The most important meal of the day gets the title for a reason.
After a long night of fasting, your body is begging for nutrition in the morning. Without the proper fuel, you’re left with little energy, an offset mood, wacky cravings and potentially a wider waistline. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?
Some classic morning meals are obvious diet offenders—waffles and pop tarts, you’re not fooling anybody. However, other breakfast staples may not seem so sinful at first glance. Either way, do yourself a favor and skip these seven foods at the breakfast table. Opting for more nutritionally balanced, wholesome alternatives will actually prepare you to take on the day.
Here are a few are a few ideas.
Leave the Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes where they belong—in your childhood memories. The sugar rush from these cereals will mess with your blood sugar and cause you to reach for more sugary snacks later on in the day. “Classic breakfast foods can often be high in sugar, lower in nutritional value including vitamins and minerals, healthy fat, fiber and protein that can help to carry us forward into the day feeling satisfied and energized. This remains true for sweet cereals. Also, be aware that healthier looking options like granolas can also contain high amounts of sugar, so be sure to read the nutrition label before buying!
Waffles can be incredibly heavy on the simple carbs (meaning, they digest quickly and won’t keep you full for long), and have the potential to qualify as a dessert depending on your toppings of choice. Some toaster varieties, if specified on the package, may offer a decent amount of fiber, but others can be seriously lacking. Whether you make your own batter or pop some in the toaster, waffles don’t exactly provide you with a balanced breakfast. “When it comes to picking a great breakfast, you always want to combine protein or fat with minimally processed carbohydrates that are rich in fiber, for example, scrambled eggs with fruit or toast.
Nothing quite hits the spot like a glass of OJ in the morning, right? This breakfast mainstay is actually loaded with sugar and relatively low in nutrition (especially highly processed, store-bought varieties). “Juice (particularly heat pasteurized fruit juice) in the morning can serve up a high dose of sugar and calories. Also, given that the fruit juice is processed at a higher temperature some of the nutrient value can be lost, too. Instead, choose a freshly squeezed juice, cold-pressed juice or high-pressure-pasteurized fruit and vegetable juice that contains more nutrients and less sugar. A good rule is to look for a juice that boasts two veggies for every fruit included.
Do your best to resist the closet bagel or bread shop on the corner — there’s nothing smart about this a.m. pick. Bagels are calorie bombs — you might measure them as one serving, but one bagel is equivalent to roughly four slices of bread — and offer very little nutrition. Not to mention, most are considered simple carbohydrates, so unless it’s whole wheat, you’ll miss out on fiber content that would keep you feeling satisfied. And sorry, cream cheese is really only there to satisfy your taste buds, not your nutritional needs — even if it’s the veggie kind. If you really can’t kick your morning bagel, try eating half of a whole-wheat bagel with avocado or nut butter for the spread. This way you’ll cut back on calories and add in some healthy protein, fiber, and fat to balance the meal.
Oatmeal can be one of the best ways to start your day, but pre-mixed packets offer a little more than you bargained for. “When we choose premixed oatmeal, we typically get less fiber because the grain is generally more processed, and more added sugar,” says Smith. For a healthier bowl, add your own fruit to plain oats. Nut butter, seeds, coconut, and cinnamon are all tasty and healthy add-ins, too.
The only thing these pastries are fueling is your nostalgia. Grabbing a Pop-Tart out of the toaster on your way to school as a kid may have been sufficient back then, but your body relies on your morning meal for energy — and this pick will leave you hanging. Any natural energy you do get from the superfluous sugar in these pastries will soon be followed by a crash. Also, the low fiber count doesn’t help balance things out either.
Similar to pre-mixed oatmeal, yogurt starts out as a healthy choice, before companies start to add consumer-attracting extras like artificial colors and flavors. “Yogurt in its plain form is great because it’s a good source of calcium, protein and gut-healthy probiotics. However, in most cases, flavored versions contain lots of added sugar and syrup—, especially fruit-on-the-bottom varieties. Choose a plain yogurt instead, and add your own fruit and even a few nuts for healthy fat that will promote slower digestion and increased satiety.
What are you having for Breakfast?
Eating a healthy breakfast every morning can boost weight loss, protect against disease and make your entire body function better throughout the rest of the day. Breakfast can also improve concentration and mood. The components of a healthy breakfast are similar to any healthy meal, with a focus on nutritious ingredients. Preparation for a healthy breakfast can often be done the night before, freeing up your busy morning.
A healthy breakfast contains one or more of four core food groups: whole grains, low-fat dairy, low-fat protein and fruits and vegetables. Whole grains provide carbohydrates to fuel daily activity and fiber to keep the digestive system in good condition. Low-fat dairy provides calcium and vitamin D to keep bones strong. Low-fat protein supplies the amino acid building blocks for cellular repair and production. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that keep cellular processes functioning and protect the body from disease.
Many people don’t get enough nutrients in their diet; breakfast can be a chance to front-load your day with vitamins and minerals you might miss out on otherwise. Even better, most traditional breakfast foods feature the nutrients people need most. Orange or grapefruit juice is an excellent source of vitamin C. Eggs, breakfast meats such as Canadian bacon or sausage and fortified cereals can provide iron. Milk and yogurt are great calcium sources. Folate is present in fortified whole grain products and fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of necessary nutrients.
At a restaurant or when getting fast food for breakfast, remember to avoid high levels of salt, saturated fat and sugar. Look for 100 percent fruit juices and menu items listed as heart-healthy or light. If necessary, ask that dishes be altered to reduce salt or fat levels. For example, at a restaurant choose whole wheat toast with your breakfast instead of white toast and ask that full-fat cheese be eliminated from your omelet.
Cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal, served with berries and a glass of milk can provide whole grains, dairy and fruit for breakfast. Avoid instant oatmeal with added sugars and choose steel-cut oatmeal or rolled oats instead. Whole grain hot cereals can be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator. Another option is an egg white omelet with spinach and cheese. Whole grain waffles with peanut butter and a glass of orange juice on the side is another healthy breakfast idea. You don’t have to eat the same kind of breakfast every day, but having a few standby options can eliminate the need to decide what to make every morning.
Fixing a healthy breakfast in the morning doesn’t have to be difficult, but on some days you may feel like you just don’t have time to put together a morning meal. Keeping in mind the guidelines for breakfast nutrition can help you decide what to eat on days when you’re in a hurry. Instead of reaching for sugary pastries or cereal when you’re on the go, opt for a healthy breakfast bar or a piece of whole wheat toast and an apple to tide you over until you can eat something more substantial.
Make your day start with breakfast!