Starting your day on the right foot is all about feeling rested and having the energy to get through the morning.
Eating foods that are lower on the glycemic index (GI) and combining them with protein and healthy fats can do more than just minimize spikes in your blood sugar. They also give your body a consistent supply of energy, which can help you feel satisfied and energized until lunch.¹
This article will review delicious, easy, and low-GI breakfasts and cover additional low-GI, nutrient-dense foods that are perfect for breakfast or any time of the day.
What Does Low Glycemic Mean?
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrate-based foods raise your blood sugar. It is based on a scale of 0 to 100, where regular sugar has a glycemic index of 100. Foods that are below 55 on the scale are considered low glycemic, while foods between 56 and 69 are moderate. Anything above 70 is a high GI food.²
Foods that are high on the glycemic index scale are digested and absorbed quickly. Eating these foods on an empty stomach can cause a faster and higher rise in your blood glucose (and a faster drop). Refined carbs, like pastries, sugar-coated cereals, and white bread, are high on the glycemic index scale.
Low-GI foods lead to a slower and lower rise and fall of your blood sugar. They provide you with sustained energy and may help keep you feeling full longer. A low GI diet may help reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and possibly obesity.³ Whole grains or high-fiber carbs like oatmeal, apples, and beans are low on the glycemic index.
Main Benefits Of Low Glycemic Eating
There are many benefits of following a low glycemic index eating style. The biggest benefit is the potential of this way of eating is reducing the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes. By eating lower glycemic foods, you can prevent rapid blood sugar spikes and high insulin levels.
Other benefits include:
Aids diabetes management
Studies have found that following a low glycemic index diet can help reduce blood sugar levels in those living with diabetes.9 It can also help reduce hemoglobin A1C.9 Studies have additionally found that individuals eating diets high in high glycemic index foods increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.10
Supports heart health
Diets emphasizing the consumption of low glycemic index foods can improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.11,12
Helps with weight loss
Some evidence suggests that low glycemic index eating styles can promote fat loss. However, more research is needed to determine if this diet is successful for sustainable, long-term weight loss.13,14,15
Low Glycemic Breakfast Ideas
Traditional breakfast foods, like cereal and milk, pastries, or toast with jam, are rich in refined carbohydrates and high on the GI scale. While they are quick and easy, and enjoyable, they can wreak havoc on your blood sugar (and may cause it to be elevated for the rest of the day).
Pairing foods that have a low GI with some lean protein and healthy fats will give you the energy you need to take on the day.
Let’s take a look at eight easy and delicious low-GI, healthy breakfast ideas.
1. Berry Smoothie
Smoothies are an easy on-the-go breakfast that may also help increase feelings of satiety after a meal.⁴
Dairy products like yogurt and kefir, which can make the base of a smoothie, are a good source of protein and are low on the GI scale. Plain kefir has a GI of 36 and plain Greek yogurt has a GI of 11.5,6,7
They are also a perfect vehicle for getting a boost of nutritious fruits and veggies, and even some healthy fats. Adding berries and other low glycemic fruits and vegetables like avocado, spinach, or kale add healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants that are important for supporting your metabolic health too.
2. Oatmeal with Fruit
Oatmeal is the quintessential “stick to your ribs” breakfast, and is available in a gluten free variety at many grocery stores. This whole grain is rich in fiber and has about 6 grams of protein per serving. It contains beta-glucan, a resistant starch, which helps slow the rate of carbohydrate absorption helping to reduce blood sugar spikes.
Oatmeal has a glycemic index ranging from 42 - 80 depending on how it is processed. Opt for steel-cut oats (GI 42) or old-fashioned oats (GI 55) instead of quick-cooking or instant oats which are higher on the GI scale.5,6,7
Adding low-glycemic fruit like blueberries (GI 53), a protein source, and healthy fats, like peanut butter (GI 14), makes this a great low-GI option for breakfast. The fruit adds a sweet, tart bite and nut butter adds some creaminess making it a super satisfying breakfast.
