Breakfast: making the most of your day

Registered dietitian, Raeesa Seedat, educates us on why our choice of breakfast is so important.

Importance of breakfast

Breakfast is an important part of the diet that contributes significantly towards daily nutrient intakes. Consumption of breakfast leads to positive health behaviour, improved stress management, feeling energetic, and making less unhealthy snack choices.

Skipping breakfast results in fatigue, sub-optimal concentration levels, as well as an increased risk for developing obesity. In people living with diabetes, skipping breakfast can have negative consequences. Studies show that breakfast skipping is associated with increased average blood glucose, poor glycaemic control and increased HbA1C levels.

Skipping breakfast can also lead to an increase in energy intake in the form of lunch, snacks and supper. Achieving and maintaining blood glucose targets is the primary objective for diabetic treatment. Carbohydrate intake is the determining factor in whether this objective is achieved.


In all meals, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. The amount and quality of carbohydrates directly impacts blood glucose levels.

Refined starches and sugars from processed foods are linked with weight gain and poor glycaemic control. These include white bread, white rice, potatoes, certain breakfast cereals and crackers, refined pastas, chips and crisps, sugar sweetened beverages, sweets, muffins and sweetened baked goods.

It is recommended that added sugars, refined and processed carbohydrates be restricted in favour of high-fibre and low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates. The low-GI concept describes how foods consumed impact blood glucose levels.

Food sources of carbohydrates with a low-glycaemic Index (foods with a GI-level below 50) should provide the main source of energy in a diabetic diet. It is recommended they provide 40-50% of the daily energy intake.

Carbohydrates that have a low-GI are gradually absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to improved control of blood glucose levels after eating as well as optimal insulin release. It is recommended that a diet with a low-GI content be consumed to aid treatment of diabetes, coronary heart disease and possibly obesity.

 A low-GI diet is characterised by:

  • Increased intake of wholegrains, nuts, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
  • Decreased intake of potatoes, white rice, white bread, cookies, cakes, sweets, sugar sweetened beverages and sugar coated breakfast cereals.


Dietary fibre is defined as the carbohydrate found in food products that is not digested by the stomach or absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Fibre has multiple benefits for the human body. It keeps the digestive tract healthy, lowers cholesterol levels, helps control blood glucose levels and promotes a healthier colon by increasing good gut bacteria.

For people living with diabetes, a high-fibre intake is associated with improved outcomes, better satiety (keeps you fuller for longer) and prevents obesity. It may also prevent heart disease, constipation and colon cancer.

The recommendations for fibre intake are as follows: 20 to 35 grams of fibre from raw vegetables and unprocessed grains. High-fibre carbohydrate sources includes legumes, wholegrain breads and cereals, whole fruits and vegetables. These should be included as part of the daily carbohydrate intake.

The goal of 20 grams or greater of fibre per day may be difficult to achieve for some, as large amounts of fibre may cause bloating and gas. Fibre should be slowly incorporated into the diet if one is not accustomed to large amounts of fibre in the diet.

What to eat for breakfast

It is strongly suggested that wholegrain be added to your morning meal. This may be in the form of a porridge or cereals. Look for options that list whole wheat, whole oats, or other wholegrain first on the ingredient list without added sugars.

Choose breakfast cereals with greater than 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams.  Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are highly-processed and have a very little to no fibre.

Oats and oat bran

Oat bran is a cereal product that has been receiving increasing attention.  Originating from oat grain or oat flakes, fragmented and separated to remove the starchy endosperm from the fibre containing fractions, it is nutrient rich.

It is particularly high in soluble fibre which helps control blood glucose levels and lower cholesterol. The substance found in oats responsible for this effect is β-glucans. It binds to water to form a gel inside the digestive tract, thereby increasing the viscosity of the food and delaying gastric emptying.

This delayed absorption of nutrients also means that carbohydrates are absorbed slower, leading to improved blood glucose levels after meals. Oat bran may be consumed daily as a breakfast cereal and can also be added to soups or be used in baking as a partial substitute for flour.


Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. Include a high-fibre, low-GI breakfast cereal, such as oats, oat bran or bran flakes daily. Avoid poor quality carbohydrates that are sugar-rich and processed. Consume a healthy balanced diet including high-fibre, low-GI carbohydrates.


Raeesa Seedat is a registered dietitian, based in the northern suburbs of the Western Cape. She is very passionate about dietary management of disease with the application of clinical research and science. She also has a special interest in chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease as well as gastroenterology.

Header image by FreePik

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