Eating breakfast found to be major boon for diabetics, and why this may be important for non-diabetics too

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On Monday, my blog looked at why nuts were generally such a good food for diabetics. And part of their attraction is that they are a food rich in protein and fat and low in carbohydrate. These nutritional qualities mean that nuts will liberate sugar in a tempered fashion into the blood stream (they have a low glycaemic index), which is ideal for diabetics who have limited capacity to regulate blood sugar levels.

What sorts of foods a diabetic eats is obviously important for optimising blood sugar control, but so is when food is eaten. Generally, I advocate a ‘little and often’ approach, which usually means breakfast, lunch and dinner, maybe with one or two healthy snacks between meals. For most individuals regular eating can help quell the appetite and naturally control the amount that is eaten at actual meal times. For any given type of meal, smaller volumes will be less disruptive to blood sugar levels than larger meals. Plus, when the appetite has not been allowed to run riot, healthier food choices are usually easier to make. In particular, it tends to make eschewing generally sugar-disruptive foods like bread, potatoes, rice and pasta much easier.

This week, however, saw the publication of a study which suggests that regular eating has another major boon for diabetics. Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK tested what is known as the ‘second meal effect’ [1]. Briefly put, the second meal effect is the effect a meal has on the blood sugar control of a meal eaten subsequently. What they did is test the blood sugar response to a set lunch in two settings in different days. On one day, the lunch was eaten preceded by breakfast some hours before. On another day, no breakfast was given and the same set meal was given.

The results of this study showed that having breakfast appeared to reduce rises in blood sugar levels post-lunch by 95 per cent.

Because the lunch was set in terms of type and size, this means that the presence of breakfast is exerting a strong and potentially important effect on blood sugar balance after a subsequent meal. This has profound significance I think, for diabetics.

But does it have potential ramifications for non-diabetics, too?

Well, I’m not aware of any specific science here, but my experience in practice leads me to believe that regular eating may have specific benefit for non-diabetic individuals. My observations concern people who have food cravings in the afternoon and/or tend to find themselves overeating at night. Generally speaking, I find these issues can often be significantly improved if not completely eliminated by establishing a half-decent breakfast if it wasn’t in place already.

So, how might this work? Well, one mechanism here relates to blood sugar balance. Recently I wrote about carbohydrate cravings (particularly in the afternoon) and their link with episodes of low blood sugar. Well, if breakfast causes less of a blood sugar spike after lunch, it might help to prevent the low blood sugar that can follow it later in the afternoon.

But this effect may also last into the evening. Because more stable levels of sugar throughout the afternoon and maybe into the early evening could also impact positively on eating behaviour in the evening. If this were true, then it might be that eating breakfast might have a positive domino effect on blood sugar levels (and appetite) right through the day.

With regard to what to eat for breakfast I strongly recommend what some regard as standard morning fare such as usually highly sugar disrupting and generally nutritionally inadequate toast/breakfast cereal combo. One good alternative is Bircher muesli ” a usually homemade blend of oats, plain yoghurt, fruit, nuts and/or seeds. For some more generally decent breakfast ideas, see here.


1. Jovanovic A, et al. The Second-Meal Phenomenon in Type 2 Diabetes Diabetes Care 2009;32:1199-1201

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