When you have prediabetes, keeping your blood sugar levels in check is very important. One thing you can do to support your body is to start off each and every day with a healthy breakfast.
Pouring one of your favorite cereals into a bowl and adding milk couldn’t be any easier or more convenient, but is it the best option for a healthy prediabetes diet? Not necessarily.
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You see, many cereals are low in nutrients, contain added sugars, and are made of refined carbs that are quickly digested. This means that your body can quickly break these cereals down into sugar, which will rapidly spike your blood sugar levels.
But if you really love cereal and want to keep this convenient option in your diet, then there is good news. Certain cereals can be appropriate for a prediabetes diet – you just have to know how to choose them.
Can I really have cereal with prediabetes?
If you are wondering if you can eat cereal with prediabetes, then the answer is yes. In fact, several research studies have suggested that eating high-fiber cereal can help to reduce your diabetes risk.[1-4]
But it’s not just any type of cereal that will reduce your risk and that can be safely included in a prediabetes diet. There is a big difference between high-fiber, whole-grain cereals and sugary, refined-carbohydrate cereals.
Whole grains are known to protect against diabetes, while refined carbohydrates are known to increase your risk.
This is because whole grains contain a whole package of nutrients that support your body. They are high in fiber, for example, which causes the grain to be broken down very slowly. This results in slower and smaller increases in blood sugar levels.
Refined grains, on the other hand, are processed in a way that removes the parts of a grain that can actually be beneficial to your health (including fiber and other nutrients). The processing leaves just the starchy, refined carbohydrate portion of the grain behind. Refined carbohydrates are high on the glycemic index and can lead to big spikes in blood sugars when you eat them.
So if you want cereal for breakfast, it is important to take this difference into account and to make your cereal selections carefully.
Choosing the best cereals
All cereals will contain carbs – meaning that whatever kind you choose, you’ll need to be cautious of how much you eat and how they fit into your balanced diet as a whole. But that being said, some cereals are far healthier than others.
If you want to eat cereal when you have prediabetes, you can be careful and choose a healthy type that will work with you in reaching your health goals rather than against you.
To help you learn how to choose a healthy cereal, here’s a guide on what to avoid and what to look for instead:
What to avoid
- Added sugars. Almost all the most popular cereals on grocery store shelves are laden with added sugars. In fact, research by the Environmental Working Group found that 92% of cold cereals contain added sugars. A typical serving can contain as much sugar as a few cookies. Sweetened cereals are all very problematic for blood sugar control.
- Refined carbohydrates. As mentioned above, refined grains will increase your diabetes risk and work against you if you are wanting to better manage blood sugar levels. Stay away from refined corn, wheat, rice, and other processed grains.
- Dried fruit. Cereals with dried fruit will be higher in sugar than cereals without it. This is because dried fruit is much higher in sugar than fresh, raw fruit. You don’t necessarily have to avoid dried fruit completely, but be aware that if you eat more than a very small amount it can easily be a source of excess sugar.
The kinds of cereals you’ll want to stay away from are those that are chocolate, honey, fruit, or cinnamon flavored. Anything frosted is a no go. Cereals marketed to children are the biggest culprits of refined carbs and added sugars. Research shows that of all cereals, those with a cartoon character on the box have the most added sugars.
But beware that even many cereals that sound healthy – like raisin bran, instant oatmeal, or granola – can actually be super high in sugar. In fact, granolas tend to have some of the highest amounts of sugar.
What to look for instead
- Unsweetened. Cereals that are unsweetened and don’t contain added sugars are great options. Look for “no added sugar” on the box, or check the nutrition facts to ensure the sugar content is low. Lightly-sweetened cereals are also an option, but try to make sure the sugar content is below 4 grams per serving.
- Whole grain. Choose cereals made from whole grains like quinoa, oats, barley, buckwheat, wheat, etc. As explained earlier, unrefined carbs like those found in whole grains take longer to be digested and absorbed into the body. This means that they are turned into sugar more slowly over time, which prevents dramatic blood sugar swings. Whole grains are protective against diabetes, while refined grains increase your risk. Read the box and the label to make sure you are actually getting a whole-grain product
- High in fiber. Cereals that contain a good amount of fiber will help to mitigate blood sugar swings and will provide you with other incredible health benefits. Studies show that consuming low-glycemic carbs with high amounts of fiber can help to decrease your diabetes risk.[1-2]
- Vitamins and minerals. The more nutrient-dense your food is, the better. Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients into your breakfast by choosing cereals that are natural or enriched sources of these nutrients.
The best choices include hot cereals like oatmeal or quinoa (the real deal, not presweetened packages), muesli, unsweetened granola with nuts, unsweetened cold cereals like original Cheerios, sprouted grain cereals, and more.
Additional tips on eating cereal with prediabetes
If you are going to choose to eat cereal as part of your prediabetes breakfast, here are some important tips to follow:
1. Limit how often you choose it for breakfast. Cereal can be an okay option for breakfast, but try not to eat it every day. Other low-carb, low-sugar options like eggs, sautéed vegetables, cottage cheese, and more are all amazing alternatives to make a regular part of your breakfast rotation. Learn more about healthy pre diabetes breakfast ideas here.
2. Watch portion sizes. Portion sizes of cereals can be much smaller than you might expect, so take a look at the nutrition facts before pouring yourself a bowl.
3. Read ingredient lists. Be a label investigator and keep your eye out for refined carbohydrates and hidden sugars. Remember sugar can be called many different things like cane syrup, coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, dextrose, honey, agave nectar, maltose, malt syrup, etc.
4. Eat some protein with your cereal. Eating protein alongside carbs helps to curb blood sugar spikes. Cereals with protein are good options. You can also add it yourself in the form of chopped nuts, for example, which add flavor, texture, and nutrition.
5. Account for extras. Cereal is rarely eaten all on its own. Milk, fruit, and yogurt can all contribute to carb, sugar, and calorie intake. So remember to look into more than just the cereal itself, but your chosen add ins as well.
6. Avoid anything instant. Hot cereals are often healthy options, but only if they are the real deal, like old-fashioned oatmeal or whole-grain quinoa. Instant cereals are often much higher on the glycemic index and aren’t healthy options.
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If you want to prevent diabetes or reverse your prediabetes, eating well is key. And that includes making healthy breakfast choices.
So can you eat cereal for breakfast with prediabetes? Yes. But should you be eating it every day as your go-to breakfast? Probably not. And can you eat any kind of cereal you like? Definitely not.
Stay away from sugar-sweetened cereals and refined-carb cereals that will rapidly spike your blood sugar levels. Instead, focus on unsweetened cereals made from whole grains that are high in fiber and other beneficial nutrients.
We love cereal options like oatmeal, muesli, and sprouted grain cereal. For more information on choosing a healthy breakfast to prevent diabetes, go here.