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This is the third in a four-part series on preventing diabetes from the Cleveland Clinic. The author, Roxanne Sukol, M.D. M.S., is medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Enterprise.
This is my third article on preventing diabetes and obesity. In Step 1, we talked about the fact that carbohydrates are virtually never found in nature without their fiber attached (think apples, grapes, carrots and cauliflower – all rich in fiber). In Step 2, we learned that one way to decrease the amount of insulin we use is to shift our diet in the direction of foods that are rich in nutrients we absorb slowly, like protein, healthy fats and fiber.
In Step 3, it’s time to discuss one more very important fact about insulin: it works worst when you wake up in the morning. Our bodies seem to be resistant to insulin in the early morning hours. Because it doesn’t work as well, you end up releasing and using more insulin than if you were to eat the exact same food later in the day.
Unfortunately, the typical American breakfast-- toast, bagels, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cereal biscuits and bread -- is composed virtually entirely of white flour and sugar, all refined carbohydrates. That means we’re eating foods that require a lot of insulin at precisely the time of day when our insulin is least effective. Now, does that make any sense? Absolutely not.
What can you do about it? Stop eating the typical American breakfast and start making your insulin work more efficiently.
For breakfast, try eating protein, healthy fats and fiber, the nutrients that we absorb more slowly. Here are a few ideas to get you started: Eat some of the salmon leftover from dinner or make tuna fish if you’d like that better. In a hurry? Make a “peanut butter lollipop” by dipping a tablespoon into a jar of peanut butter and eating it right off the spoon. Another delicious idea is Greek yogurt with berries, bananas, apples, or peaches. And don’t just limit yourself to fruit. Eat it as the Greeks do, with diced tomatoes and cucumbers. It’s tastier than you might think! You can even sprinkle the yogurt with sunflower or sesame seeds. If your tastes are more traditional, fry a couple of eggs in olive oil or hard boil a few over the weekend and keep them in the refrigerator for a fast weekday breakfast. If you really don’t have time for breakfast, keep some raisins and nuts in your car and eat a handful on the way to work every morning.
One way to tell whether you’re wasting lots of insulin is to see how long it takes until you’re hungry again. If you’re ready for a second breakfast at 9:30 am, that’s a sure sign that there wasn’t enough staying power in the breakfast you ate a couple of hours earlier. Whatever you ate was absorbed quickly and then cleared quickly by a load of insulin. When our blood sugars rise quickly and then drop just as quickly, we find ourselves right back where we started -- hungry.
Fortunately, when we eat foods that are absorbed slowly, we release smaller amounts of insulin, bit by bit, into the bloodstream until our breakfast has finally been completely absorbed and escorted into our cells. That’s insulin doing its job efficiently.
I’m not saying you can never eat another bagel. But I am saying that there are a few different approaches to tipping the balance in your favor. You could buy a bagel that’s made with 100% whole grain flour. You could spread it with peanut butter to slow its absorption rate. You could save it for later in the day. Or you could do all three. Any of these approaches should decrease the amount of insulin it takes to eat that bagel. And that’s your goal.
Next in the series... Step 4: Skip the Soda and Fruit Drinks!
Visit Cleveland Clinic Wellness to learn more about how stress, diet and exercise can affect diabetes.