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The Importance of Breakfast for Blood-Sugar & Hormone Regulation

blood-sugar and hormone regulation

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More and more research is supporting the fact that it is not simply what we eat but WHEN we eat which matters. Hormones and digestive enzymes are secreted at different times throughout the day according to our body clock/ circadian rhythm. [1,2,3]

Meal timing is key to optimize blood sugar, digestion, hormones and weight management.

In Eastern medicine we have been taught the importance of meal timing and only now is Western medicine beginning to wake up to this fact – science is slowly catching up to time-tested wisdom.

Our body is primed to absorb nutrients after fasting.

Breakfast is the first meal to nourish us after a long night of fasting – ideally we want to have eaten our last meal around 12 hours prior to breakfast, so that our body has had a chance to clean up and reset throughout the night.

If we have late dinners, our body is busy digesting the meal throughout the night instead of engaging in detoxification, fat burn and autophagy. These processes are critical for everyday maintenance of the body and mind. So a nourishing breakfast really begins the night before with not eating preferably after 8PM. [4]

Longer fasting periodically can be be beneficial [5), but ongoing intermittent fasting is not ideal for hormone health long-term, especially for women [6].

Women have 52% lower serotonin compared to men and this is highly affected by dieting [7]. In turn serotonin affects both progesteron and estrogen, which play a role in our metabolism, cravings and fertility.

A complete burn-out can result from overdoing something seemingly healthy – that is if we over-do it. It is crucial that we understand the notion that because something is good, it does not mean that more is better – i.e. fasting 16 hours daily forever or going on week long water-only fasts.

The body does not like extreme behavior. Our mind, however, tends to be very black-white thinking and falls victim to restrictive diets. Diets which tend to hurt us in the long run, yet gaining short-term instant results. What works in the short-term does not work in the long run, when it comes to extremism around food habits.

Intermittent fasting

Our body craves homeostasis and this is also true, when it comes to understanding how to regulate our blood sugar.

In the morning our cortisol levels spike and this impacts blood sugar. When cortisol levels rise we typically don’t feel hungry, yet if we do not eat before cortisol levels drop around 10 AM, we suffer with sudden energy-crash mid-morning or even later in the afternoon or night. [8]

The result of our eating doesn’t always happen immediately after.

This often makes it difficult for us to connect the cause to our symptoms. I.e. skipping breakfast is connected to late-night snacking – yet most of us think our eating problem is at night, but that is merely where the “symptom” of our imbalanced day accumulates.

If we need to use willpower around food at night, this is a reflection of the entire day. We are supposed to work on balancing our blood sugar throughout the day, so we need not use willpower or experience drastic blood sugar dips in the evening.

The drop in cortisol in the morning leads to a drop in insulin, which if there is no food to stabilize our blood sugar, leads to a blood sugar crash.

A disaster for everyone and especially those of us with diabetes. We also know that diabetes type 2 can be easily reversed in many cases, simply by losing fat. And we know from studies that late-night eating is associated with weight-gain. So there are many reasons why we want to eat breakfast both for symptom management and to treat the cause of our blood sugar issues. [9]

On a side-note it is worth mentioning that poor blood sugar control has been linked to mercury toxicity (from dental fillings) [10], vitamin d [11] and b12 deficiency [12] along with low zinc [13], magnesium [14] and chromium [15].

Now supplementing with these things only makes sense if you are deficient in them. Again, we need to remember, that because something is good (optimal vitamin and mineral levels so that the body can function), it doesn’t mean that more is better (supplementing without being deficient).

Blood Sugar Goals

  • Your blood sugar post meals should ideally be no more than 8 mmol/L
  • Fasting blood sugar levels around 5,6 mmol/L.
  • Your HbA1C should be between 30-39 mmol/mol for optimal health.

Anything that deviates from those numbers will be a risk factor, although if you have only one high reading of elevated blood sugar post-meal, you are recommended to do a couple readings to confirm issue.

We want to treat the cause of diabetes type 2 – whether that be toxicity, mineral and vitamin deficiency and/or weight related.

Apart from that we want to ensure our food is slowly metabolized as to avoid any sudden highs and lows in our blood sugar. What affects our blood sugar will vary from person to person, why it might be a good idea to monitor your blood glucose levels following meals to see what you are reacting to. This should improve over time, if you are treating the cause simultaneously. But until the cause has been treated, we do need to focus on treating the symptoms also.

Diabetes type 2

Keto diet can be an efficient short-term solution to combat blood sugar issues [16].

However, long-term keto has shown to train the body into hyper-reacting to healthful complex carbs in addition to increasing blood lipids [17,18]. The way we eat or restrict certain foods over time, changes our biochemistry to adapt to the types of food we are eating. Thus any dietary changes should happen slow and gradual to allow our biochemistry time to adapt and not “freak out”. I.e. people who have not eaten meat for long periods of time, will decrease digestive enzymes needed to break down meat.

If they suddenly start eating meat, they will get physically ill. Not because meat is bad, but because their biochemistry has adapted to eating differently. This has nothing to do with health, but about how our biochemistry tends to adapt to our dietary patterns over time. Rather than going on a short-term strategy which is not sustainable healthwise for the long-run, I recommend simply adhering to smart food-combining based on glycemic load.

