also talk to a dietitian about other breakfast ideas, too.