Breakfast is the golden meal for many Americans, but one of the biggest complaints I hear is that our iconic breakfast foods are packed with carbohydrates. It’s a valid point: pancakes, waffles, cinnamon buns, croissants, coffee extra light and extra sweet, sugary cereals, grab-and-go granola bars… Your morning meal can easily turn into a landslide of sugar.
But let’s take a step back – don’t get frustrated and skip breakfast! The word breakfast comes from breaking fast — it is a chance for your body to get some actual external energy to help fuel your day. Without it, your body will rely on your energy stores from the night before and, if those run too low, you may be sluggish and sleepy.
Research stands behind breakfast as an important part of your routine (check out the links throughout this article for the original studies). Consistent breakfast intake has been linked to maintaining weight loss and higher levels of a hormone called Peptide YY which helps decrease appetite and intake.
Skipping breakfast, however, may lead to higher blood sugar spikes at your next meal, insulin resistance, and larger intake later in the day- which major implications for anyone with diabetes!
The actual foods that you eat for breakfast also play a big role in how hungry you are later as well as how high your blood sugar will go:
Higher protein / lower carbohydrate breakfasts have also linked to lower blood sugar after breakfast). Choosing lower Glycemic Index (GI) foods — foods that impact your blood sugar less drastically — can help you predict your blood sugar response even more than the just carbohydrates counting alone (study here), which supports the choice of whole grains and high-fiber foods rather than refined sugars. A clinical trial also supported Low Glycemic Index / High Fiber breakfast combinations as they led to lower blood sugar spikes and less required insulin than High Glycemic Index / Low Fiber breakfasts (think high in refined grains and sugar). For more info on glycemic index, check out my break down.
Okay- so what can I eat?!
I generally recommend around 30 grams of carbohydrates with breakfast, which should provide you with some wonderful energy without spiking your blood sugar too much.
Try any of these combinations to get a moderate amount of carbohydrates, adequate protein, and healthy fats:
- 1 slice whole grain toast + 1 tablespoon almond / peanut / sunflower seed butter + 1/2 cup fresh berries
- 1 cup cooked plain oatmeal + 1 tsp maple syrup + 1 tsp cinnamon + 2 Tablespoons of walnuts or almonds
- 1 whole wheat pancake + 1 tsp light butter + 1 tsp maple syrup + 2 links turkey bacon or sausage (~1 oz)
- 1 piece whole wheat toast + scrambled egg mix (Mix 1 egg + 3 egg whites together, or 1/4 cup liquid whites alone) scrambled with 1/2 cup chopped veggies.
- 1 whole wheat mini bagel + 2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese + 1 piece of fruit
- 1 6-oz flavored Greek yogurt + 1 tsp of flax seeds + 1 Tablespoon sliced almonds
- 3/4 cup bran flakes + 1 cup skim milk + 2 tablespoons of diced prunes or raisins
- 3/4 cup cooked grits + 1/2 oz low fat cheese mixed in + 1 egg
- 6 ounces plain yogurt + 1 tsp honey + 1/2 cup berries + 4 oz almond milk – blend for smoothie
- 1 slice whole wheat toast + 1/2 sliced avocado (trendy but also healthy!)
- 1/2 cup part skim ricotta + 1 tsp honey drizzled + 1/4 cup berries + 1 Tablespoon sliced almonds
- 1 small apple + 1.5 Tablespoon almond butter
If you have diabetes, you may want to substitute sugar-free syrup to minimize blood sugar spikes. For others, though, small portions of these items can still fit into a well rounded diet.
Bonus Round: Frozen Breakfasts
Are you used to grabbing something from your freezer before you hit the road each morning? Sometimes convenience is king, so I’d rather see you stock your freezer with healthy breakfast options than grab something high fat and high calorie from a fast food joint on the go. These are some of my top healthy options from the freezer aisle:
- Healthy Choice Power Bowls: Pesto and Egg White scramble
- Amy’s Tofu Scramble Breakfast Wrap
- VitaTops Protein Banana Chocolate Chip
- Kellogg’s Spinach, Egg, & Cheese Medley Flatbread Breakfast Sandwich
- Kellogg’s Portabella, Kale, & Quinoa Quiche
- Kodiak Power Waffles
My main caution with frozen items is that they tend to have a ton of added sodium, so you may want to avoid these options if you are prone to hypertension. It’s also wise to eat lower sodium foods during the rest of the day if you rely on these quick and convenient breakfasts. When looking at other options, I recommend avoiding anything with a croissant, biscuit, or texas toast (they tend to be both high fat and high carb). Anything made with whole grains, egg whites, and veggies is usually a decent option. If you’re choosing something with a breakfast meat, turkey bacon and sausage are leaner but higher in salt; bacon and regular sausage are higher in saturated fat.
Whichever breakfast option works best for you, remember to try to combine high quality carbohydrates from fruits, grains, and veggies along with lean protein and you’ll be setting yourself up for success! Choose one option here and make it your mission to try it out this week.
If you’re looking for more personalized nutrition advice, contact me for an appointment!