Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Eat a Healthy Breakfast: Ask the Nutritionist

Question:
What are the basic ingredients (nutrients and/or foods) in a healthy breakfast? I need a lot of energy to get my day started!
Answer:

You’re right! You do need a lot of energy to get your day started. Your breakfast is the first meal your body has seen in around 10 hours. So you have to replenish your energy stores to get your body and metabolism going. Lean proteins and healthy carbs help you feel nice and full without packing on the calories, and there are many options for both. Eggs are a great protein source. If you want to cut calories and cholesterol, eat egg whites. Lean breakfast meats also work. Low-fat and fat-free milk and yogurt are rich in protein -- and obviously low in fat. For your carbs, get some oatmeal or a whole grain, low-sugar cereal (less than 10 grams of sugar per serving). Fruit is, of course, another good choice.

Question:
For breakfast, I usually eat about 1½ cups of shredded wheat with 1 half banana and skim milk. But after a couple hours, I feel hungry again. Is it OK to eat again that soon after a breakfast, or do I need to eat more at breakfast so that I don't get hungry again so soon?
Answer:

It's perfectly OK to eat again after 2 hours. In fact, that’s what I recommend -- eating every 2 to 3 hours. It’s much better to eat smaller, more frequent meals and snacks than to eat 3 big meals a day. If you’re feeling hungry after about 2 hours, that’s a good sign that you’re eating the right amount of food. Shoot for 3 small meals and 2 to 3 snacks a day.

Question:
Can eating breakfast every morning really help my 15-year-old son do better in school?
Answer:

I won't promise straight A’s. But eating breakfast has been shown to help kids perform better in school, because they become more alert and focused. If your son is having trouble in school, there can be numerous causes. But you could probably scratch “missing breakfast” off the potential list. You don’t have to serve him a big breakfast. But once he gets used to eating it, you may find he’s hungrier in the morning. Try to steer him away from high-sugar breakfast foods that might leave him feeling sluggish an hour or so after eating.

Question:
Some breakfast foods I've bought are "gluten-free". Is wheat gluten bad for my health? What's wrong with eating gluten?
Answer:

You would only need to avoid gluten if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity. When people with celiac disease eat gluten, their bodies attack the gluten as if it’s a foreign invader. This leads to damage of the intestines. There's nothing wrong with eating gluten-free foods if you don’t have celiac disease. But they’re not necessarily better for you.

Gluten is a protein found in bread, crackers, pasta, and other wheat, rye, and barley products. Some people think avoiding gluten helps them lose weight. Avoiding bread and pasta is what might actually help you lose weight, but it’s not because of the gluten. It’s because you’re avoiding high-calorie foods that are easy to overeat.

Question:
Can eating too much yogurt in the morning increase my cholesterol levels?
Answer:

Yogurt made from whole milk holds more cholesterol. So it’s possible that it could raise your levels. If you eat low-fat or fat-free yogurt, there will be little to no cholesterol included. So this will not increase your cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that low-fat or fat-free yogurt may even improve your cholesterol. Greek yogurt has little to no cholesterol and usually has the consistency of yogurt made from whole milk. Greek yogurt also has twice the amount of protein. Overall, yogurt is an excellent source of lean protein and a wonderful breakfast food.

Question:
I am a 35-year-old man and I run 5 to 6 miles most mornings. On mornings when I don't run, I usually eat a couple fried eggs and a slice of cheese on wheat toast. How should I eat differently at breakfast time on the mornings when I run right after I eat? Should I eat more or less?
Answer:

I don't recommend running right after you eat. Wait at least an hour after you eat. This will help the nutrients and the caloric energy from your breakfast get into your system so you’re more energized for your run.

If you must run right after you eat, eat a light, low-fat meal so that the food doesn't stay in your stomach long and is quickly digested. Also, avoid high-fiber foods right before exercising because they sit in your stomach longer. A glass of fat-free or low-fat milk is a great source of energy before a run. Two eggs for breakfast afterwards is fine, but better if not fried in oil or butter.

Question:
I'm looking for some low-calorie, non-processed foods to eat for breakfast? Any suggestions?
Answer:

My go-to low-calorie breakfast includes egg whites and oatmeal (or a whole grain, low-sugar cereal). The most important thing is to combine a lean source of protein with a healthy carb. Even eating a whole egg is fine because it’s a healthy source of fat, but it will increase the calorie count a bit. I find egg whites to be one of the best breakfast proteins. But you can also try low-fat breakfast meats. Breakfast meats can be high in salt, so eat them only on occasion. For cereals, look for whole grain options with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Of course, fruit is another nutrient-packed carb choice.

Question:
Is there an optimum amount of time for which I should wait after I wake up to eat breakfast?
Answer:

Many people wait too long to eat after they get up. That’s when they end up either overeating or eating unhealthy foods because they’re so hungry. It’s fine to eat as soon as you get up if you’re hungry. But you should eat at least within an hour of waking up. Your body has already been without food for many hours, so it’s normal to be hungry. Eat a protein-packed breakfast that includes a healthy carb. This will replenish your energy stores and keep you full for a few hours.

