9 Tips for a Healthy Fast Food Breakfast for Diabetes

Tips and diabetes-friendly options at your favorite fast-food chains

What can I eat? Fast food chains offer healthy options, if you know what to order

Breakfast has the reputation of being the most important meal of the day. Breakfast supporters argue that it helps with weight control because it keeps you from being too hungry and wolfing down high-calorie foods later in the day. They also point to research linking breakfast consumption to a more nutritious overall diet.

With diabetes, there are even more reasons to eat breakfast. Skipping it can lead to hypoglycemia. In addition, skipping breakfast can reduce your body’s insulin response. Both of these effects lead to overall higher blood sugar - the opposite of what you want!

But what if fast food is your only choice? If you are so busy in most mornings that you cannot make yourself breakfast, is it better to skip it altogether, or should you opt for junky fast food? Neither of those is necessary. You can get a fast food breakfast that is healthy and good for diabetes at most joints. Here are 9 ways to get a healthier fast food breakfast with diabetes, plus best picks at the top joints in the country.

Need help choosing healthy fast-food for lunch? Check out our guide.

 

1 . Keep It Simple


The variety on your plate or in your to-go box, the more calories, carbohydrates, and fat you will probably take in. You may be best off ordering a la carte from the side menu. Common nutritious choices include fresh fruit, cottage cheese, eggs, yogurt, avocado, tomatoes, and whole wheat toast. Choose two to four of these, and you will be doing fine. In contrast, A breakfast platter with pancakes and syrup and butter, sausage or bacon, eggs, toast, and fried potatoes can have well over 1,000 calories.

Good choice: a pancake with egg whites and fresh fruit.

 

2. Look out for Sugar


Sugar can be everywhere at breakfast, and it can be your downfall when you are eating a fast food breakfast with diabetes, particularly added sugars. Pastries such as such as cinnamon rolls, danishes, and muffins can have 30 to 50 grams of sugar, or your limit for two days. Jam, syrup, honey, brown sugar, and similar toppings for toast, pancakes, and oatmeal add about 12 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Finally, a flavored coffee beverage can have 20 to 40 or more grams of sugar.

Good choice: steel-cut oatmeal with almonds, pecans, or other nuts, real fruit, and no brown sugar or honey.

 

3. Choose Better Bread


A breakfast sandwich is the quintessential grab-and-go fast food breakfast, but can it be a good fast food breakfast for diabetes? A croissant or biscuit can be high in calories and fat, while a bagel can have enough carbs for two meals. Tortillas for breakfast burritos and wraps can vary wildly, with small ones often being reasonable. Toast and English muffins tend to be more reasonable choices to depend on. Try to aim for a whole wheat or whole grain bagel, english muffin or toast if available.

Good choice: a breakfast sandwich with egg and cheese on an English muffin.

 

4. Beware of Portion Sizes


Your blood sugar management strategy includes keeping meals reasonably small so blood sugar does not spike and weight stays down. A massive fast food breakfast does not fit into this strategy! A small order of a breakfast sandwich, burrito, or anything else can have half the calories, fat, and carbs (particularly watching carbs per serving) of a large order. If the fast food joint does not offer a smaller version, take portion control into your own hands and have half of whatever you ordered.

Good choice: breakfast taco with eggs and cheese or your choice of fillings, since even a potato taco has only about 250 calories and 20 grams of carbs.

 

5. Choose Healthy Proteins


Except for their often irresistible taste, breakfast meats can be some of the worst foods on the planet. They can impair blood sugar control and raise risk for cancer and heart disease, and are linked to poorer weight control. Still, you need protein at breakfast if you want the best chance at controlling your blood sugar. Skip the bacon, sausage, and ground beef, and opt instead for eggs, cheese, yogurt, and nuts as protein sources.

Good choice: egg or egg white wrap with cheese. 

 

6. Beware of Sugary and Fatty Condiments


Condiments and sides can turn a reasonable fast food breakfast into a disaster for diabetes. The calories, sugar, and fat in those innocent-looking single-serve packets or an add-on to your meal can add up fast. Take a look at some facts in condiments, keeping in mind that the daily limit for sugar is 25 to 40 grams.

