Many popular diets call for a restriction on carbohydrates. While some call for simply limiting excess sugars, others suggest severely limiting or even eliminating all grains as well as foods like beans and potatoes that contain carbs. No single diet plan will be suitable for every individual, but many people will benefit from eating healthy carbohydrates. The breakfast meal is one often laden with carbs. Toast, cinnamon rolls, bagels, biscuits, hash browns, cereals, are just a few favorite “comfort foods” common with breakfast meals. With so many diet no-no’s, breakfast is a meal often skipped by those dieting.
For many years, it has been observed that individuals who abstain from breakfast tend to have higher rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes than their peers who eat breakfast – even if it is a carb-laden breakfast. Correlation is not always causation. Were people gaining weight and developing diabetes BECAUSE they skipped breakfast? Or were they already overweight and fighting diabetes so they chose to skip breakfast in an effort to reduce their food intake and lose weight?
Does breakfast really matter for weight loss and blood sugar control? Are carbs early in the day good, bad or indifferent in relation to healthy eating?
Some data has linked higher carb breakfasts to more health benefits than the lower carb-higher protein morning meal. The fact that many of these studies have been sponsored by cereal companies has caused them to be viewed with skepticism. In recent years, researchers have begun to look into these questions more seriously. Multiple studies from around the world are finding that there is indeed a link between eating breakfast and blood sugar control. The findings, being dubbed the “second meal effect” are that eating breakfast tends to lead to smaller blood sugar spikes after consuming carbs at lunch. This seems to be especially true for those who consume carbs as part of their breakfast. The studies confirm that these effects are true not only for those who are overweight, but also those who are at healthier weights AND those with Type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that people with Type 2 diabetes had “worse insulin sensitivity after lunch on breakfast-skipping days compared to breakfast-eating days.”
How does this impact healthy eating goals?
We need to be cognizant that how our body processes foods, esp. carbs, may be affected by what and how much we have already eaten that day. It may also mean that the “glycemic effect” (how much it impacts blood sugar levels) of a particular food may be impacted by more than just the properties of that specific food. How much fiber is in the food? How much sugar? Natural sugar or processed? All of these, in addition to, what and how much we’ve eaten previously that day, may help determine how our body processes the food.
These findings will have little effect on those who eat a strict, low-carb diet. However, if you are looking for a way to add healthy carbs in your regular diet, (whole grains, fruits, etc.) then you may want to take this into consideration in your meal planning. The highest quality carbs are those with little sugar, those that are minimally processed and low in added sugar. Making small changes in your eating habits is just one way that you can have a significant impact on your health with minimal effort. For those trying to lose weight fend off diabetes, breakfast may truly be the most important meal of the day. Talk to your doctor for more healthy eating strategies.