Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day, but which are the right foods to fuel your body for the long haul?
It’s true that breakfast has the potential to give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to tackle any task that comes your way. But choosing the wrong foods could have the opposite effect, weighing you down with sugars and unnecessary carbs that leave you feeling sluggish for the remainder of the day. Knowing which breakfast foods are beneficial and which to avoid will help you make the best decisions each morning.
What to Eat
Oats are a gluten-free whole grain that serve as an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. In fact, just half a cup of oats contains a laundry list of beneficial nutrients, including magnesium, iron, zinc, folate and vitamin B1.
When it comes to making oatmeal for breakfast, a few options contain varying levels of nutrients and added ingredients. Instant oatmeal is widely available on store shelves but is the most processed form of oats and many times contains added flavors that increase sugar content. Instant oats also contain the lowest amount of fiber, which translates to feeling hungry again sooner. Alternatively, steel-cut oats take longer to cook, but are the least processed variety and contain the most nutrients.
Thankfully, there is a compromise. Rolled oats take about 10 minutes to cook and have almost the same nutrients as the steel-cut variety. A quick Internet search will provide a number of overnight oat recipes that use rolled oats as the base ingredient with added fruits and grains for flavor.
Eggs are one of the best options for breakfast because they’re naturally high in favorable vitamins — including A, B2, B12 and D — and protein. The protein in eggs (three large eggs contain about 20 grams) will boost energy levels and keep you feeling full. Eggs are also extremely versatile. Scrambled, poached and over-easy eggs are great pairings with coffee and grapefruit. But if you don’t have a lot of time, a hardboiled egg is an easy option that delivers the same benefits.
Greek yogurt is an ideal choice for breakfast because it has plenty of calcium and protein to keep you full throughout the morning. By straining the yogurt to remove whey — which is found in many yogurts — Greek yogurt is creamier in texture and has comparatively more protein and less sugar and carbohydrates.
Having plain Greek yogurt every day may seem bland, but there are plenty of topping choices that add flavor and nutrients, including chia seeds, granola, honey and many of your favorite fruits.
Coffee made the list! The levels of caffeine in black coffee are known to improve mood and alertness and aid in burning extra calories throughout the day. However, coffee can quickly become a vehicle for unhealthy add-ons, including syrups, creams and sugars that tack on calories without any nutritional value.
What to Avoid
Granola bars are popular mainly because they are convenient. Unfortunately, most granola bars lack the ingredients you should be eating at breakfast, like protein and fiber. Instead, they contain additives, oils and genetically modified organisms. There are a few exceptions, such as the Larabar and Kind brands, that have short lists of easily identifiable ingredients including nuts, fruits, quinoa and flax.
Many muffins are merely cupcakes that lack frosting, and that’s exactly why the ones drizzled with chocolate or gleaming specks of sugar are what many of us reach for first. Muffins are high in sugars and fats, and the perfect disguise for added calories that might cause an initial spike in energy, but they will ultimately leave you tired for the remainder of the day.
Drinking fruit juice alone does not constitute a balanced breakfast. Even all-natural juices are still concentrated with sugars and lack the nutrients your body is craving when you wake up. And because fruit juice lacks protein and fiber, you’ll be hungry again well before lunch.
Instead of drinking your daily dose of fruit, eat it. Whole fruits have drastically lower levels of sugars and calories. One cup of apple juice has 120 calories and 27 grams of sugar, whereas an apple has 72 calories and 14 grams of sugar. Similarly, a single cup of grape juice has more than twice the number of calories and sugars as one cup of whole grapes.
A quick rule of thumb: Skip breakfast if your food of choice has a cartoon character on the box. Regardless of the claims on the packaging that advertise heart health or whole grains, cereals are highly processed and loaded with sugars. A 2011 study on 84 popular brands found that more than half of the cereals analyzed had more sugar in one serving than three chocolate chip cookies.
There’s a notable trend among breakfast foods: Look for foods that are high in protein or fiber, and avoid the options that contain excessive amounts of sugar and too many artificial ingredients.