3. Broiled Grapefruit
Grapefruit and other citrus fruits are a classic part of breakfast and the good news is they are low GI, with grapefruit at just 22.⁶
Sweet and tart on their own, grapefruit is a delicious part of breakfast, but if you’ve never tried broiling a cut grapefruit, you are in for a treat. Broiling caramelizes the sugar in the fruit which makes it taste even sweeter and just a little decadent. And, it only takes a few minutes under the broiler before it is ready.
Enjoy it with a slice of whole grain toast, avocado, and an egg for a hearty breakfast that will satisfy your sweet tooth and keep you going all morning.
4. Eggs and Veggies
Rich in protein, eggs go hand-in-hand with whole grains and veggies to give you a balanced breakfast that will keep you from scrounging through the kitchen again in an hour. Because eggs do not have carbohydrates, their glycemic index is 0, which makes them a great option to pair with foods (like toast) that may raise your blood sugar levels.
Whip together a quick omelet with eggs, chopped spinach (GI=15), roasted peppers (GI=15), and mozzarella cheese (GI=0) for a satisfying breakfast.⁶
Another make-ahead option is egg muffins. Use your muffin tin and whip together eggs, veggies, and some herbs, and sprinkle with a little cheese. Bake them until they are light and puffy. Cool and wrap them up individually and freeze them. You will have a delicious breakfast that you can reheat quickly even on the busiest of mornings.
While beans may not be a typical breakfast item for some of us, in many parts of the world, beans are eaten throughout the day - and for good reason! They are rich in fiber and protein and most beans are low GI too ranging from 28 - 54 on the GI scale.5,6,7
Adding beans to breakfast is also a good way to use up leftovers and give your breakfast a boost in fiber and protein.
Try a breakfast burrito using a whole grain or corn tortilla, scrambled eggs, and black beans. Top it with some sliced avocado and salsa and you’ve got yourself a flavorful and filling breakfast that won’t spike your blood sugar.
Seafood for breakfast, why not? You’ve heard of lox and bagels, right? Give your breakfast an omega-3 boost with the addition of protein-rich seafood. Just as eggs are 0 on the GI scale, so are other protein foods like seafood.⁶
Salmon, tuna, or shrimp make a savory addition to an omelet or can be added on top of whole-grain toast with avocado spread. Combining a 100% whole grain bread with a GI of 51 with protein-rich seafood and healthy fat from the avocado will help keep your blood sugar from spiking and will fill you up until lunch.
7. Cottage Cheese with Sliced Peaches
Cottage cheese contains fewer carbohydrates than milk or yogurt, making it an incredible high protein, low glycemic index food. Make sure to select a variety with no additives, which can increase the glycemic index and carbohydrate content of this delicious snack. Top it off with a low glycemic index fruit, like peaches (GI 42).
This dish is super simple to prepare. Just measure out a single serving of cottage cheese (one cup) and slice a juicy peach up for a topping!
8. Almond Butter and Banana Smoothie
Along with providing healthy fats that are satiating, nuts and nut butters add protein and plant-based omega 3s. The protein is important for muscle strength and recovery, and the omega 3s help support your immune system and may help reduce inflammation. Also, bananas are the ideal sweetener for smoothies, and green bananas can be especially helpful. Using bananas in a smoothie often eliminates the need for any added sweeteners.
To make these energy boosting treat, blend 2 Tbsp almond butter, one frozen banana, 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, ½ tsp ground cinnamon, and four to six ice cubes. For an added protein boost, add in a scoop of protein powder.
