Do you struggle with elevated fasting blood sugar in the mornings? You may be thinking I just fasted all night! I slept for 8 hours without eating! How is my blood sugar elevated? We have a term for this—it's called the "dawn phenomenon." If this happens every once in a while, it's really not a big deal, and it likely won't significantly alter your A1C levels. (A1C is a measure of blood glucose over time.) But if your blood sugar is consistently elevated in the mornings, it's something to look into.
What Happens to Blood Sugar in the Morning?
Shortly before you wake up, the liver releases glucose into the bloodstream to give you energy. This is the dawn phenomenon, and it's your body's way of giving you a boost to start the day.
In a person without diabetes, this is no biggie. Once glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin to push glucose into cells, where it can be used for energy. However, if you have diabetes, that process doesn't run so smoothly. That's because the body doesn't produce enough insulin (or any insulin at all) to manage that elevated blood sugar. Therefore, when you wake up and test blood sugar, you may see that your blood sugar is elevated. This is the dawn phenomenon.
Why Is It Important to Have a Healthy Breakfast?
Eating a consistently scheduled, balanced breakfast is especially important for people who have diabetes. The good news is that a balanced breakfast is something that can help keep your blood sugar levels steady in the morning and throughout the day. Traditional breakfast foods—bagels, doughnuts, pastries, pancakes, French toast—are often high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, which can cause your blood sugar levels to spike. Instead of those foods, aim to consume a breakfast with protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates and healthy fat.
A Dietitian's Favorite Breakfast for Diabetes
For people with diabetes, my favorite breakfast to recommend is Overnight Chia Oats. This is a type of oatmeal mixed with chia seeds that you consume cold out of the fridge. (And there are so many great recipes for overnight oats.) Not only delicious, these Overnight Chia Oats are also packed with fiber, healthy fats and protein. That combination makes them slow-digesting, which is exactly what you want when managing your blood sugar. The best part? You can meal-prep multiple batches at once, so you have them on hand throughout the week, ready to grab-and-go in the morning. What could be easier?
How to Make Overnight Chia Oats
Ingredients (makes 1 serving)
⅓ cup old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons chia seeds
¼ cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt
¼ cup frozen berries (such as raspberries)
⅔ cup unsweetened almond milk
Dash of cinnamon
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts (for topping)
Combine oats, chia seeds, yogurt, berries, almond milk and cinnamon in a jar or container with a lid. Shake or stir to combine. Set it in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 2 hours (and up to 5 days).
When ready to eat, remove from the refrigerator. Top with walnuts. Enjoy!
35 g carbohydrate
13 g fiber
15 g protein
16 g fat
Nutrition Perks of Overnight Chia Oats for Diabetes
All right, let's break this breakfast down, and get into why it's such a great choice for people with diabetes—or anyone, really!
Packed with protein
The nonfat Greek-style yogurt contributes about 6 grams of protein, the oats have about 3.5 grams, the chia seeds add 3.5 grams, the almond milk adds 1 gram plus the walnut topper provides an extra 1 gram of protein. That's a total of 15 grams of protein at breakfast! Protein helps blunt the digestion of carbohydrates. Essentially, it creates a little bit of a roadblock for carb digestion, thus helping to make the release of glucose (aka sugar) into the bloodstream a slower, longer process.
Contains healthy fats
Just like protein, adding a source of healthy fat to a meal or snack also helps to slow down the digestion of carbs. Overall, balanced and nutrient-dense meals help delay carbohydrate digestion, steadying the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Eating this way improves your ability to manage your blood sugar. In this recipe, the chia seeds and walnuts provide a total of 15 grams of fat. What's more, the fats in chia seeds and walnuts are omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats, which are anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy!
Offers fiber-rich complex carbohydrates
Oats can sometimes get a bad rap for being high in carbs. And while they do have a significant carb content, they are a whole-grain food, meaning they also contain vitamins, mineral and fiber. When combined with protein and healthy fats, they actually make for a very blood-sugar-friendly breakfast food. In this recipe, the oats contribute about 18 grams of carbs, the chia seeds add 9 grams of fiber-rich carbs and the Greek-style yogurt adds about 2 grams. Berries, such as raspberries, add about 4 more grams, plus the almond milk and walnuts contribute 1 gram each, making the carb total for this breakfast about 35 grams of carbs.
In addition, this recipe is packed with fiber. The oats add about 3 grams, the chia seeds add a whopping 7 grams and the raspberries add an extra 2 grams. That's a total of about 13 grams of fiber, when including small amounts of fiber from the walnuts. This nutrient helps manage your blood sugar, is good for your gastrointestinal system and is filling, too.
Blood Sugar Management Tips
What you eat isn't the only thing that impacts your blood sugar. Other factors that matter: when and how often you eat, portion sizes and physical activity. Follow these blood-sugar-friendly tips throughout the day:
Eat small, frequent meals and snacks every three to four hours. This prevents blood sugar from dipping too low.
Manage portion sizes
Regular eating times also help keep hunger at bay and prevent you from overeating at meals, thus preventing blood sugar from spiking too high.
Physical activity plays a huge role in blood sugar management. After all, our muscles' preferred source of fuel is glucose. So it makes sense that the more we move, the more glucose they'll use up. If you're ever experiencing high blood sugar after a meal, go for a walk. And if able, commit to a consistent exercise routine. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which can be spread out into five 30-minute or six 25-minute sessions per week.
For the best blood-sugar-friendly breakfast, aim for a mix of fiber-rich carbohydrates, like whole grains, plus protein and healthy fats. Eating this type of balanced breakfast, like Overnight Chia Oats, can help you better manage your blood sugar in the morning—and throughout the day.