A dietitian breaks down why you don't need to shy away from "sugar" in the morning

By Refinery29
September 02, 2016

In her column, How To Eat, Refinery29's favorite intuitive eating coach Christy Harrison, MPH, RD helps you do just that by answering the food and nutrition questions that really matter.

How bad is it to eat a sugary breakfast? My acupuncturist once scolded me for having fruit and oatmeal for breakfast because she said it spikes my blood sugar first thing in the morning.

This is a great question, and I hear it a lot from my clients. The short answer is that a sugary breakfast isn't "bad," but it just may not always make you feel your best.

While an acupuncturist isn't the best person to take food advice from (for example, I wouldn't call oatmeal and fruit "sugary," actually, but more on that later), yours is right that eating a helping of carbohydrates alone does cause your blood sugar to rise more quickly than if you had something more balanced, with protein, fat, or fiber in addition to the carbs.

That's because when you eat carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks them down into a type of sugar called glucose, which is the primary source of fuel for all your body's needs. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. In fact, all sugars are carbohydrates-but not all carbohydrates are sugars (the other main types of carbs are starches and fiber). In general, sugars are broken down into glucose more quickly than other types of carbs, which means they are absorbed into your bloodstream more quickly and can cause a blood-sugar "spike" followed by a dip, if eaten alone.

This means that if you have a truly sugary breakfast, you probably won't feel energized for long. But, if you eat sugars with other foods that slow their absorption, that spike-and-crash pattern can be avoided. Take, for example, your oatmeal-and-fruit breakfast. Sure, fruit contains some natural sugars, but it also has a nice dose of fiber, which helps reduce the blood-sugar spike. Ditto the oatmeal, which in its plain form is mostly starches and fiber, with no sugars at all. And whether you sprinkle a little sugar on plain oatmeal, eat a packet of the pre-sweetened kind, or buy a bowl from your favorite cafe, your oatmeal still probably contains less sugar than cold cereal (which is still an okay breakfast choice, if that's what you want).

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