What’s for Breakfast?

When I give classes in the community on preventing diabetes and its complications, people always want to know about food. They tend to ask “What should I eat?” about three times as often as all other questions combined. Since they know very little, and I’m not a dietitian, I have to keep it simple. I boil it down to two rules, and the first one is Eat Breakfast!


Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating a good breakfast protects against obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Why is breakfast so important? Mainly because if you don’t eat breakfast, you will be hungry all day. Your blood sugar will tend to be low, so you’ll be grabbing sugary or fatty foods for a short-term energy fix. A good breakfast protects you against those downs and ups.

Daytime is when we work hardest, so that’s when we need calories. Heavy dinners make no sense, unless you’re a night worker. Big dinners turn to big fat while you sleep. Researcher Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, says, “People who have breakfast in the morning…wind up eating fewer calories, less saturated fat and cholesterol and have better overall nutritional status than people who skip that meal.”

Our culture seems to work against eating breakfast. People say they don’t have enough time. Seems like we’re too busy working and consuming to spend time living. Surveys show that far fewer than half of Americans eat breakfast every day. Among lower-income people, this number drops to as low as 25%.

What Kind of Breakfast?
Dr. Van Horn says that whole grains are the most important thing. There is also a strong case for including protein and maybe some fat, especially in people with impaired insulin production. Those foods break down more slowly and tend to keep your blood sugar steadier. A mass of simple carbs (like sugary cereals or white-flour pancakes with syrup) won’t get through you the day. Instead, they will start you bingeing.

Whole grains, to review, are those that contain a lot of fiber, like oatmeal or brown rice. DiabetesSelfManagement.com has a page of breakfast recipes here. I’m definitely going to try some of these recipes. They look great!

I’m lucky to have time to cook, since I work at home. Most people seem to be in too much of a rush to get to work or school. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people “Keep quick-to-fix foods on hand…like fresh fruit, cottage cheese, eggs, whole grain breads and cereals…spend perhaps 5 minutes preparing for breakfast the night before. Even setting out a bowl, a spoon and a glass can ease the morning crunch. If all else fails, yes, get up a few minutes earlier!”

Leftovers make great breakfasts, and they’re easy. Writing on Diabetes Health, Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE, says, “Eat leftovers or heat up some soup, some beans, chicken salad, pasta, green salad with turkey or cheese, a meat or peanut butter and sugar-free jam sandwich.”

Are Eggs OK?
The ADA may have to change its breakfast advice when it comes to eggs. A recent Boston study of over 50,000 health-care professionals found that men who averaged an egg a day or more were “58% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who did not eat eggs, and women were 77% more likely to become diabetic if they ate at least an egg a day.” The study was conducted by Luc Djoussé, MD, DSc, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, and was reported online in Diabetes Care.

It’s hard to make sense of this. The researchers think that cholesterol is the villain, but say that more testing is needed. I’m one of those people who has long tended to favor lower-carb diets to prevent diabetes. But the data was very convincing. One egg a week is about all that’s safe, according to the study. They did not check about egg whites vs. yolks.

This finding may make breakfast considerably more complicated. Of course, there are other sources of protein, but this adds one more dietary change. Tofu, beans, nuts, cheese, fish, or meat can all fit into a good breakfast. At least until the next study.

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  • David Spero RN

    Yes, this is scary news, and I”m not sure what to make of it. I often eat breakfasts very much like the egg/veggie mix you describe, CD. I use more green vegetables and alternate between eggs, tofu, and chicken as the protein source. (I’m not sure about the need for meat AND eggs.)

    Anyway, let’s not panic about this until more analysis and/or research is done. I believe with all my heart and brain that physical activity is more important than diet, and that overstressing about what we eat just makes things worse.

    Who needs a bunch of stress hormones pumping when we’re trying to enjoy a meal? My advice is to relax and enjoy what you eat while you do what you can to figure out what’s right for you.