  • Sugar, brown sugar, or honey packet: 5 grams of sugar

  • Jam packet: 8 grams of sugar

  • Pancake syrup: 18 grams of sugar

  • Flavoring syrup for large coffee beverage: 35 grams of sugar

  • Butter: 70 calories, 5 grams of saturated fat

When you can, opt for breakfast items that do not require condiments, or choose lower-calorie or nutrient-dense ones instead. Peanut butter, fresh fruit, and cottage cheese can do the trick.

Good choice: cottage cheese or plain or fat-free yogurt, plus a piece of fruit or fresh fruit cup, plus (optional) 1 single-serving box or cup of unsweetened whole-grain cereal.

 

7. Skip Fried Potatoes


Fried potatoes are unhealthy for anyone, and especially hard to justify when you have diabetes. They are nothing but refined starches soaked in excess fat, and science shows that fried foods impair insulin sensitivity - bad news! They do not do much good for your waistline, either, as an order of home fries, sliced fried potatoes, or hash browns can have 200 calories and 30 grams of carbs. Fresh fruit, a slice of whole-grain toast, and eggs are healthier sides.

Those with diabetes should avoid starchy foods, as starch raises your blood glucose, which can lead to weight gain.

Good choice: 1 or 2 buttermilk (or preferably whole-grain or buckwheat) pancakes with fresh fruit and scrambled egg whites.

 

Best Fast Food Breakfast Choices for Diabetes at the Biggest Fast-Food Restaurants

  • McDonalds: Egg White Delight McMuffin without Canadian bacon, and a side of apple slices
  • Starbucks: Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Breakfast Wrap
  • Subway: Egg White and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich on 9-Grain Wheat with extra vegetables and avocado
  • Burger King: Breakfast Burrito, Jr., without sausage
  • Taco Bell: Grilled Breakfast Burrito with no bacon, cheese instead of cheese sauce, and pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole
  • Wendys: Plain Oatmeal with Roasted Pecans and Apple Bites
  • Dunkin Donuts: Veggie Egg White Sandwich on half a Multigrain Bagel
  • Chick-fil-A: Egg White Grill
  • Panera Bread: Mediterranean Scrambled Egg White Wrap and a Fruit Cup
  • Sonic Drive-In: Jr. Breakfast Burrito
 

8. Make Your Own


Why do you go to fast food places for breakfast? Are you too busy to cook? Are you a pretty bad cook? Do you simply love the food you can get at a drive-through? You may be surprised at how quickly and easily you can make portable fast food copycat breakfasts.

  • Breakfast sandwich: put a slice of cheese, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and a sliced tomato on a whole-grain English muffin the night before. Toast the next morning when you are ready to eat or leave the house.

  • Overnight power oatmeal: mix oats with sunflower, pumpkin, or flax seeds, half a diced apple, cinnamon, and Greek yogurt. Let it soak overnight in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and breakfast is ready to go the next morning.

  • Parfait: slice a banana or wash 1 cup of mixed berries. The next morning, layer 1 cup of Greek yogurt with the fruit and a half-cup of shredded wheat or bran flakes. Use a container if you are on the go and just snap on the lid.

 

9. Drink Smart


A poor beverage choice can easily defeat your healthy breakfast intentions. Flavored coffee beverages may be the most common downfall in the morning. They can have 200, 400, or more calories and a startling amount of sugar due to their flavoring syrup. If you must occasionally get a fancy coffee beverage, opt for sugar-free without whipped cream. More often, try coffee or tea plain or with a splash of milk, or count on good old-fashioned, calorie-free, natural water to get you through the morning.

Eating a healthy fast food breakfast for diabetes may not only be possible, but it may be easier than you think. Most chains have healthy options on their menus so you can enjoy a great-tasting breakfast that provides energy and nutrients to help control blood sugar. For support with your healthy diabetes diet and help getting a good start to each day, look for Lark Diabetes Care as your 24/7 health coach.

 

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health