Notice an energy crash most afternoons? Ever wake around 3 a.m., totally hangry? Are your PMS symptoms impossible to avoid? If so, it’s time to learn about blood sugar. Blood sugar is the body’s main source of energy—it comes the food you eat. We need adequate blood sugar to survive. That said, most of us are walking around with chronically elevated blood sugar. And this isn’t a good thing. Maintaining balanced blood sugar is the goal, as it’s essential for overall health. Unfortunately, there are quite a few sneaky habits that cause blood sugar to run haywire. One mishap can cause a slew of downstream processes. Think: low energy, poor sleep, and hormonal issues. However, a proper, balanced breakfast is a great way to start. What you choose is key. Contrary to what we’re marketed, there are a handful of breakfast foods that spike blood sugar. Let’s dive into what they are and healthier alternatives.
What is Blood sugar?
Without knowing exactly what it means, you’ve probably heard of the term. It plays a role in energy, feelings, cognitive function, and more. In fact, you may already be familiar with spikes and dips in blood sugar. Hello, post-lunch energy crash. That said, few recognize its affects on a daily basis. Keep in mind that blood sugar awareness is useful for everyone, not just pre-diabetics, diabetics—or in my case, a woman with PCOS. In essence, blood sugar is the amount of sugar (glucose) in your blood at any given time. It’s produced when we break down any form of carbohydrate. Be it fruit, a slice of cake, or piece of toast, that carb is absorbed into our bloodstream. Immediately or eventually, carbohydrates are used as a source of energy. Want to know your specific blood sugar levels? Consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor.
Why is blood sugar balance important?
Maintaining stable blood sugar is life-changing. With a few tweaks, you can feel much more vibrant, energetic, and focused! You want to keep your blood sugar levels in your target range, as often as possible. This helps prevent or delay long-term, serious health problems. Think: heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease, and unwanted weight gain. On a day-to-day basis, staying in your target range is also equally important. It can improve your energy, balance hormones, and stabilize your mood. Speaking of hormones, if you struggle with intense PMS symptoms, this could be a result of mismanaged blood sugar.
5 Tips to help manage blood sugar levels
Before we dive into breakfast foods that spike blood sugar, below are five tips to help you manage your blood sugar.
1. Don’t skip breakfast.
Skipping breakfast can do more harm than good for your blood sugar levels. When you skip breakfast, you’re running on cortisol. Cortisol, our stress hormone, will cause elevated blood sugar through lunch (and potentially, dinner). The goal is to honor your hunger, but consider whether you’re intentionally suppressing your appetite in the morning. If you wake up and aren’t hungry within 30 minutes-1 hour of waking, consider something easy to digest: the adrenal cocktail or a small bowl of chia pudding with a handful of berries.
2. Pair carbs with protein and / or fat.
This will help slow the rate of sugar entering your bloodstream. Adopting a diet that is rich in fiber, high-quality protein, and healthy fats promotes balanced blood sugar levels. Not sure how to build a nourishing plate? Let’s work together! Otherwise, start wearing a continuous glucose monitor to test various food combinations.
3. Stay hydrated.
Water reduces blood sugar by diluting the amount of sugar in the blood. Aim for filtered water with electrolytes.
4. Move your body.
Being physically active also helps to reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar. Muscles use up extra blood glucose during exercise, which is why resistance training is so beneficial. However, never underestimate the advantages of walking!
5. Get quality sleep.
Too little sleep causes cortisol to rise, thus causing blood sugar to rise as well. Keep in mind that sleep and glucose have a bi-directional relationship. In one direction, how well or poorly you sleep will directly impact your glucose levels. In the other direction, what your glucose levels are like going into the night will impact your sleep. If we work together, I can tailor your meal plan to meet your glucose (and sleep) needs.
Breakfast foods that spike blood sugar
To preface: this list isn’t to instill fear. Rather, it’s to empower you. I want you to make food choices that are most optimal for your overall health and wellbeing! After all, who doesn’t want to feel vibrant and energized? Thing is, sugar exists in many forms: naturally (apples), added (cane sugar), and artificial (sucralose). And sugar causes your blood sugar to spike. However, foods with a potential to spike your blood sugar can be offset by other foods that are high in fiber, fat, or protein! Without further ado, here are a handful of sneaky breakfast foods that spike blood sugar.
