Sugar for breakfast

We were reviewing Stuart's diet because of his persistent small LDL, low HDL, modestly elevated triglycerides, and blood sugar of 107 mg/dl.

"I've changed my diet, doc. No kidding. We never fry our foods. No butter, no goodies. I don't know what else I can possibly do."

"Okay. Let's review your diet. What did you have for breakfast?"

"Orange juice, a big glass. Gotta get my potassium. Then cereal like Cheerios or Shredded Wheat, sometimes Kashi or Raisin Bran, always in skim milk. Gotta have my one slice of toast, no butter. I'll put some fruit preserves on it. You know, real fruit. Only whole wheat bread, never white. On Sundays, we always go out for pancakes, but now we order only whole wheat."

Many of us have gotten into a peculiar habit: Having what amounts to pure sugar for breakfast. Perhaps there's a little fiber thrown in with it, but many people indulge in breakfasts that are sugar and plenty of it. That's precisely what Stuart is doing: A breakfast that, while it doesn't contain a huge amount of sugar outside of the orange juice, is promptly converted to sugar. If we were to check his blood sugar just after his standard breakfast, it would rise substantially.

This pattern has become deeply ingrained into the American psyche. Some people will act like I've suggested we overthrow the government when I suggest that breakfast cereals need to be eliminated from their lives. We all share memories of Tony the Tiger, the leprechaun on Lucky Charms ("They're magically delicious!), reading the brightly colored boxes often including games and prizes. Breakfast cereals seem as American as apple pie. But the wheat and corn content ensures a big rise in blood sugar, the sort that create small LDL, low HDL, etc.--all the patterns Stuart is showing--and make us fat.

Orange juice? Too much sugar all at once. Get your potassium from whole vegetables and fruits, not from orange juice. (Bananas are another problem source of potassium for similar reasons despite being a whole fruit.)

Toast? Any diabetic who monitors their blood sugar after meals will tell you: Even one slice of bread, ANY bread, skyrockets blood sugar. Add the fruit preserves made with sugar syrup and it's doubly worse.

Pancakes? Even if made with plenty of fiber, blood sugars go absolutely berserk after a meal like this, especially if maple syrup is added.

In other words, the seemingly healthy breakfast Stuart eats guarantees that he fails to control all his patterns that contribute to his coronary plaque growth.

After I pointed out Stuart's dietary faux pas, he asked, "Then what the heck can I eat?"

"There's actually lots of good choices: Eggs (preferably free-range, if available, or the 'omega-3' enriched) or Egg Beaters; oat products, but true oat products like slow-cooked oatmeal, or the best of all, oat bran, used as a hot cereal; ground flaxseed as a hot cereal with added fruit, berries, nuts; a handful of raw almonds, walnuts, pecans; some cheese, preferably traditional fermented cheese and not processed; low-fat cottage cheese; low-fat yogurt that you flavor yourself with berries and nuts; raw seeds like sunflower and pumpkin.

"Try and save some of your dinner foods for breakfast. For instance, save some green peppers and onions from your salad and put it in your scrambled eggs along with some olive oil. Save some of the chicken and add it to your breakfast. Save some of the cooked vegetables and have them as they are. You'll be surprised how filling dinner foods can be when eaten for breakfast."

It's not that tough. But Stuart and many other people need to break the hold that the food manufacturers have created. If you're hoping to seize hold of your heart scan score, get rid of the sugar foods in your morning, even the ones cleverly disguised as healthy.

Comments (17) -

  • Anonymous

    9/3/2007 3:30:00 PM |

    This is such good advice. My mildly diabetic mother's blood sugar is 210 mg/dL two hours after a breakfast consisting of a small bowl of cornflakes, skim milk, banana, and orange juice. For anyone with blood sugar problems or insulin resistance, glucose tolerance is at its absolute worst in the morning, and improves later in the day. Even in the absence of other dietary changes, avoiding the all-sugar breakfast is a good first step toward getting hunger, weight, and lipid abnormalities under control.

  • Anne

    9/3/2007 10:26:00 PM |

    What about brown rice? I fix brown rice with cinnomon and raisins and nuts(no sugar is added). I react to egg white so sadly eggs are out for me.

    I have found soup for breakfast is great too. My favorite is a home made chicken and vegetable.

  • Dr. Davis

    9/3/2007 11:42:00 PM |

    Excellent point.

