At twelve years old, I would go to bed thinking about Nick Jonas but now I go to bed almost every night thinking about breakfast. That's weird, I know. But breakfast (and a hot cup of coffee) actually make me look forward to leaving the comfort of my bed in the morning. That's how powerful this meal is. I guess Nick Jonas would have the same affect if he was waiting for me in the kitchen, but he's usually not.
Anyways, I can’t remember the last time I skipped breakfast but I do know that the days when I can take my time and sit down to enjoy a freshly whipped up breakie are SIGNIFICANTLY better. But breakfast with Type 1 Diabetes get tricky when my cravings clash with my blood glucose (BG) levels. Starting the day with low BG means starting the day dizzy, confused, and with an uncontrollable appetite. Just a reminder to never let a hypoglycemic diabetic near a kitchen. Ever. Waking up with high BG isn't any better. This scenario involves fatigue, thirst, and though one of the textbook symptoms of hyperglycemia is hunger - for me, that feeling is usually replaced with a lack of appetite. Probably because my body already feels like it has enough glucose and is waiting for insulin to arrive.
If you've ever encountered this problem, then you're a normal diabetic and nothing is wrong with you. This is my morning struggle (but not really, because either way I get breakfast). So here are four of my favorite breakfasts that are bolus and blood glucose friendly!
Sunny Side Up Eggs with Avocado
Waking up with a high blood glucose level is not when I want to have pancakes, smoothies full of fruit, or yogurt bowls drizzled with honey for breakfast. I just don’t crave carbohydrates with high BG. This might just be me knowing that by adding more glucose to my bloodstream, I’ll have a more difficult time bringing my BG down to homeostasis (100 mg/dL-150 mg/dL), and I do not want to deal with that. Type 1 Diabetics can DEFINITELY have as many pancakes, waffles, toast with jam as we want, but we might choose not too for the sake of our BG. For me personally, I avoid starting my day with carbs when my BG is already on the hyper side in order to prevent a rollercoaster of BG’s and then I feel like my options for breakfast are limited to ones that don’t include carbs.
The bolus given to correct the high BG can take 15 to 20 minutes to bring back to target - BUT (there’s always a but with this disease) when your body (diabetic or not) first wakes up in the morning after seven plus hours of inactivity, the liver sends out a burst of glucagon (glucose stored in the liver), as it’s been slowly releasing glucagon while your body was fasting (since you’re not eating while you’re sleeping- but if you do, that’s cool and you should go see somebody). Basically, this response can cause a little raise in BG numbers.
With these kind of mornings, my favorite breakfast is two fried eggs (in avocado oil) with half an avocado and an arugula salad with some cherry tomatoes, possibly a side of berries and almond butter. The protein from the eggs and almond butter fill me up and slow down the processing of the sugar from the berries. If BG is normal in the morning, adding a quesadilla or piece of whole wheat toast to the plate is a perfect way to get in complex carbs.
Total Carbs: Zero carbs! Woo-hoo! The only thing is, if you start your morning with absolutely no carbs to make your cells happy (glucose is their preferred source of energy), your BG levels are bound to crash eventually. So I suggest having a some kind of carb once your BG has come down to homeostasis or about an hour after breakfast.
Sweet Potato Hash
As I began paying more attention to nutrition and more specifically the importance of carbohydrates, I had to play with my basal rates to adjust to the increase of complex carbohydrates in my diet that are found in foods such as whole grains and vegetables. I went through a period of being terrified of any kind of carbohydrate because I saw carbohydrates as an enemy to my blood glucose levels. Carbs made them go up and I hated how I couldn’t always control them. My body processed these carbohydrates differently than the simple carbs (also referred to as simple sugars) abundant in processed foods. Simple carbs are the sneaky ones that raise our blood glucose levels FAST, while complex carbs take longer for our bodies to digest they are keeping our tummies satiated for longer and keeping BG levels steady. Complex carbs get their name from their long saccharide chains making them polysaccharides. Technically, complex carbs can also refer to highly refined starches like white bread and many pastries. But complex carbs like whole wheat breads and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes are such a FULL source of iron and a lot of B vitamins (these are important if you don’t eat meat).