1. Non-fat yogurt
It’s time for breakfast. You quickly throw together a bowl of low-fat yogurt, topped with banana. On the side, you sip a cup of coffee with oat milk. This breakfast has virtually zero healthy fats, minimal fiber, little protein, and is high in carbohydrates. You’re basically sending your blood sugar soaring. It’s not the 90s anymore. Fat-free isn’t healthier. Full-fat, for many reasons, is where it’s at. If you tolerate it, dairy is an excellent source of protein. Plus, yogurt has live active cultures to improve gut health. While non-fat yogurt has protein, there’s no fat to offset the yogurt’s natural sugars. Opt for full-fat, organic yogurt (Greek yogurt has the highest protein count!) and top it with seeds, nuts, berries, or a few slices of banana.
2. Plant-based milks
Speaking of oat milk, alternative milks—including their yogurt derivatives—can have a negative effect on blood sugar. Plant milks frequently have added sugar and are low in protein, fiber, and fat. Oat milk, in particular, contains refined carbohydrates and most have inflammatory oils. Oats are also heavily sprayed with pesticides. This is a perfect storm for amping up our blood sugar. In the case of plant-based milks, read labels! Choose no-sugar added varieties and when possible, aim for non-dairy milks that have fat and / or protein. I don’t normally buy oat milk, but this coconut-oat milk gets my stamp of approval! It’s delicious and blood sugar-friendly. My favorite plant-based milks are coconut milk and hemp seed milk. When buying almond milk, opt for organic (almonds are heavily sprayed with pesticides, too).
Fruits are rich in energy, nutrients, and antioxidants, but all fruit contains fructose—a form of sugar. And when fruits are processed down to fruit juices, a majority of their nutrients, including the fiber, are stripped. What’s left? Mostly, sugar, which which spikes your blood glucose levels. However, when eaten whole—and paired with fat and protein—fruits’ natural sugars take longer to digest, minimizing a spike in blood glucose. Fruit juices, on the other hand, are quite problematic to blood sugar. Instead of juicing, consider making a smoothie, which uses the whole fruit. Be sure to make it well-balanced: add protein (protein powder, hemp seeds, Greek yogurt, etc.), greens (fiber), and a source or two of healthy fats (nut butter, tahini, avocado, etc.).
See here for my list of 10 fruits that balance blood sugar.
4. cereal and granola
By now, we know that cereals with marshmallows or artificial colors are obvious sugar bombs. That said, even healthy-seeming cereals (and granola) can spike your blood sugar—especially if they don’t have a decent amount of fiber. This, for example, is a delicious granola option, but even a mere 1/2 cup boasts 12 grams of sugar. Downing a bowl of cereal or granola for breakfast—doused in oat milk and topped with fruit—is an easy way to spike blood sugar. Instead, opt for a lower-sugar, high-protein cereal or granola, like Lovebird, Three Wishes, Love Grown, Purely Elizabeth, NuTrail, or Nature’s Path. When making your breakfast bowl, add a variety of high-fiber / high-fat toppings like shredded coconut, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, etc. to aid in satiety and balance blood sugar.
Toast can be a part of a perfectly balanced breakfast. However, not all bread is created equal. Ultimately, this comes down to what type of bread you’re eating and what you’re eating it with. For example, this is a popular, organic whole grain bread. But if you look at the nutrition label, each slice contains 5 grams of sugar. By the time you’ve made your peanut butter toast with sliced banana, you’re consuming over 25 grams of sugar. To make this same breakfast more blood sugar-friendly, opt for peanut butter (ingredients: peanut + salt) topped with cinnamon and chia seeds. On the side, enjoy 1-2 scrambled eggs eggs (or tofu) in ghee or coconut oil.
If you can tolerate gluten, organic whole grains contain a multitude of benefits: fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and more. The fiber, in particular, has various positive effects on our bodies—fiber helps steady blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and move waste through the digestive tract. At any rate, it’s important to be mindful of how grains affect your blood sugar levels. Wearing a continuous glucose monitor, I’ve tested various types of bread to see how my blood glucose reacts, and my body typically maintains stable blood sugar with sourdough bread and sprouted grains, so long as I pair the bread with adequate protein (20+ grams), healthy fats (avocado, cheese, ghee, etc.), and fiber (sautéed spinach). A short, post-meal walk does wonders for my blood sugar, too!
Images courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting Wellness with Edie. This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.