Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on December 13, 2021
We all breeze past the breakfast table once in a while. But if you do it every morning, it may raise your chances for health problems like high blood cholesterol, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It might even make some people more likely to smoke. But a balanced morning meal can lower those risks and give you the energy to have a great day.
Not Eating Enough
If your stomach’s still growling after a bite-sized breakfast, you may be more likely to overeat or snack on junk food later in the day -- and that could lead to extra pounds. A filling morning meal may have the opposite effect. It fires up your metabolism, which helps you burn calories throughout the day.
Wolfing It Down
When you’re in a rush to start your day, you might scarf your breakfast down in a hurry, too. Some studies link speedy eating with higher odds of obesity, but this needs more research. If you can slow down and savor each bite of breakfast, it could make you more aware of whether you’re actually hungry or not -- and that can help you avoid overeating.
Skimping on Protein
A protein-packed breakfast benefits more than your muscles. It may also help you keep your appetite in check later in the day. But that’s not a green light to load your plate with bacon and sausage. Choose leaner options that are better for your heart, like nut butters, turkey bacon, and cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or milk. Skim and 1% milk have the least amount of fat.
Don’t cut them out completely. Just choose wisely. “Complex carbs” give you steady energy throughout the day. Some good ones are steel-cut oats, fresh fruit, a low-sugar granola bar, or a whole-grain cereal or bagel. “Simple carbs,” on the other hand, could make your energy crash in the afternoon. Avoid ones like greasy hash browns, pancakes or waffles made with white flour, and sugary fruit juice.
Passing Up Healthy Fats
Unsaturated fats are actually good for you. To make them part of your breakfast, add nuts or seeds to yogurt, or spread nut butter on whole-grain toast or an apple. Omega-3 fats are heart-smart, too. An easy way to get them is to mix ground flaxseed into your cereal. Cut back on saturated fats, though, because they raise your cholesterol. Limit ones like butter, whole or 2% milk, and breakfast pastries.
Egg whites are a prime source of protein and other nutrients. And even the yolks are OK for some of us in moderation, because they’re packed with protein, vitamin D, and eye-friendly antioxidants. What about the cholesterol, though? If you’re healthy, you can have one whole egg a day. You’ll probably need to have far fewer than that if you have diabetes or heart disease, or if you’re at risk for heart problems. Check with your doctor.
Super-Sizing Your Cereal
If you’re filling your bowl, you might be eating too much. Before you pour, check the nutrition label on the side of the cereal box. Look for the recommended serving size, and stick to that amount -- you can use a measuring cup to get it right. Choose brands that are full of fiber and short on sugar, too.
Compromising Your Coffee
Lots of popular flavor boosters make your morning joe brim with extra calories. But there are plenty of ways to lighten your mug. You can sweeten your coffee with a bit of stevia instead of sugar. Agave nectar has more calories than white sugar, but since it's sweeter, you might use less of it. Add low- or no-fat milk instead of cream and whole milk. If you want to give it some extra kick, sprinkle in some cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.
Drinking the Wrong Juice
Your a.m. glass of OJ may be swimming with the sweet stuff, because many brands of fruit juice have added sugar. The main way to avoid the empty calories is to make sure the label says 100% juice on it. You could also dilute your drink with water. For the most nutrition, choose whole fruit over juice. It has more fiber, less sugar, and fewer calories.
Waving Off Water
By the time you wake up, it’s probably been hours since you’ve hydrated. That makes a cool glass of H2O the ideal drink to wash your breakfast down. It’ll help you fill up without costing you a single calorie. It may help you think more clearly and shake off a grumpy waking-up mood, too.
Settling for a So-So Smoothie
Smoothies can be healthy -- if you make them with the right stuff. Using a lot of fruit can fill your cup with calories, so stick to one or two servings of it. Boost the nutrition with dark-green veggies like spinach, kale, or bok choy. Add some protein with low-fat yogurt, wheat germ, nut butters, or ground flaxseed. Instead of thinning your smoothie with sugary juice, try unsweetened almond milk, green tea, or ice.
Buying the Wrong Breakfast Bars
Check the nutrition label. The amount of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in a store-bought bar may surprise you. If it makes up your entire breakfast, choose ones that have whole-food ingredients, 10-14 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. Remember that a bar can be a handy meal replacement when you’re in a rush, but a balanced meal to start the day is always the healthier choice.
Getting Sabotaged by Sugary Yogurt
Many commercial brands have lots of the sweet stuff -- especially kinds that come with added flavors or fruit already in it. Your best bet is to buy plain, low-fat or no-fat yogurt. Then jazz it up with your own mixers, like berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon or vanilla, or a drop of honey or agave nectar.
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