    As far as your son and the environmental estrogen, I’d advise relaxing about that too. If he wants to buff up, work out harder, although the chemicals in the environment are really scary. But so are a lot of other things happening now.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear David.

    This is earth shatering news. We assumed that the new flax fed chicken eggs were not that bad.

    I was having 2 of these eggs in a mixed veggy(lots of onion, pepper, sometimes egg plant) cooked in canola oil with lean ham for protein and freshly ground flax seeds for fibre and god faty acids. This was a real winner as far as filling tummy goes and would keep me not hungry until supper.

    My son eats 2 of the special eggs fried in canola for his breakfast every day. He has stopped eating or drinking milk because of the large amount of (female) hormones in the milk in Canada. He is trying to put some muscle mass onto his presently scranny frame. I caught a pike(i.e. 8 pound fish with ferocious teeth) in the Bow River that had fully developped male and female organs. So I think his concerns are somewhat valid. Also Bis-phenol A, nonyl phenol in my favorite diswashing detergent and maybe a thousand other chemicals mimic estrogen . It is going to be hard to be male in the future.

    What do we eat? A can of sardines has prodigious amount of sodium? So does ham. Cheese has tremedious amounts of saturated fat that converts to cholesterol in the body and sodium. Boiled rye or oats with lean ham? Time consuming to prepare for most people and my son would never eat this nor fish nor anything that is not normal anglo food.


  • BobinBoise

    The news about eggs is really interesting but confusing. Just what is it in eggs that is causing the type 2 diabetes? I’m type 2 and have been eating 2 or more eggs a day for several years. My cholesterol, taken in September of this year, is 136, in fact I have never had a reading over 150 in the last 10 years.

    The problem is all these tests give very scary conclusions but very little useful information. Also I already have type 2 so telling me that eggs make me more likely to be diabetic is a little late. What we need is information on how to eat now. We need information on reading food labels and what is a healthy amount of carbohydrates and cholesterol to eat on a daily basis not these scary meaningless headlines.

  • Michael.Massing

    Thanks for the reminder about breakfast. Since most commenters have focused on the egg scare, you may want to be aware of some criticism of the study in question: http://snipurl.com/attackofthekilleregg [junkfoodscience_blogspot_com]

  • Michael.Massing

    p.s. After considering for a day the study as reported, I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really affect my choices much. The study authors point to saturated fat and dietary cholesterol as the likely risk enhancers, and duh, I know that already. I already choose defatted eggs because they allow me more discretion and versatility in the fats I eat with them. I’m reading nothing in these reports that suggests eggs as a particular villain, compared to needing to integrate egg use into an overall plan to control consumption of saturated fats and dietary cholesterol (which affects diabetics more than it does the general population).

  • River

    I am going to continue eating eggs. I already HAVE type 2 diabetes and have had it for 13 years. I don’t know if eating eggs gave me diabetes, but I have it now, so I’m going to eat them anyway.

  • Ephrenia

    I eat eggs. I’m not going to stop eating them based on this stufy. I INCREASED my consumption of eggs after being diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago as part of my low carb diey… and my cholesterol levels went DOWN as my blood sugar levels came into normal ranges.

    If we jump to every study released, we’d dither around and be able to eat ANYTHING, or even breathe unfiltered air. I’ll make the changes that make sense to me, like lowering my carb intake, but I’m not going to give up LIFE in order to have a few more YEARS.

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Joan,
    There are several types of egg beaters, and I’m sure none of them have been studied with regard to these new findings. I suspect they are fine, athough I don’t know about the “egg beaters with yolk.”
    And for the people who wrote that they’re staying on eggs, I think that’s OK too. You might want to cut down a bit and keep watching for more studies.

  • Joan

    If eggs are to be limited, what about egg beaters? For breakfast I measure a 1/4 egg of egg beaters, add a handful of spinach. Delicious and very quick to cook. I also add a small ww bagel and 1/2 c plain yogurt. Coffee of course.