I first made this next breakfast in college and not actually even for breakfast. I made this as a response to a craving I had for a greasy, crispy, diner-style breakfast without the actual diner but with some of the grease and crispiness. This breakfast not only curves that craving but also works as a lower carb option for breakfast. The first time I made this, I used a cheese grater to shred enough sweet potato to make a haystack. I grilled the haystack in a pan with avocado oil and salt & pepper until the potato shreds looked crispy. Then I fried up a sunny side egg to put on top of the potatoes. Voila, like a corn beef hash! Now that I’m not an amateur (Ha ha I am most definitely still an amateur), I put in a mix of yams and add things like carrots and onion to make it a little tastier and vitamin filled. I also don't have the same cheese grater I used in college so in the picture below, I chopped the sweet potato into tiny pieces, then roasted until soft on the inside and crispy on the outside!
Total Carbs: Sweet potatoes (and most starchy vegetables) can be a pain in the neck to calculate carbohydrates for because of the variance in size. For this breakfast, I used a small sweet potato about the size of my fist. The cubes equaled a little more than a quarter cup. I estimated 8 grams of carbs for this! That's subtracting for fiber.
Yogurt Bowl with Toppings
Picture it: A Sunday morning, with no work (I usually start work at 7:45 A.M on Sundays, so this is a big deal for me) and I wake up at 8:30 A.M with a BG of 95 mg/dL. The sun is shining, coffee is brewing (which would worry me because who started brewing the coffee?), but this hypoglycemic-skewing blood glucose number is ideal for my third favorite breakfast and one of the easier ones for sure: a yogurt bowl. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a yogurt cup by itself with zero toppings or additions. That's so boring and not satisfying to me. Here are some of my favorite toppings to put on whatever your favorite yogurt might be! I like a thicker yogurt because it reminds me of having like a pudding dessert for breakfast so I usually get Siggi’s plain or vanilla flavor! The yogurt can also be substituted with a thick smoothie.
Berries (strawbs, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries etc.)
Frozen mango (I like the consistency better frozen, than freshly cut)
Chopped apple (with a sprinkle of cinnamon)
Almond/Cashew Butter (healthy fats)
Pumpkin Seeds (Iron)
Hemp seeds (omegas 3 & 6!)
Chia seeds (fiber and protein)
Total Carbs: This is dependent on how much fruit you’re adding to the yogurt, as well as the type of yogurt. The Siggi’s plain flavor is 4 grams of carbs with four times the amount of protein, which slows down the speed of the carbohydrates. For half a cup of strawberries (halved), I bolus for 6 grams of carbs and the same goes for a quarter cup of blueberries! If I put a banana in the mix, I use half and bolus for 8 grams of carbs. Because this breakfast, especially with the added almond butter, is high in fat and protein, I don't bolus before eating. (Side note: It's recommended to bolus before eating meals so the insulin is ready for the food). Anyways, the fat and protein will slow down the sugar of the yogurt enough so that as I'm active in the hours after, my body will burn off the carbs slowly.
The Breakfast Taco
And finally, with no diabetes lessons to introduce this breakfast, I present to you: the breakfast taco. This isn’t anything creative but it is something more practical that I find I can cook up within 15 minutes depending on the level of fanciness I’m willing to reach. The breakfast taco (and really, any kind of taco) is an easy way to get the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Starting your day with these three will impact the rest of your day so positively, your body will thank you. Here’s what I usually do for my breakfast tacos but keep in mind that this is my minimal effort taco for a short morning before going to work or class. You can definitely add things like red cabbage or avocado crema - I just rarely have those on hand:
Start by chopping up bell peppers and red onion- you can do this on a Sunday night and have them ready for the week! Put the chopped up veggies in a pan with some oil and grill them until they brown - put them aside.
In between the veggies and egg scrambling, I like to heat up the tortilla in the pan for about 15 seconds each side.
Scramble the egg however you like it and lay on the tortilla. I love using Trader Joe’s Chili Lime Seasoning ($1.99).
Top with the veggies, some black beans and sliced avocado!
Total Carbs: I use the La Tortilla Factory Sprouted Grain tortillas and they're 16 grams of carbs with 2 grams of fiber! If you use beans, make sure to count those carbohydrates as well, but if not, then the rest is carbohydrate free.
Deciding which breakfasts are best to start your day based on the blood glucose levels are an example of how T1D is like a dog chasing its tail; possible to catch but not easy (and makes you dizzy). It’s annoying to run in circles trying to chase perfection within diabetes. Working all those gears in your brain to calculate carbs and getting as close as you can to the actual amount because if you mess up, the result is hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. There’s no perfection with diabetes, even the numbers that read on our BG monitors are just an estimate to demonstrate a pattern in your glucose levels. They’re easy to obsess over but they aren’t the judge of whether you’re perfect or not. It’s a process and the process requires balance.