What To Eat For Breakfast and Why

We’ve all heard the advice to eat breakfast because it is the most important meal of the day.  Occasionally I’ll see one article or another come out that tries to refute this and justify skipping it.  What I know personally and have seen with clients is that breakfast, whether it is skipped altogether, healthy and balanced, or not so much, has a big impact on appetite and food choices the rest of the day. Here are a few breakfast blunders that I see often.

1.  Skipping breakfast altogether.
People who skip breakfast usually are susceptible to mid-morning break-room junk and/or being so hungry by lunch they overeat.  Going without breakfast is usually attributed to a lack of time in the morning. I get it, I’m not a morning person either, and as soon as my feet hit the floor I’m on the move getting myself and my kids out the door. Regardless, finding the time for breakfast is critical.

I clocked my breakfast preparation this morning and it took 6 minutes from start to finish to prepare a balanced, delicious meal.  So, while I realize we don’t have a lot of extra time in the morning, I bet we could all find an extra 5-10 minutes to ensure that we fuel our body to set us up to eat healthier the rest of the day.

2.  Not hungry right when you get up.  Some clients tell me they just don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning. That’s fine, no need to eat right when your feet hit the ground.  One client told me that just giving herself 30 minutes to an hour gave her time to feel hungry and ready to eat a more balanced breakfast.  One research trial, called The Bath Breakfast Project, showed that eating within two hours helped stabilize glucose levels all day long.  More stable blood sugars result in less crashes and more stability in mood and energy throughout the day.  The danger here is getting busy with your day and forgetting.  Set a reminder if you need to.

Too much coffee is sometimes the culprit when it comes to lack of appetite in the morning.  Often people fill up on coffee and sugary creamer or whatever goes in the coffee and between being amped up on caffeine and the extra calories they don’t have an appetite to eat.  As an example, a Starbucks skinny grande Pumpkin Spice Latte clocks in at 260 calories and 49 grams of sugar – that’s 12 teaspoons.  After one of those, who needs breakfast.  Be mindful of what is going in your coffee and use moderation in how many cups.  Do you really need that second or third cup or is it more of a habit?  I recently went from two to one cup of coffee per day and although it was weird in the beginning, after a week or two I didn’t miss it one bit.

3.  Unbalanced – too many carbs or none at all.  Good carbs give our body sustainable energy and protein helps to make that energy last even longer and make us feel fuller longer.  In other words helping us avoid that mid-morning sugar crash that send us in search of either more caffeine or more sugar or both.

Very often I see clients eating very sugary, processed, carb-heavy breakfasts, eg. donuts, bagels, or sugary cereal with little to no protein along with it.  The more we can switch those carbs from white flour carbs to high-fiber, whole grains and balance them with good protein the better our body will respond. If you are a cereal eater this 5-5-10 cereal rule from Cooking Light can help you make the smart choice when you are choosing your cereal. Look for cereals with:

  • At least 5 grams of fiber- more is better, or add more by adding fruit or nuts
  • At least 5 grams of naturally occurring protein found in whole grains, nuts, and seeds- instead of added proteins from processed “isolates”
  • No more than 10 grams of sugar- less is better

Some cereals that meet the 5-5-10 rule are Quaker Cinnamon Oatmeal Squares (my favorite), Kashi GoLean Clusters, Vanilla Pepita, Grape Nuts, and Great Grain Crunchy Pecans.

4.  Not enough protein.
Aim for at least 15 total grams of protein in your breakfast too.  Getting a good amount of protein at breakfast has been shown to reduce hunger, help people eat fewer calories the rest of the day, and reduce late-night snacking and cravings.  Whole grains, Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butters, or eggs are all good high-quality protein sources to include.

High protein breakfast examples:
1.  1/2 cup oatmeal made with skim milk, 1/2 cup berries, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, sprinkle with cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
2.  Breakfast burrito:  100% whole wheat tortilla, 1 scrambled egg, sautéed onions, 1/4 cup black beans topped with salsa.

5.  Not enough real food – too many bars and shakes. One of the questions I get asked most often is which energy bar is the best.  Some bars are better than others as far as their ingredients and containing whole foods vs. processed junk and loads of sugar.  In general though I think many of us rely way too much on supplements or pseudo-foods.  Of course bars are ok in a pinch, maybe once a week, but I don’t advise relying on them on a regular basis.  Real food is always your best choice.

6.  Going through the drive-thru.  As is true with every other meal of the day, eating at home for breakfast is always your best bet.  It is very difficult to eat well at fast food or even sit down restaurants for breakfast.  Think about what you normally order.  Is it balanced and healthy?  Does it include a fruit or vegetable?  A big part of ending up eating out is lack of preplanning. It is critical to think ahead and hit the grocery store so that you have some healthy breakfast items on hand.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Just choose a couple different breakfasts and make sure you have those items on hand.

Do any of these blunders sound like you?  If so, make a plan to make a change in your breakfast routine. Focus on:

  • Making time, just 5-10 minutes, each morning to set yourself up for a healthy day.
  • Eat within 2 hours of waking
  • Use the 5-5-10 rule to choose a healthy cereal
  • Up your protein and fiber and reduce sugar
  • Find what you like and keep these on hand to avoid bars and drive-thrus.

Commit to working on it daily and make note of how your breakfast impacts the rest of your day.  It really is one of the most important meals of the day and well worth your time and effort!