What Are the Healthiest Breakfasts?

Breakfast is more than just eggs, bacon, and toast, or funny-face pancakes with strawberry lips. It's the meal that breaks your overnight fast. The first food you put in your body each day can set you up for success ... or a downward spiral.

A healthy breakfast helps you control your weight and blood sugar and gives you vitamins and minerals that help you feel well and think clearly. A bad breakfast has other plans: It messes with your metabolism, makes you gain some extra pounds, and wears your body down.

There's a big difference between a bowl of berries and a biscuit covered with sausage gravy. Break your nightly fast with healthy foods and start your day off strong.

Oatmeal + fruit + nut butter. The best breakfasts have carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fiber. In this combo, the oatmeal gives you complex carbs and fiber, keeps your blood sugar under control, and helps maintain an ideal balance of bacteria in your gut. The nut butter adds protein and healthy fats. The fruit tops it off with fiber and vitamins, plus it gives your breakfast a sweet taste. Avoid pre-packed oatmeal mixes that have added sugar and use old-fashioned oats instead.

Prep tip: Make your oatmeal with reduced-fat milk instead of water to give yourself a calcium boost.

Breakfast tacos. Tacos in the morning? Now that's a reason to get out of bed. Your body needs protein all day long -- not just at dinner. One scrambled egg has 6 grams of protein to build and maintain lean muscle and to help you feel full longer. Throw in some bell pepper for minerals and vitamin C, and fold it into a corn tortilla if you want to keep gluten levels low. Top with fresh salsa (tomatoes are anti-inflammatory) and a slice of avocado for B vitamins and "good" fats.

Prep tip: If you don't have time to stand around and sauté every morning, make a big batch of breakfast tacos a few nights before, freeze them, and reheat as needed.

Greek yogurt and berries. A healthy breakfast has a low glycemic load. This means it doesn't spike your blood sugar and then give you that dreaded mid-morning crash. In this dish, berries add natural sweetness, fiber, and vitamins. Greek yogurt has calcium, B vitamins, belly-friendly bacteria, and double the protein of regular yogurt for roughly the same calories. Stick to the plain version, since flavored ones have added sugars.

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Prep tip: A great grab-and-go option, Greek yogurt and berries are easy to throw together in the morning or the night before. Add a few leaves of spinach for a fiber and potassium boost.

Whole-grain toast and nut butter. If you work out in the morning, this breakfast puts high-grade fuel in your tank. Whole grains cut your risk of obesity (and the long-term diseases that come with it), and nut butter adds protein to get you through that last set of sit-ups.

Fresh fruit salad. Sure, it's easier to crack open a bottle of fruit juice than to cut up a bunch of fruit, but you won't get as many benefits. You'll miss all the fiber that keeps your bowels healthy and lowers cholesterol. In a study of apples vs. apple juice, nutrients and antioxidants found in the apple were missing in the juice. Stick with the real thing.

Prep tip: If you don't plan to eat your fruit salad right away, mix in a little lemon juice to keep apples and pears from turning brown.

Smoothies. A simple smoothie is a healthy smoothie. Stick to fruit, plain yogurt or nut butter, and maybe a little wheat germ for extra vitamins, minerals, and protein. That way you'll avoid the saturated fat and added sugars that you'll get if you use fruit juice, flavored yogurts, or whipped cream.

Prep tip: Frozen fruit is best, but skip the melons. They're too watery and don't always play well with other fruits.

Breakfast sandwich (hold the egg). Eggs aren't the only way to pack protein into your breakfast. If you don't like sweet stuff in the morning, make yourself a sandwich. Two slices of whole-wheat bread with some lean meat, lettuce, tomato, and a slice of low-fat cheese will pump you full of protein and vitamins and keep you feeling full all morning.

Prep tip: Steer clear of mayonnaise and other high-calorie condiments.

Breakfast Breakdown

If it looks too tasty to be true, it probably is. A cinnamon bun dripping with warm, white icing clearly isn't the most nutritious way to start your day. But some foods have the opposite problem. They look healthy, but really aren't:

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Breakfast burrito. What's wrong with eggs wrapped in a tortilla? Nothing. But the chorizo, bacon, and fried potatoes make it a high-fat, high-sodium bomb.

Bagel and cream cheese. No fruit + no vegetables = no nutrients. Bagels are big on starch, and cream cheese adds a layer of saturated fat. Make this one a Saturday morning treat, not a daily staple.

Flavored non-dairy creamer. Before you even take a bite of breakfast, you've already sucked down trans fats and sugar. Even a splash has a big effect.

Cereal. It's a no-brainer that the rainbow-colored cereals, or ones with small cookies inside, are bad for you. A truly healthy cereal is high in fiber and low in calories and sugar. Pay close attention to the nutrition facts on the box. If sugar is high on the list, or there are multiple kinds of sugar, it gets the big breakfast thumbs down.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on September 15, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: "What's a healthy breakfast?" "Foods that fight inflammation," "The five best breakfast foods for you."

Mayo Clinic: "Health Breakfast: Quick, flexible options," "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet." 

Cleveland Clinic: "The five worst breakfast foods for you."

SCL Health: "Breakfast – the good, the bad and the just plain false."

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Oatmeal a good choice for breakfast, but hold the sugar."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: "A nutritionally hot recipe for oatmeal."

KidsHealth.org: "Breakfast."

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Egg, whole, cooked, scrambled."

Dairy Council of California: "5 reasons to eat a protein-packed breakfast."

Northern Illinois University: "Sustainable food guide: Bell peppers."

Tufts University: "Avocados could improve your cholesterol – and more."

University of California Irvine: "Feta spinach breakfast tacos."

Iowa State University: "Crisp fruit salad."

Michigan State University Extension: "Wheat Germ."

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: "Avoid making mistakes that can change your smoothie."

HelpGuide.org: "Health fast food."

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