The glycemic load measures the impact of the entire meal combined, rather than focusing on each food isolated.

In contrast to the glycemic load, we have the glycemic index, which is not very useful, because this system vilifies many healthy foods simply based on carb contents alone. And as we rarely eat mono-meals i.e. a pound of grapes in itself, it is not relevant.

Proper food combining will mix foods that are higher on the glycemic index with foods that are lower on the glycemic index, thus leading to a moderate glycemic load meal. This could be combining a banana with nuts (high glycemic index food + low glycemic index food = moderate glycemic load meal). [19,20,21]

Top 5 Tips on Food-Combining for Blood-Sugar Monitoring:

  • Look at the glycemic index and combine from the top to the bottom, so your meals are balanced
  • Ensure your plate is divided in approx. a T-shape with half of your meal consisting of vegetables (for breakfast and/or snacks fruit is fine), 1/4 complex carbs such as starches/whole grains and 1/4 protein (hemp or pea protein/ poultry/ fish/ meat)
  • Add 1-2 tbsp. of good quality fat per meal i.e. cold pressed flax, walnut, olive, macadamia or avocado oil). Fat helps to slow digestion of high-glycemic index foods i.e. bananas, rice, potatoes etc. bringing down the glycemic load of the meal. These foods need not be vilified, but they should be eaten with some fat to minimize blood sugar spike. Low-fat is a no-go when it comes to blood sugar management. Also why full-fat dairy products have shown to be better choices for both satiety and blood sugar than low-fat varieties.
  • Eat the peel! Get organic vegetables and fruits so you can eat the peel. Keeping the peel on potatoes drastically brings down the glycemic index, as the fiber is in the peel.
  • Add spices. Spices are the medicine of the kitchen and have anti-inflammatory and blood sugar stabilizing compounds. Don’t overthink it, just spice it up. Cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, chili and cardamom are all excellent choices for diabetics especially.
Food combining for blood-sugar

What Might 5 Diabetes-Friendly Breakfast Ideas Look Like?

Remember to think about following basic breakfast rules when combining your own meals: vegetable/fruit (mandatory) + 1-2 tbsp. fats (mandatory) + spice (mandatory) + protein (for breakfast we want to stick with plant proteins, nuts or yogurt – meat requires too much digestive capacity in the morning, why the more protein-dense sources like fish, chicken and meat is better to choose for lunch and dinner) + complex carb (optional – a complex carb is basically anything with the peel on, or the whole grain).

You will want to measure your blood sugar consistently after each meal type to see what your body best reacts to. Some people need more protein in the morning than others and some people only require what is in nuts to keep them balanced throughout their morning.

Try out following ideas which are all combined to be moderate on the glycemic load.

1. Almond-butter smoothie

  • 1 scoop hemp/protein powder (protein)
  • 2 tbsp. almond butter (fat/protein)
  • 1/2 banana (fruit/vegetable)
  • 1 cup blueberries (fruit/vegetable)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (spice)

Blend ingredients til smooth. Tip: Freeze fruit if you want an ice cream like texture and only add 1/4 cup water.

2. Yogurt parfait

  • 1 cup 2% Greek yogurt (protein)
  • 1 cup mixed berries (fruit/vegetable)
  • 2 tbsp. walnuts (fat/protein)
  • 1/4 tbsp. cardamom (spice)

Assemble everything into a parfait-style serving.

Yogurt Parfait

3. Avocado on rye

  • 1/2 avocado (fat)
  • 1-2 slices of rye bread (complex carb)
  • 1 soft-boiled egg (protein)
  • Side of greens (fruit/vegetable)
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric (spice)

Mash avocado on toast and top with soft-boiled egg in a messy-style serving.

4. Rice-pudding

  • 1/2 cup 18% coconut milk (fat)
  • 1/2 cup water – add more as needed
  • 1/2 cup brown rice (complex carb)
  • 1 cup sliced fruit (fruit/vegetable)
  • 2 tbsp. nuts (fat/protein)
  • 1/4 tbsp. cardamom (spice)
  • Pinch of Himalaya salt

Cook up rice with water and coconut milk, cardamom and salt for approx. 20 minutes.
Serve with sliced fruit and 2 tbsp. nuts

5. Overnight oats

  • 1/2 cup old-fashion rolled oats (complex carb)
  • 1/2 cup plant milk of choice
  • 1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt (protein)
  • 1 tbsp. ground flax or chia seeds (fats)
  • 1 tbsp. chopped nuts (fats)
  • 1/2 chopped banana (fruit/vegetable)
  • 2 squares chopped 70% dark chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (spice)

Mix everything together in a glass jar, cover with a lid and leave overnight in the fridge.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. The content on our website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. You should NEVER disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking treatment due to something you have read on our website and we will not be held responsible for any adverse health condition or injury that occurs as a result of doing so.
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Christina Santini

Clinical Nutritionist specializing in Biological Medicine.

Meet Christina Santini Christina Santini integrates Eastern Medicine with Western nutrition science to b...

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