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What's for Breakfast

Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE

by Gerri French, RD, CDE

If you eat cold cereal, read on for tips to a better breakfast. Breakfast is important and can help you with weight control, improved emotional health and being able to concentrate. Although cereal is popular, it can be high in carbohydrates (carbs). Three quarters (¾) cup of cereal can contain as many as 15 gm of carbohydrate. Add 8 oz milk (12 gm carbs) and a small banana (30 gm carbs) and the result is 57 gm of carbohydrate, which is equivalent to almost four slices of bread. For comparison, a two-inch brownie contains 45 gm and a small donut contains 30 gm of carbohydrate.

Cereal is a convenient breakfast, but there are a variety of alternative choices that may improve your health.

Why change your breakfast?

Have you ever experienced increased sleepiness, mood changes and/or decreased ability to concentrate midmorning? If so, you might want to evaluate your carbohydrate load in the morning. Your pancreas makes insulin to maintain a healthy level of glucose in your blood and cells. Carbohydrates convert to glucose – the more you eat, the more insulin you need. Without diabetes, your body will handle the higher carbohydrate intake with insulin but the abrupt change in blood glucose from higher to lower can cause feelings of shakiness, dizziness, anxiety and at times, extreme hunger.

Are you noticing some extra weight around your midsection?

Insulin's other function is to store fat which tends to appear around the midsection. According to Sansum Clinic Pediatrician Saida Hamdani, MD, "A high protein breakfast can prevent the roller coaster effect of alternate carbohydrate craving (reactive low blood sugar caused by the high insulin) and fat storing (caused by the insulin) which happens several times a day throughout the day. It sets the tone for a more stable blood sugar without wild fluctuations."

How does exercise help?

Physical activity increases glucose uptake from your blood into your cells – more muscle activity means more glucose uptake. After the age of 30, we all begin to lose muscle at a more rapid rate. Routine exercise maintains and builds muscle. Exercise has a healthy effect, similar to insulin, enabling glucose to enter our cells. So enjoy the "breakfast of champions" on mornings when you will be active instead of working at a computer or sitting in a classroom.

Why is the morning especially problematic?

Your liver is especially active in the morning producing glucose for your brain and muscles. Overeating carbohydrates adds to an already higher blood glucose level. In addition, the hormones that wake us up in the morning make our bodies more resistant to insulin doing its job and add to the glucose challenge. Stress, caffeine and lack of quality sleep can exacerbate this condition.

What about a liquid breakfast?

Many people believe smoothies are a healthy quick breakfast. However, a 24 oz blended drink can contain 100+ grams of carbohydrate.

For weight control, it is better to eat whole fruit. Mechanically pulverizing the fiber in the fruit initiates the digestion process and stimulates an intense and more rapid insulin response.

Drinking fruit smoothies and juice in the morning is healthier before or after exercise.

What about fiber?

You might be wondering if your high fiber cereal is acceptable. Check the sugar content. High fiber cereals often contain added sweetener to make that "cardboard" tolerable. Each 4 gm of sugar or honey is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of sugar.

High fiber content does not 'wash out' the carbohydrate content as some food manufacturers suggest. The daily fiber recommendation is 25 gm of fiber from a variety of plant foods including whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

So, what should you eat in the morning?

The answer to this question is best answered individually. It depends on variables such as your activity level, when you are most active, your fasting glucose level, your muscle mass, stress levels, how long your days are or your sleep cycles.

How can I enjoy the taste and benefits of cereal?

On mornings when you have time to be active, enjoy a higher carbohydrate cereal breakfast. Consider muesli or granola. Try seasonal local fruit such as berries. When choosing hot cereal, look for whole grain and multi-grain cereals such as quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley, amaranth, wheat or rye. The fiber amount on the label should be greater than 2 gm per serving.

Leftover quinoa, brown rice or other whole grain prepared with organic almond milk, cinnamon and nuts is a delicious, quick and healthy breakfast. Whole oats or steel cut oats are the best sources of fiber. Quicker cooking oats have been cut smaller and/or pre-cooked, which will spike your glucose or insulin levels and can cause more fat to be stored. Convenience usually comes with a cost to your health.


Healthy breakfast alternatives include a balance of carbohydrates, lean protein and fat and fresh vegetables.
Balanced Breakfast AlternativesCarbohydrates (30 gm)Lean Protein & FatVegetables
Quesadilla 2 corn tortillas or multigrain tortilla Cheese Shredded zucchini, salsa
Wrap Multigrain wrap Sliced turkey/tofu/tuna-salmon salad Tomatoes, spinach
Egg sandwich/veggie omelet 2 slices multigrain bread 1-2 eggs or egg whites 1/3 avocado Variety of vegetables
Vegetable quiche Crust Cheese Variety of vegetables
Salmon/chicken/tofu salad Whole grain crackers or chips Salmon, chicken or tofu Mayonnaise Celery, onions, carrot, pepper, cucumbers
Sausage sandwich English muffin Turkey or soy sausage Sliced tomatoes and onion
Simple breakfast 1 cup fruit Cottage cheese  
Peanut butter sandwich 2 slices multigrain bread/fruit spread Peanut butter  
Chicken soup ½ cup potatoes, 6 grain crackers Chopped chicken Variety of vegetables
Lentil or bean soup 2/3 cup beans or lentils Turkey sausage or tofu Carrots, spinach


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