  • Dr. Davis

    9/3/2007 11:45:00 PM |

    Hi, Anne--

    The soup idea is great.

    However, the brown rice depends on how severe your patterns are. If you are a small LDL, low HDL, higher blood sugar person, or have excessive tummy weight, then the more you reduce high or moderate glycemic index foods, the better will be your response.

  • DietKing2

    9/4/2007 12:19:00 AM |

    It's also very tempting to reach for that bowl of cereal because even with the added cup of skim milk the calorie count barely touches 200--many think they're doing themselves a favor by going this route instead of two large eggs (any style) which ironically will pull you just above the 150 calorie range, will satisfy your hunger better, and keep your blood sugar steady, if not on the lowerish side.  I've learned to really enjoy them, too.

  • DietKing2

    9/4/2007 12:31:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    Saw this article this morning and thought of you and your site;
    better to not have to deal with any of this in the first place, nu?
    Unreal how this issue keeps going back and forth.

  • Anonymous

    9/4/2007 2:28:00 PM |

    Great breakfast post- very helpful! Can we get a post about lunch, dinner, dessert and snacks?
    Thanks- Greg

  • Dr. Davis

    9/4/2007 9:40:00 PM |

    Yes. If there's one conclusion I favor, if given a choice, the best stent is NO stent.

  • Ortcloud

    9/5/2007 1:36:00 AM |

    Amen, thank you for this post. Whenever I go out to breakfast I look around and I am in shock at what people eat for breakfast. Big stack of pancakes, fruit, fruit juice syrup, just like you said. This is not breakfast, this is dessert ! It has the same sugar and nutrition as a birthday cake, would anyone think cake is ok for breakfast ? No, but that is exactly the equivalent of what they are eating. Somehow we have been duped to think this is ok. For me, I typically eat an omelette when I go out, low carb and no sugar. I dont eat wheat but invariably it comes with the meal and I try to tell the waitress no thanks, they are stunned. They try to push some other type of wheat or sugar product on me instead, finally I have to tell them I dont eat wheat and they are doubly stunned. They cant comprehend it. We have a long way to go in terms of re-education so keep up the good work doc.


  • Anonymous

    9/6/2007 6:04:00 AM |

    Hmmm...I've read in many places that egg yolk is GOOD for long as it isn't cooked (much).  They say that it oxidizes the cholesterol.  I've found that softboiled eggs or even fried (low temp, only good oil (very small amount) to be best.  

    What do you know about the health effects of cooked eggs...or over cooked proteins in general?  Thanks!

  • Dr. Davis

    9/6/2007 12:10:00 PM |

    Sorry, not familiar with that issue. Do you have any further info?

  • Bix

    9/7/2007 3:03:00 PM |

    "Then what the heck can I eat?"

    That sentence right there.  That's the crux.

    You gave some excellent alternatives.  But the breakfast cereal mindset runs deep.  Deep.

  • Anna in San Diego, CA

    9/22/2007 7:29:00 AM |

    Amen to the advice to get rid of the converting-to-sugar breakfast foods.  But why do you recommend reduced fat foods?    Fat is a good source of energy for the day and holds off mid-morning hunger pangs.

    Like others, I became bored with bland supermarket eggs every day, even premium so-called free-range eggs.  But now I get truly free range eggs from a little hobby farm in my county and I love 3 eggs every day!   The taste is fantastic because the chickens don't eat vegetarian chow all day, instead they eat grasses and run around chasing down grasshoppers, etc.  

    Over-easy in plenty of good butter, lowish heat with a lid until the white are just set and the yolks are still runny.  The day just isn't right without them.

  • Dr. Davis

    9/22/2007 12:46:00 PM |

    Great point with your free-range--truly free-range--eggs.

    I only specify the low-fat with regard to the dairy products, principally because of caloric density.

  • Anonymous

    9/23/2007 8:47:00 PM |

    I have a question about Liver cleansing.  I saw an AD on the internet about a product to cleanse the liver and wonder if it is a good idea.  I have small LDL.

  • Dr. Davis

    9/23/2007 11:40:00 PM |

    Sorry, Peg, but these products tend to be scams.

  • buy jeans

    11/2/2010 7:59:39 PM |

    Orange juice? Too much sugar all at once. Get your potassium from whole vegetables and fruits, not from orange juice. (Bananas are another problem source of potassium for similar reasons despite being a whole fruit.)