Best Fast Food Breakfast ideas for Diabetes
Trying to manage diabetes and enjoy a typical fast food breakfast can be tricky. And you’re not alone—10% of the U.S. population has diabetes. Sugar and processed carbohydrates are abundant in classic breakfast foods like cereal, bagels, muffins, and pancakes. This is why it is so important to work with a Registered Diabetes Nutritionist on creating a balanced nutrition plan to keep your blood sugar levels in check. Sticking religiously to your meal plan can be challenging, however, when life gets busy or you lack access to the foods typically recommended. Sometimes, a quick fast food breakfast is all that’s available.
The good news is that with a little planning, you can enjoy diabetes-friendly breakfasts at popular fast food establishments. You can still enjoy fast food breakfasts if you take into consideration eating the right amount of carbohydrates for you along with a protein to slow digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. You may have more tasty choices than you think!
Read on to discover how to make smart choices when eating breakfast at fast food restaurants, and which restaurants may be more diabetic-friendly for you!
Because everyone has different nutritional needs and responds differently to certain foods, there is no one-size-fits-all diabetes meal plan. Almost everyone with diabetes, however, can benefit from following a plan with a good balance of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates.
When eating out for breakfast, try using what’s known as the diabetes plate method. This method involves filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with lean proteins, and a quarter of your plate with carbohydrates.
Additional ways to make smart breakfast choices at fast food establishments include:
- Reviewing the restaurant’s menu ahead of time: Most restaurants have online menus with detailed nutritional information. This can help you decide what to order before you arrive at the restaurant.
- Knowing what to avoid: You may want to steer clear of highly-processed carbohydrate foods, fried foods, and foods with added sugar.
- Making swaps: Swap out high-fat, fried foods for healthier alternatives. For example, you may be able to swap a fried breakfast sandwich for a sandwich with a grilled protein. You may also have the option to choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread or substitute home fries with fresh fruit.
- Practicing portion control: When you’re craving a particular food that you know may cause your blood sugar to rise, try to practice portion control. For example, you can downsize your meals by choosing a small combo meal rather than a large one. You can also order from the kid’s menu!
Knowing what breakfast items to order from fast food restaurants can help you stick to your diabetes nutrition plan, keep your blood sugar levels stable, and make more nutritious choices without sacrificing convenience.
Whether you’re craving a blueberry muffin from a trendy coffee shop or are forced to grab a breakfast burrito from the local gas station, consider these diabetes-friendly options:
When you’re in a rush and need a small breakfast item from a convenience store, knowing what foods to purchase and which to avoid is key for keeping your blood sugar under control.
While convenience stores and gas stations are known for offering a large selection of carbohydrate-laden snack foods, they do also offer more healthful, lower-carbohydrate options!
Keep an eye out for the following:
- Boiled eggs
- Greek yogurt
- Turkey jerky
- String cheese
- Nuts and seeds
Did you know that one large hard-boiled egg provides 6.3 grams (g) of protein and just 0.5 g of carbohydrates? Yes! You can enjoy one or two boiled eggs alone or pair one with a piece of fruit, like an apple, for a grab-and-go hunger buster.
You may be surprised at the selection of blood sugar-friendly beverages (and foods) on the menu at your local or chain coffee and pastry shop!
Instead of high-fat, high-sugar coffee shop drinks, opt for regular or iced coffee flavored with sugar-free syrup, Stevia, and low-fat or almond milk.
When it comes to breakfast options, choose egg bites, whole wheat breakfast burritos, or egg white and turkey bacon on a whole-wheat english muffin. It is best to try to skip biscuits, pastries, doughnuts, and other high-carbohydrate foods to avoid blood sugar spikes.
Knowing which foods or ingredients to limit or to avoid altogether when eating out can help improve your blood sugar control and optimize your health.
Foods and ingredients to limit include:
- Foods and drinks high in added sugar, including waffles, pancakes, muffins and other pastries, sweet tea, fruit juice, and sweetened coffee
- Deep-fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, and breakfast cereals
- Processed meats, such as ham, sausage, pepperoni, and some deli meats
- Excess alcohol (that means you, mimosas!)
The following is a cheat sheet of the most popular fast food restaurants that offer healthier breakfast options. You might be surprised at the choices they have!
McDonald’s is a classic stop for a quick breakfast and their ‘Sausage Burrito’ is a smart option for people with diabetes. It’s relatively low in calories-310, it has 26 g of carbohydrates, and it has 12 g of protein to slow carb digestion and balance blood sugar levels. Your second best bet is one of their ‘McMuffins’. They have around 30 g of carbs and a generous amount of protein from the egg and meat combinations.
