How a low GI breakfast may help reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

Picture: Oleg Dudko / 123rf

Experts have been saying for decades that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Now, researchers from the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) here have proven why this is so: What is eaten for breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day in terms of sugar in the blood.


The centre has shown that people who have a low glycaemic index (GI) breakfast and afternoon snack have significantly less sugar in their blood for the rest of the day.


GI measures the sugar in the blood from the carbohydrates eaten. A glycaemic response is the amount of sugar in the blood over time resulting from food.


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The trial found that while participants were offered a standard buffet lunch and were free to eat what they wanted for dinner, what they had for breakfast made a vast difference to their glycaemic response.


The difference was even larger on the second day of the study.


Professor Jeyakumar Henry, head of the CNRC and one of the researchers involved, told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: “So what you eat at breakfast sets your glucose response to the entire day at a lower amplitude.”


The researchers postulate two possible reasons for this. One is that those on a low GI breakfast were possibly more satiated and ate less for lunch. The other is something called a “second meal effect”, where a low GI meal reduced the glucose response to the next meal taken.


The study results were published last year in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Endocrinology.


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The researchers suggested that a low GI breakfast “may help to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes”, which is caused by high blood sugar levels.


Over two days, the 11 male participants were given a high or low GI breakfast and afternoon snack, a common buffet lunch and were free to choose their own dinner.


The low GI breakfast comprised multigrain bread and parboiled basmati rice while the high GI breakfast was white bread and glutinous rice.


The 11 men each wore a continuous glucose monitoring machine that tested their blood glucose every five minutes over 48 hours.


A week later, they went through the whole process again, but those who originally had the low GI breakfast now had the high GI version.


The difference in blood sugar level, even overnight, was significantly lower with the low GI breakfast.


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Having high levels of sugar in the blood stresses the pancreas, which has to produce more insulin to move the sugar to the muscles, where it is converted to energy.


Over time, too much stress decreases the effectiveness of the pancreas. When the pancreas is consistently unable to clear the sugar, people become diabetic.


High levels of sugar in the blood also significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, blindness and kidney failure.


Singapore has one of the highest incidence of diabetes among developed countries, with one in four people here suffering from diabetes or headed that way. 




Low glycaemic index (GI) food results in less sugar in the blood. The information here is from Temasek Polytechnic’s GI testing and research unit, the only facility in the region that meets international standards.



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LOW GI BREAKFASTS: soon kueh (with thin skin), stir-fried bee hoon, adai (rice and black lentil pancake), pongal (mixture of rice and different types of lentils), multigrain chappati, rolled oats (wholegrain), multigrain bread, sour dough bread, wholemeal bread, muesli (with Healthier Choice symbol), all bran breakfast cereals



HIGH GI BREAKFASTS: chee cheong fun, rice dumpling, sticky rice in lotus leaf, nasi lemak, ketupat, jemput jemput (fritters), putu mayam, roti prata, instant/quick cooking oats, white bread, cornflakes and other sugar-coated breakfast cereals


This article was first published in The Straits Times.