For Weight Loss and Better Glucose Control Eat a Big Breakfast

Written by Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, MPH

We’ve all heard breakfast is the most important meal of the deal. Over the past decades, Americans have substituted a hearty breakfast for a tall-caramel-macchiato and name this “a breakfast.” Skipping breakfast and night eating is associated with significantly higher blood sugars, higher obesity risk and a change in circadian rhythm affecting metabolism and gene expression. But could eating a big breakfast actually lower blood sugars and improve diabetes control? Sounds crazy but the old saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” might ring true according to this new research.

According to a new study presented at the 2018 Endocrine Society Annual Meeting, consuming 80% of your total calories by 3 pm could promote weight loss, improve blood sugars and decreases the need for insulin. 

The study conducted in Tel Aviv University randomly assigned 29 obese, type 2 adults treated with insulin with a 1500-1800 calorie diet. One group was assigned a large breakfast (50% calories), medium size lunch (33% calories) and small dinner (25%). 

The other group distributed the meals into 6 small meals throughout the day with the same calories. The results were surprising. The large breakfast group lost 11 more pounds while the other group gained about half a pound per person. Additionally, the big breakfast group had lower fasting blood sugars and required 22 units less insulin per day, compared to the 6-meals group who required 2 units more insulin per day.

“When you eat, and the frequency that you eat could also affect your weight and diabetes control,” reports lead researcher Daniela Jakubowicz, MD, professor of medicine and a pediatric endocrinologist at the Wolfson Medical Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel at the Endo press conference.

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Eat Most of Your Calories by 3 pm for Best Results

Breakfast consumption is associated with many positive health outcomes like improved weight, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and improved cognition to name a few. Not only is breakfast important for individuals with diabetes, but the timing and size of your meals might play a bigger role in lowering blood sugars. 

When you skip breakfast, you are forced to consume the majority of your calories from 3 pm to 10 pm and are more likely to overeat, gain weight, reports Sandy Steiner, registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida.

“The study makes sense; if you have a late dinner and give insulin at 8-9pm it’s harder to evaluate blood sugars afterward”.  But, the reality is many of us wake up to hectic mornings and don’t have time to eat a decent breakfast.  Coffee and milk do not count as a substantial breakfast.  So, for many people, this strategy might be really difficult to do. “Eating breakfast is a habit, and you need to make the time to eat it” reports Chris Ring, nurse practitioner, and certified diabetes educator. 

From my own experience living with type 1 diabetes, I can anecdotally report that when I have a substantial breakfast I have better blood sugars, I feel fuller and don’t feel the need to snack. I come from a Mexican background, and we tend to consume a large breakfast.  For example, I can eat 2 eggs, with ½ cup beans, 1 whole wheat tortilla, 1 cup of fruit, coffee and milk and a small oat muffin. Find out what I eat for breakfast here.

How to Eat Bigger in the Morning

For some people, eating breakfast comes naturally, but for others, eating breakfast is a learned habit.  Whether you are looking to try this new approach of eating 80% of total calories by 3 pm or simply starting to eat breakfast, below are key strategies to help you make breakfast a daily habit:

#1. Plan Menus

Don’t expect to be inspired at 6 am to cook a four-course sumptuous breakfast. This is not the reality for many of us. Instead, plan the menu the week before on a Sunday for the entire week. 

#2. Wake Up 30 Minutes Earlier

Many people don’t wake up hungry.  Waking up late to a hectic morning won’t help hunger either.  “Allow an extra 30 minutes to wake up, decompress and start feeling hungry” recommends Chris Ring, ARNP, CDE.

#3. Prep Ahead

Planning is the first step, but actually prepping food can save you an extra 30 minutes of snooze time. Prepping includes cutting up fruits and veggies, making an egg frittata or preparing the batter for a three 3 ingredient pancake (1 banana, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons oatmeal—plus a little cinnamon and vanilla for flavor).  No need to cook the morning of. Just heat up and enjoy!

# 4. Include a Protein

Research has shown that consuming a protein in the morning can lower blood sugars,  improve satiety and help with weight loss. Try including eggs, Greek yogurt, veggie turkey omelet, peanut butter on whole wheat toast.  Remember the key word is “hearty” breakfast.  A good rule of thumb is to include at least three food groups: 1 protein, one whole grain and one fruit/daily. 

#5. Have Grab and Go Options Ready

A leisurely, sit-down breakfast may not always be feasible, so plan for the unexpected. Research shows that the best time to eat “breakfast or first meal of the day” is 90 minutes after you wake up. Take a lunch bag and eat breakfast at work with easy to eat foods.  Why not try a bean burrito, overnight oats or a simple ham and cheese sandwich with yogurt and fruit can do. 

Breakfast is Crucial 

The key message for all people with or without diabetes is breakfast is crucial.  For the first time, we understand the relationship of how skipping breakfast affects blood sugars even after dinner. Start with small changes, then slowly modify.

Get inspired on your morning routine If you are looking for inspiration on what to eat, check out my 7 hearty breakfast inspirations and start eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper today!

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