Wraps are where it’s at when you’re making a diabetes-friendly breakfast choice. The ‘Egg and Turkey Sausage Wake-Up Wrap’ at Dunkin Donuts ranks high with only 240 calories, 15 g of carbohydrates, and 11 g of protein. Dunkin even lets you choose from eggs or egg whites and bacon, ham, sausage, or turkey sausage. Mixing and matching your egg and meat choices impacts how much fat your wrap contains. If you can’t resist a donut, stick with their simple ‘Old-Fashioned Donut’ that has 30 g carbs.
A basic ‘Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit’ offers a good balance of nutrition with 388 calories, 28 g of carbs, and 12 g of protein. Most of the breakfast sandwiches on the Burger King menu hover around 30 g of carbs and more than 10 g of protein, so most options are a reasonable choice. If you want a ‘Croissan’wich’ to mix things up, you’ll only increase the carb count by around 2 g. Do keep an eye on the calories, though. Burger King lets you pile on a lot of extras, which makes the calories add up quickly.
You may not immediately think of Subway as a hot fast-food breakfast spot, but they have tasty flatbreads that offer the right nutrition for people living with diabetes. Just be sure to ask for the 3-inch flatbread, instead of the 6-inch, to keep your carbs lower. The ‘3-inch Basic Flatbread with Egg and Cheese’ only has 220 calories, 22 g of carbs, and 9 g of protein. You can also customize your sandwich if you prefer egg whites, Monterey Jack, or American cheese, another great protein source.
Not a hot breakfast person? Smoothie King is a strong go-to when you want a smoothie that fits diabetes-friendly breakfast guidelines. The ‘Original High-Protein Banana Smoothie’ has a solid balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. The 20-ounce (oz) serving has 340 calories, 35 g of carbs, and 27 g of protein. This smoothie is very high in protein, which keeps you fuller longer and reduces blood sugar spikes. However, be mindful if you are lactose-intolerant, for they use whey protein in their smoothies, which may not be an ideal choice.
If you can’t wait until lunchtime for your Chick-Fil-A fix, head there for a low-carb breakfast that’s great for people living with diabetes! The ‘Hash Brown Scramble Bowl with Nuggets’ gives you all the nugget-y goodness with 470 calories, 19 g of carbs, and 29 g of protein. The best thing about Chick-Fil-A is that you can easily dial down the carbs even further! Opting for grilled chicken or sausage reduces it to 15 g of carbs. If you remove the hash browns you can lower your carb intake to just 1 gram!
The Wendy’s breakfast menu features two types of breakfast sandwiches: biscuits and croissants. You can also choose from a variety of meats. ‘The Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit’ is the best bet for a diabetes-friendly meal plan. It’s the lowest in calories-420, it contains 28 g of carbs, and it has 16 g of protein. The Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit’ option is a close second with similar nutrition, but 200 more calories. If the croissant sounds tastier, keep into consideration that you’ll increase your carbs a bit to 34 g.
Yum, pastry! If you’re tempted to grab a Starbucks pastry, the ‘Petite Vanilla Bean Scone’ only has 120 calories, 18 g of carbs, and 2 g of protein. Pair that with black coffee, sugar-free sweetener, like Stevia, and non-fat milk for a well-rounded Starbucks breakfast. If sweets aren’t your thing, other good options are the ‘Butter Croissant’ and the ‘Ham and Cheese Croissant’. The Butter Croissant has 27 g of carbs and 5 g of protein, while the ham and cheese version has 28 g of carbs and 24 g of protein. Here’s a tip: If you want a trendier coffee drink, ask for the non-fat “skinny” version!
It’s going to be tough to pass up Panera’s breakfast sandwiches, but their ‘Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries Parfait’ is the healthiest choice for people living with diabetes. It’s not just plain ol’ Greek yogurt, either! It’s topped with honey, maple butter pecan granola with whole grain oats, fresh strawberries, and blueberries. All those good ingredients have 240 calories, 27 g of carbs, and 15 g of protein. As a bonus, it supports your heart health by providing 2 g of fiber from the oats and berries.
Eating breakfast at fast food restaurants can be confusing for people living with diabetes, but it isn’t impossible! The key to sticking to your diabetes nutrition plan when eating out is to plan ahead and carefully review the menu to narrow down more healthful options. It is important to focus on meals that include non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid foods that are fried or high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. Lastly, don’t be afraid to make special requests or ask for substitutes! You’ll find restaurants these days are more than accommodating to assisting people with nutritional restrictions of any kind!