Question:
Could eating a lot of eggs be bad for me as a type 2 diabetic?
Answer:

Even though eggs are perfectly acceptable for breakfast, eating a lot of them is not a good idea for someone with type 2 diabetes -- or really anyone for that matter. Eggs are a good source of protein, but are relatively high in fat and calories. A couple of eggs a day is fine. An even better option would be to eat just the egg whites or mix egg whites with just one whole egg. This cuts your fat, calories, and cholesterol intake.

Question:
What's so wrong with eating donuts and coffee for breakfast?
Answer:

Donuts are high in fat, sugar, and calories. They have little to no protein or fiber, so you’re likely to be hungry again a short time later. The sugar in a donut will cause a quick rise in your blood sugar, followed by a quick fall, which can leave you feeling drained.

There is nothing wrong with coffee. In fact, the caffeine can help speed up your metabolism and even suppress the appetite temporarily. But instead of donuts, combine the coffee with whole wheat bread with some low-fat cheese to get a healthy source of carbs and protein.

Question:
When I wake up most mornings I'm starving. But my husband never wants to eat during breakfast hours and doesn't really start getting hungry until lunchtime. He's also trying to lose weight. Could his habit of NOT eating breakfast hurt his attempts to lose weight?
Answer:

Not eating breakfast can make weight loss efforts more difficult. When breakfast time rolls around, your body has not had anything to eat for possibly 10 hours. That means your metabolism has plummeted: your body has essentially gone into starvation mode and is trying to hold onto every calorie it can. Eating breakfast helps get your metabolism going, so you burn more calories throughout the day. In addition, if you don’t eat breakfast, you’re more likely to be very hungry by lunch and reach for unhealthy, high-fat food.

Question:
If I eat a later dinner, like around 9:30 p.m., should I still have enough energy to run 3 miles when I wake up? Or should I try to eat a little something before I go running?
Answer:

The best indicator is how you feel toward the end of your run. If you feel like your energy levels are good throughout the entire run, then you’re probably fine. However, if you start fading in the last half of your run, your energy stores have probably run dry. In that case, you may need to replenish your energy stores before going on a run. That doesn’t mean you have to significantly delay your run. It’s best to eat at least an hour before you go running. If you don’t have that much time, drinking a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk 20 to 30 minutes before will give you the carbs, protein, and energy you need to stay strong throughout your run.

Question:
Does it matter whether or not I sit down and eat breakfast in order to have enough energy and stay satiated until lunch?
Answer:

The position in which you eat your breakfast isn’t important. What’s important is that you're eating breakfast, and what you're choosing to eat. Even if you eat on the run, you want to keep your breakfast healthy and packed with the nutrients and caloric energy you need to get your day started right. For instance, you can make a breakfast sandwich with whole grain toast, egg whites, low-fat cheese, and even low-fat sausage.

Question:
I don't like eating sweet foods in the morning. But my husband insists that I need to eat some kind of fruit for breakfast every day. Is this really necessary?
Answer:

You do need to include a healthy carb in your breakfast, but it doesn't have to be fruit. While fruit is a great carb option for breakfast, you can have a very healthy breakfast without it. Other healthy carbs include low-sugar oatmeal, whole wheat toast, or low-sugar whole grain cereal. But don’t forget to load your plate up with fruits and vegetables later in the day.

Question:
Do grits have any significant nutritional value?
Answer:

Even though grits aren't packed with vitamins and minerals, whole grain grits can be a healthy carb source. Many grits are made from hominy -- including instant grits -- and are not whole grain. But whole grain grits are becoming more popular and you can probably find them at your local grocery store. Just go easy on the added salt and butter.

Question:
Why do I feel so sleepy after eating breakfast if it's supposed to energize me?
Answer:

Many people load up on carbs at breakfast, which can cause rapid fluctuations in your blood sugar and the resulting plummet in your energy. Be sure you include a lean source of protein in your breakfast, like eggs (or egg whites) or a lean breakfast meat. Include a healthy carb, such as fruit (eat the peel for more fiber), oatmeal, or whole grain, low-sugar cereal (less than 10 grams sugar per serving). That should give you the energy you need to get your day started off right and avoid the crash an hour later.

Question:
Do vegetarian meat substitutes provide the same kind of nutrients as actual meat, like veggie sausage or soy bacon?
Answer:

Vegetarian meat substitutes are a great source of lean protein. They may lack some of the nutrients found in meat, such as iron and zinc. But they provide you with fiber, and meat doesn’t. Overall, veggie meat substitutes are a great option, and I wouldn’t worry about not getting the specific nutrients found in meat. You can get them elsewhere in other foods you eat throughout the day.

Question:
My 67-year-old mother doesn't like breakfast foods like she used to. Is it OK (just as healthy) for her to eat leftovers from dinner as her breakfast meal?
Answer:

While it’s important to eat breakfast, there’s nothing magical about "breakfast foods". If your mom wants a chicken breast, broccoli, and rice -- or whatever last night’s leftovers were -- that’s totally fine.

Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Nutritionist. Be sure to check in on Wednesday, Dec. 12th, at 1 p.m. ET, when the discussion topic will be "Probiotics and Prebiotics." Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on November 01, 2012

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.