Improve Your Blood Sugar Level With Breakfast
You can improve your blood sugar level by eating breakfast, and that’s great news. It’s great news, because most of us have blood sugar levels that are high enough to compromise our health in several ways, including diminishing your healthspan — those years over which we’re healthy. Here’s why eating breakfast can help.
Over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve ranted plenty about the importance of controlling your blood sugar level. The science backs me up on this, especially if increasing your healthspan is desired — those years of healthy life, as opposed to extra years bereft of it. There’s no point in living long if you’re feeble and sick.
Although I have no idea who you are, I made the case in the article You Absolutely Must Lower Your Blood Sugar that there’s a high probability your blood sugar is too high. This wasn’t a stretch, but simply reflecting the data.
How Many Symptoms/Risk Factors for High Blood Sugar Level Do You Have?
What follows are five risk factors and symptoms of high blood sugar. How many do you have?
- You’re overweight
- You regularly eat fast/processed foods and drinks
- You don’t exercise nor have a physically active life
- You experience an uncomfortable tingling or needle-prick sensation in your toes and/or hands
- You’re over 45 years of age (although these days many youngsters are prediabetic too)
These are not necessarily the same symptoms of having full on diabetes, but rather symptoms that might be related to a prediabetic condition, which (depending your source of information) could be at a level as low as 100 mg/dL, as you may discern here.
Suffice to say that there’s a decent change your blood sugar level is too high. And, as regards healthspan, studies such as one published in 2018 study entitled Targeting glucose metabolism for healthy aging concludes:
… calorie restriction improves glucoregulatory control and extends both lifespan and healthspan in model organisms.
Glucoregulation is the balance between the glucose (blood sugar) locked away as glycogen and the glucose free in the blood that the body needs to achieve. This “balance” happens within a narrow range through tight regulation, also referred to as glucose homeostasis.
The bottom line is that if you want to be healthy for a long time, you must control your blood sugar.
Of course, the common refrain is to minimize or eliminate your consumption of sugar and high glycemic foods (those which tend to spike blood sugar), such as processed grains, sodas, fruit juices and processed foods; however, as the rest of this post will address, what may be equally as important is when you eat.
I’ve addressed the “when to eat” topic before when I covered Dr. Satchin Panda’s research on circadian rhythms (When You Eat Is More Important Than What You Eat, Says Dr. Panda), and now want to get into it some more, courtesy of everyone’s favorite nutritionist, Dr. Michael Greger, MD, bestselling author of How Not To Die.
First, we’ll address various factoids about eating breakfast (it’s mainly about circadian rhythms), including how it can help control blood sugar (glucoregulation), and then we’ll let the good doctor tell us the tale in his video presentation.
Eat More At Breakfast To Lower Your Blood Sugar Level
As you’re about to see and read, recent studies advocate the health benefits of consuming more calories at breakfast than any other meal, underscoring the adage, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”.
The reason for this is that we humans are diurnal, as opposed to those peaky creatures of the night that tip over our garbage bins, who are nocturnal. Being that we’re diurnal, our circadian rhythms dictate our chronobiology, which is about how components of the circadian regulatory systems affect our biology.
Pertinent to our topic of how meal timing is affected by our chronobiology, Dr. Greger points out that the same meal eaten at the wrong time of day can double your blood sugar level. Here are the three reasons why:
(1) The Glucose Tolerance Test shows the importance of meal timing
This test measures how fast your body can clear sugar from your bloodstream. You swig down a cup of water with about four and a half tablespoons of regular corn syrup mixed in, and then have your blood sugar measured two hours later. By that point, your blood sugar should be under 140 (mg/dL). Between 140 and 199 is considered prediabetes, and 200 and up is a sign of full-blown diabetes. A person can test normal in the morning, but as a prediabetic later in the day. Prediabetics who average 163 mg/dL at 7:00 AM test out as full-on diabetics by 7:00 PM, at over 200 mg/dL.
(2) Choosing lower-glycemic foods may help promote weight loss, but timing is critical
Due to this circadian pattern in glucose tolerance, a low-glycemic food at night can cause a higher blood sugar spike than a high-glycemic food eaten in the morning. That’s because we’re remarkably crippled at night, metabolically speaking. This fact has been underscored by researchers who found that eating a bowl of All Bran at 8:00 PM caused as high a blood sugar spike as eating Rice Krispies at 8:00 AM. High-glycemic foods at night would be the worst of both worlds — if you insist on eating refined grains and processed junk, it might be better to do so in the morning, and only then.
(3) Front-loading calories in the morning might confer weight-loss benefits
The drop in glucose tolerance over the day could therefore help explain the weight-loss benefits of front-loading calories towards the beginning of the day. Even just an earlier versus later lunch may make a difference. People randomized to eat a large lunch at 4:30 PM suffered a 46% greater blood sugar response compared to an identical meal eaten just a few hours earlier at 1:00 PM. A meal at 7:00 AM can cause 37% lower blood sugar than an identical meal at 1:00 PM.
But as the day turns to night, eating earlier has little benefit. For instance, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between a meal at 8:00 PM and the same meal at midnight — they both seem to be too late. But eating that late, at midnight, or even 11:00 PM can so disrupt your circadian rhythm that it can mess up your metabolism the next morning, resulting in significantly higher blood sugars after breakfast, compared to eating the same supper at 6pm the evening before.
I’m A Breakfast-skipper
All of this good science in support of eating breakfast, and making it your largest meal, gives me pause, because I’m a breakfast-skipper.
I practice intermittent fasting. There are many ways to do this. In my case, I typically begin eating between 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM and stop eating at 7:00 PM, giving me at least a 16 hour window of no eating. I believe this practice helps keep me lean and encourages autophagy, a critical component of increasing healthspan.
I agree that it would be better if I rearranged my eating schedule, such that, say, I ate from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. This would get me to better match my food consumption with my circadian rhythms, perhaps yielding a superior health outcome.
But there’s a catch — compliance.
Compliance means “are you going to do it”, and that pretty much means everything. The greatest plan is worthless if you don’t follow it., which is why I often advocate that doing less is more if you’re willing to do less more often.
I may get there, but right now, I’m not prepared to shift my eating window to earlier in the day. If intermittent fasting isn’t your thing, your challenge is much simpler — just get up and make something nutritious to eat!
I leave you with the irrepressible Dr. Michael Gregor giving you the scoop on How Circadian Rhythms Affect Blood Sugar Levels: