You must have heard the expression “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” by now and you had better believe it!
People who are most successful at losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight are breakfast eaters. This may be because eating breakfast helps to keep hunger at bay and prevent people from over eating during the day. Your body knows that it needs a certain amount of food and energy; skipping meals and under-eating can lead to overeating in an attempt to make up for the deficit.
Breakfast eaters tend to eat fewer calories over the course of a day and aren’t as prone to large swings in blood sugar, hunger and energy levels.
Eating a protein-rich breakfast helps to stimulate your metabolism which slows down while you are asleep. Breakfast, especially when it includes a good source of protein, is also a great way to start to replace some of the protein that is lost from our muscles during sleep as well.
Keep in mind though, that not all breakfasts are created equal. Grabbing a coffee and a sugary pastry is not the way to go. Although, at least you’d be getting some much needed protein from your skinny cappuccino, whether it was made with cows milk or soy milk.
1. Add a Veggie or a Fruit
Plant foods are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients, buzzwords which simply means they have a lot of health-promoting properties above and beyond their vitamin and mineral content. They also help to ensure you meet your fibre requirements. Including some at breakfast will go a long way to helping you reach the daily recommended intake of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, which in turn can help lower your risk for certain chronic diseases. How about adding shredded zucchini, spinach and peppers to your scrambled eggs?
2. Finesse your Fibre
Women need about 25g of fibre per day and men need around 38g of fibre each day. Most of us fall short on getting enough fibre. Breakfast is a great time for getting much needed fibre into your body as many breakfast foods are naturally high in fibre. Go for unrefined grains like rolled oats or try unsweetened bran cereal: add a tablespoon to oatmeal, throw some into your smoothie or sprinkle some, along with some chia seeds and ground flax seeds, on top of cottage cheese or Greek yoghurt and fruit salad. Fibre helps to maintain a feeling of fullness, especially if paired up with protein like cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, or whey protein powder in a smoothie.
3. Time is of the Essence?
Some have suggested that timing is critical; that it’s important to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up to avoid your body from going into ‘starvation mode’. Although there is still controversy about this suggestion, it is definitely true that there are benefits from eating breakfast. Do your best to have something even if it’s just a piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg.
4. Protein Power
Protein helps to offset muscle protein losses that naturally occur while we sleep. Muscles are made up of protein and protein is made up of amino acids. During the night, muscle is broken down to supply our bodies with necessary amino acids, so it’s critical to eat protein to replace them. Protein-rich foods help to boost the metabolism and help to provide a sense of fullness which helps to keep hunger in check. Protein also helps to stimulate the rebuilding of muscle tissue. Good breakfast protein choices include eggs, cottage cheese, fat-free or low-fat cheese and yoghurt, nuts, seeds, legumes such as baked beans, protein powders like whey, meats and fish.
Just like water, or vitamins and minerals, fat is an essential nutrient. Fat also contributes to a feeling of fullness; the ultimate triad for keeping hunger at bay is protein, fibre and fat. Fat is needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K and the carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables like lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein. Many nutritious foods naturally contain fat like eggs, dairy foods like milk, yoghurt, and cheese, milk alternatives like hemp, and soy, nuts and seeds and proteins such as fish and meat. You don’t need to add fat to meals that contains these foods already. Including foods containing fats like these at breakfast will also add flavour to your morning meal.
6. Lose the Juice
There’s nothing special or magical about fruit juice. Juice is lacking in fibre and doesn’t require chewing like eating whole fruit does. As such, it’s easier to drink too much juice and consume more calories than you intended. There are healthy alternatives:
- low-sodium tomato juice is naturally low in sugar and rich in lycopene
- small amounts of 100% fruit juice like blueberry, pomegranate, grape, or freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice will be loaded with healthy antioxidants
Remember to keep it to 125ml per day if you do opt to have juice.
7. Add Some Egg-citement
Eggs are super versatile: hard-boiled, soft-boiled, fried, scrambled or poached. Because eggs taste great they’re an easy food for both adults and children to enjoy. With 14 essential vitamins and minerals, including lesser known nutrients like choline and lutein, eggs pack a nutritional punch in a very small package. A large egg boasts good amounts of vitamin A, choline, lutein, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, folate, biotin, phosphorus, zinc, selenium and more.
Not only are the amounts of nutrients in eggs impressive, but those nutrients are absorbed much more efficiently than they are from plant foods. You might be worried about the cholesterol in eggs; don’t be. Egg consumption has never been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, and for those of whom it’s important, the Harvard School of Public Health has given the green light on regular egg consumption. One egg is a better choice than any piece of whole grain toast.
8. Optimize Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are a unique form of polyunsaturated fat required for human health, but not all omega-3 fats are created equal. There are two main types of omega-3 fat in our diet: plant-based alpha linolenic acid (ALA), and animal-based eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and decosahexanoic acid (DHA). Humans can not convert ALA to EPA and DHA efficiently so it’s important to include foods with EPA and DHA such as fish, seafood, omega-3 fortified eggs, liquid egg products and/or fish oils. Make no mistake, ALA from foods such as flax, chia, hemp, or soy beans is not the same as EPA and DHA.
There is no shortage of research supporting the health-promoting properties of EPA & DHA omega-3 fats. Many cultures will, and do, eat fish for breakfast so it’s just a matter of doing so on a consistent basis. You can also try omega-3 fortified eggs.
9. Dose Some Dairy
Dairy has been a staple of breakfast for what seems like forever. Dairy, while not mandatory for a healthy diet, can certainly be part of one. Everyone knows that dairy is a great source of calcium but it is also a great source of many other important nutrients too. Milk has added vitamin A, some vitamin D, riboflavin or vitamin B2, vitamin B12, phosphorus and protein. Both cottage cheese and yoghurt are also sources of protein.
A lesser appreciated choice for breakfast is mature cheese; cheese that has been matured for more than 6 months. These are one of only a couple of sources of vitamin K2, a vitamin that is just starting to be appreciated despite being known about for decades. Vitamin K2 is especially important for its role in reducing the risk for osteoporosis and heart disease by helping to keep calcium in the bones and teeth where it belongs. Vitamin K2 is showing promise in reducing the risk for diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and arthritis. Milk, cheeses, yoghurt and butter used to be very rich in vitamin K2 when they were produced from milk from grass-fed cattle, but modern farming methods caused that to change in the second half of the 20th century.
10. Shun The Sugars
Here we’re talking about the sugary cereals that have entire aisles dedicated to them in grocery stores. Most breakfast cereals are highly refined, even the so-called healthy versions, but the worst offenders are those that are loaded with added sugars. Other breakfast foods to keep on your sugar radar are fruit bars, cereal bars, granola bars and yoghurt drinks. A word to the wise, because the printed nutrition information doesn’t distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars, be sure to double check the ingredient list. If sugar has been added, you’ll find it there.
11. Wicked Whey
Whey is derived from milk and is the richest source of a unique set of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the three in particular are referred to as branched-chain amino acids. Whey, and branched chain amino acids have been shown to be the best at promoting muscle protein growth which is great for anyone who’s interested in maintaining muscle strength as they age. It has also been shown to be superior at increasing satiety or the sense of fullness after eating making it a great staple for breakfast smoothies. Whey is also a rich source of cysteine, another amino acid which the body uses to make a very important antioxidant called glutathione. Maintaining high glutathione levels throughout life has been associated with longevity and a lower risk for many degenerative diseases.
12. Include Some Intact Grains
While everyone has heard of whole grains, many will not be as familiar with the term ‘intact’ grain. To be considered whole grain, a food may contain intact grains, or minimally processed grains, or milled grains from which no component has been removed during the milling process. ‘Whole’ doesn’t mean intact, it means the sum, or the proportion, of the parts of the original intact grain need only be present in a food product.
In other words, food companies can produce products and claim that they’re made with whole grains but the quality of those products can vary greatly. Take for example rolled oats and barley, both intact grains compared to some, highly refined cereals that are 35-40% sugar by weight. The cereal makers add back the milled grain with its “principle components, the endosperm, germ and bran, in relative proportion to how they exist in the intact grain” and hey presto, they can claim that their products are made with whole grains. The real difference here is that an intact grain will retain more of the original nutrients and are digested much, much slower than any minimally processed or milled grain.
Including more intact grains at breakfast is easy when you choose rolled oats or even quick porridge. You can even add intact grains to your breakfast smoothie or protein shake.