Foods with Low Glycemic Levels
Those are six easy breakfast ideas to get you started, but there are plenty more low-GI foods that you can mix and match for endless breakfast ideas. Here’s a list of low-GI foods that are great additions to breakfast or any meal!5,6,7,8
- Milk (Whole - 39 Skim - 37)
- Yogurt, including regular and Greek, plain and flavored. (GI ranges from 14 - 33)
- Cheese (0 - 30 depending on the type. Processed cheese is moderate in GI at 57)
- Kefir (GI 36 for plain and 48 - 60 for flavored)
- Soymilk and soy-based yogurts (34- 45)
- Almond milk (30)
- Oat milk (30)
- Cottage cheese (30)
- Oranges (43)
- Apples (36)
- Bananas (underripe or green - 30, fully ripened - 51)
- Cherries - 22
- Peach - 42
- Pears - 38 - 41
- Celery (15)
- Cabbage (white - 15, Chinese - 20)
- Carrots 39
- Yam - 37 (Sweet potatoes -44 - 78)
- Spinach - 15
- Sweet Peppers - 15
- Chickpeas (28)
- Soybeans (16)
- Navy Beans (31)
- Kidney beans (24)
- Lentils (32)
- Almonds (15)
- Cashews (25)
- Peanuts (15)
- Pistachios (15)
- Walnuts (15)
Tips for Incorporating Low Glycemic Eating into Your Daily Routine
Are you ready to start incorporating low glycemic foods into your meals? Below are some times on how to integrate these yummy dishes into your daily routine.
Choose whole foods
Whole foods are highly nutritious, containing abundant essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They provide the nutrition the body needs without additives and artificial flavorings.
Nutritious foods are the foundation of a healthy diet. It is preferable to consume essential nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements. Examples of whole foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Combine foods strategically
Include both carbohydrates and protein every time you eat. While the carbohydrates are broken down within an hour, protein takes two to three hours to be broken down and digested. This gives your body a constant supply of energy, keeps your blood sugar stable, and helps keep you feeling full.
Plan meals in advance
Plan your meals at the beginning of the week so you know what ingredients you need on hand. Meal prep earlier in the week for the nights that you will not have time to cook
Experiment with cooking methods
Don’t have time to cook? Try preparing and cooking a meal in the slow cooker or crockpot to save time during a bust work week.
Be mindful of portion sizes
If you are eating a high glycemic index food, try cutting portion sizes to decrease the impact these foods have on your blood sugar levels.
Start Your Day By Monitoring Your Health
Getting your day off on the right foot can help you be more productive and energetic throughout the day. Additionally, understanding how your blood sugar responds to food and exercise can help with weight loss and improve your metabolic health.
Since everyone responds differently to food and exercise, using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you understand how your blood sugar reacts to different foods. When paired with the Signos app, your CGM data will give you insights on how your body responds to different foods (and what you can do about the ones that cause you to spike).
Avoiding glucose spikes and dips can help support you on your weight loss journey and improve your overall health.
Get more information about weight loss, glucose monitors, and living a healthier life
Topics discussed in this article:
- Radulian, G., Rusu, E., Dragomir, A., Posea, M. (2009). Metabolic effects of low glycaemic index diets. Nutr Journal 8, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-8-5
- Esfahani, A., Wong, J. M., Mirrahimi, A., Srichaikul, K., Jenkins, D. J., & Kendall, C. W. (2009). The glycemic index: physiological significance. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 28 Suppl, 439S–445S. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2009.10718109
- Augustin, L., Kendall, C., Jenkins, D., Willett, W., Astrup, A., Barclay, A., Björck, I., Brand-Miller, J., Brighenti, F., Buyken, A., Ceriello, A., La Vecchia, C., Livesey, G., Liu, S., Riccardi, G., Rizkalla, S., Sievenpiper, J., Trichopoulou, A., & Poli, A. (2015). Glycemic index, glycemic load and glycemic response: An International Scientific Consensus Summit from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 25(9), 795-815. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2015.05.005
- Onvani, S., Haghighatdoost, F., Surkan, P. J., & Azadbakht, L. (2017). Dairy products, satiety and food intake: A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 36(2), 389–398. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnu.2016.01.017
- Foster-Powell, K., Holt, S.H.A., Brand-Miller, J.C. (2002). International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 75: 5- 56.
- Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Guide. https://glycemic-index.net/ Accessed October 13, 2022.
- Fiona S. Atkinson, Kaye Foster-Powell, Jennie C. Brand-Miller. (2008). International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2008. Diabetes Care 31(12): 2281–2283. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc08-1239
- The University of Sydney. Glycemic Index Research and News. https://glycemicindex.com/gi-search/ Accessed October 13, 2022.