Autumn 2015 On the Shelf
October 02, 2015 By Alyssa Schwartz
Muffins for Breakfast?

How do you make muffins part of a nutritious breakfast? Start with a good mix of foods.

You have probably heard this message before: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it is important to understand why, especially if you live with diabetes. “Starting your day off with breakfast fuels your body and helps you meet your nutritional requirements for the whole day,” says Stephanie Boutette, a registered dietitian and education coordinator with the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA).

“Skipping breakfast can cause you to overeat at lunchtime, or lead you to eat those less healthy food cravings mid-morning. For people with diabetes, it’s really important to have consistent meals to help regulate blood sugar.”

Reviews of observational studies found that adults who skip breakfast are more likely to have a higher BMI or to be overweight or obese than adults who eat breakfast. Consuming breakfast is also associated with a lower degree of weight gain over time.

The Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada (CDA Guidelines): recommend that breakfast (or any meal) should include foods from any three out of the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide—vegetables and fruit, cereals and grains, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives. “The body needs an adequate amount of carbohydrates, fibre, healthy fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals,” says Boutette. “You can get that by making sure to incorporate a variety of foods.”

“For a balanced breakfast that includes a muffin, have it with an apple and some cheese, or some nut butter and a glass of milk.” – Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and education coordinator, Canadian Diabetes Association

Make it whole grain

When it comes to easy, healthful, and tasty options, how do muffins—with their crunchy baked tops and sweet, fluffy interiors—measure up? On their own, they do not provide a balanced breakfast, but they can play an important role. “Your muffin would be considered your grain or your starch. You can complete it with a source of protein and a fruit or dairy product,” Boutette says. She adds that muffins made with ingredients such as whole-grain flour can provide a good amount of fibre, which helps you feel full and regulates blood glucose (sugar). Most Canadians do not get enough fibre daily, which is an important part of a healthful diet.

“If you’re looking at an ingredients list, ensure that whole-grain whole wheat is the first ingredient,” Boutette says. “Try to avoid muffins made with refined flour. If the list includes ‘enriched flours,’ that means some of the vitamins and minerals lost during processing were added back, but they’re still missing some of the nutrients and fibre you find in whole grains.”

“Breakfast can help keep you satisfied and on track for the day.” – Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and education coordinator, Canadian Diabetes Association

Comparison shopping

When you are comparing muffins, compare their Nutrition Facts tables and choose one with at least two grams of fibre, though options with four to six grams are a better choice.

Fibre is not the only thing you should consider. “If you’re looking at a chocolate chip muffin with white flour and high amounts of sugar and fat, there’s not a whole lot of difference between it and a cupcake. It’s essentially just a cupcake without icing,” Boutette says.

“In the case of many commercially produced foods, saturated fats and sodium may be present in higher levels than in foods you make at home,” adds Boutette. “If possible, look for options with less than five per cent of the daily value for these two nutrients on the Nutrition Facts table.” She also suggests keeping the portion size in mind. Many storebought products are a lot larger than they used to be, and larger portions mean more calories.

The problem is that depending on where you buy your muffins, nutrition information may be limited. “When you buy muffins in a package at the grocery store, the Nutrition Facts table will be on the label. That can help you decide whether one muffin is a better choice than another,” says Boutette. “If you go to a bakery or a coffee shop, you can’t always make that decision, although some places may provide the nutritional information online or in a pamphlet. Look at that information in advance or while you’re waiting in line. You can then make a more informed choice. It may not always be easy, especially if you’re buying a muffin on a whim or if the information is not readily available. Ask questions if you cannot find the information on your own.”

The bottom line? “Read labels and ask questions,” Boutette says. “And if you can, make your muffins at home so you can control the portions and ingredients. There’s a lot of variety in muffins and some are better than others. Information can help you decide whether a particular muffin is a good option for you.”

How do these store-bought* muffins stack up?

Brand/serving size Calories Total fat (g) Saturated fat (g) Sugars (g) Protein (g) Sodium (mg) Fibre (g) Carbohydrates (g)
Irresistables Life Smart Cranberry Orange Bran (½ of package, prepared according to instructions) 140 1.0 0.2 10 8 240 7 33
Quaker Low Fat Bran Muffin (¼ cup dry mix, about one muffin) 150 3.0 1.0 12 3 260 3 28
Vitamuffins CranBran (1 muffin/55 g) 100 0.5 0 7 5 125 11 26
Udi’s Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins (1 muffin/85 g) 250 9.0 2.5 21 3 260 1 40
U-Be-Livin-Smart Belgian Chocolate with Banana Muffins (1 muffin/78 g) 140 4.0 2.0 9 9 180 4 20
Tim Hortons’ Whole Grain Carrot Orange Muffin (1 muffin/115 g) 350 11.0 1.5 26 5 360 6 59
Starbucks’ Raisin Bran Muffin (1 muffin) 320 12.0 N/A N/A 6 N/A 6 54

*Items 1 and 2 are mixes, 3 is frozen, and 4 and 5 can be found in the bakery section.

In the mix

Muffins can help you meet your target for daily fibre consumption. To do that effectively,

  • Choose muffins made with whole grains and ingredients such as vegetables.
  • Choose muffins with at least two grams of fibre.

How much fibre is enough?

The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes have more fibre than the general population because of the beneficial effects. It recommends that adults get between 25 and 50 grams of fibre every day.

Did You Know?

Fibre offers a number of important health benefits, including controlling blood sugar, managing blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol, and increasing the feeling of being full. For more information, visit

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