When you’re in a morning rush, you may not have time to eat anything but a quick bowl of cereal. But many brands of breakfast cereal are loaded with fast-digesting carbohydrates. These carbs usually rate high on the glycemic index. That means your body quickly breaks them down, which rapidly raises your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, that can be dangerous.
Fortunately, not all cereals are made the same. Read on to learn about diabetes-friendly cereal options that can get you out of the door quickly, without putting you through a blood sugar rollercoaster ride.
We’ve listed our recommendations from the highest rating on the glycemic index to the lowest rating.
The glycemic index, or GI, measures how quickly carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, it’s best to choose foods with lower GI ratings. They take longer to digest, which can help prevent spikes in your blood sugar.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health:
- low-GI foods have a rating of 55 or less
- medium-GI foods have a rating of 56-69
- high-GI foods have a rating of 70-100
Mixing foods can influence how they digest and adsorb into your blood, and ultimately their GI rating. For example, eating high-ranked GI cereal with Greek yogurt, nuts, or other low-ranked GI foods can slow your digestion and limit spikes in your blood sugar.
Glycemic load is another measure of how food affects your blood sugar. It takes into account portion size and the digestibility of different carbohydrates. It may be a better way to identify good and bad carb choices. For example, carrots have a high GI rating but a low glycemic load. The vegetable provides a healthy choice for people with diabetes.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health:
- a glycemic load under 10 is low
- a glycemic load of 11-19 is medium
- a glycemic load of 20 or higher is high
If you have diabetes, it’s best to start your day with a low GI load breakfast.
On average, cornflake have a GI rating of 93 and glycemic load of 23.
The most popular brand is Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. You can buy it plain, sugarcoated, or in honey and nut variations. The primary ingredient is milled corn, which has a higher GI rating than whole grain alternatives. When corn is milled, its hard outer layer is removed. This leaves behind a starchy product that has little nutritional value and lots of quickly digestible carbohydrates.
Grape-nuts have a GI rating of 75 and a glycemic load of 16, an improvement over corn-based cereals.
The cereal consists of round kernels made from whole-grain wheat flour and malted barley. It’s a good source of vitamins B6 and B12, as well as folic acid.
Grape-nuts provide about 7 grams of fiber per half-cup serving. Fiber is important for people with diabetes. It can help slow your digestion, stabilizing your blood sugar. It may also help lower your cholesterol levels.
Cream of wheat
On average, regular cream of wheat has a GI rating of 66 and a glycemic load of 17. The instant version has a higher GI rating.
This hot cereal is made from finely ground, whole-grain wheat. It has a smooth texture and subtle flavor. Popular brands include B&G Foods and Malt-O-Meal.
Cream of wheat provides 11 milligrams of iron per serving, a sizeable dose. Your red blood cells use this mineral to carry oxygen throughout your body.
On average, muesli has a GI rating of 66 and a glycemic load of 16.
It’s comprised of raw rolled oats and other ingredients, such as dried fruits, seeds, and nuts. Reputable brands include Bob’s Red Mill and Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal.
With its base of oats, muesli is a great source of fiber.
Rice-based cereals, such as Kellogg’s Special K, tend to affect blood sugar levels slightly less than Muesli. Special K has a GI rating of 69 and a glycemic load 14.
There are numerous varieties of Special K including, Red Berries, Fruit & Yogurt, Multigrain, and Oats & Honey. They all have different caloric and nutritional values.
Oatmeal is one of the healthiest cereal options, coming in at a GI rating of 55 and a glycemic load of 13.
Oatmeal is made from raw oats. You can opt for specialty, organic, or popular fortified brands, such as Quaker. But beware: instant oats have twice the glycemic load as regular oats. Take care to avoid the pre-sweetened varieties, since they contain double the sugar and calories.
Oatmeal is a rich source of fiber.
Wheat bran-based cereals
Wheat bran cereals are winners, when it comes to having the lowest GI rating and glycemic load. On average, they have a GI rating of 55 and a glycemic load of 12.
When served as cereal, wheat bran is processed into flakes or pellets. They are heavier than rice-based cereals, due to their large fiber content.
Wheat bran is also rich in thiamin, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Some fortified brands are also good sources of folic acid and vitamin B12. Kellogg’s All-Bran and Post’s 100% Bran are good options.
Additions and alternatives
If you don’t feel like eating cereal, there’re many other breakfast options. Consider reaching for protein-rich eggs and bread made from whole-grain wheat or rye. An egg contains less than 1 gram of carbohydrates, so it has little impact on your blood sugar. Plus it will slow down the digestion of any carbohydrates eaten with it.
Be careful when it comes to beverages. Fruit juices have higher glycemic index ratings than whole fruits. Choose a whole orange or apple instead of juice.