Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as we’ve been told, and indeed a lot of research supports that idea. In a recent 2020 study, researchers found that eating a big breakfast rather than a large dinner could help prevent obesity and high blood sugar. The Mayo Clinic adds that a healthy breakfast “refuels your body, jump-starts your day and may even benefit your overall health.”
Indeed, those who eat a healthy breakfast are likely to eat more vitamins and minerals, control their weight and blood sugar levels, and perform better at work than those who don’t. Children who regularly eat breakfast are also more likely to meet their nutrition requirements, be at healthy body weight, be able to concentrate, and miss fewer days of school.
The key, of course, is to make sure your breakfast is “healthy.” To do that, it's important to examine some of the traditions you may be holding that are unhealthy for you and your family.
Many Breakfast Cereals are Not Healthy Breakfast Foods
Cereal is a popular breakfast food and can be good for you if you choose carefully. Unfortunately, many pre-packaged cereals are full of sugar and refined grains, which means they can spike blood sugar levels and leave you feeling hungry a couple of hours later.
Look at the ingredient list. If you see “sugar” as one of the first three ingredients, the cereal is likely unhealthy. That level of added sugar, when consumed most mornings, can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and can also stimulate sugar cravings throughout the day that increase the risk of overweight and obesity.
Unfortunately, many of these high-sugar cereals are marketed to children, with names like “Fruity Pebbles,” “Cap’n Crunch,” and “Cocoa Krispies.” Children who make a habit of eating these types of cereals every morning will likely suffer the consequences later in the day when they feel sleepy or have a hard time concentrating on their schoolwork. Starting the day with a high-sugar food like this can also set them up for a lifetime of bad eating habits.
To choose a healthier cereal, look for the following:
- More Fiber: Cereals are made of grains and therefore should be a good source of healthy fiber. Most, however, are made of “refined” grains that have been stripped of fiber. Look for whole-grain alternatives with at least three grams of fiber per serving.
- Less Sugar: Look at the nutrition facts and choose a cereal with under 5 grams of sugar per serving.
- Whole Grains: As noted above, whole grains are much healthier than refined ones. Check the ingredient list for words like “whole wheat” or “oats.”
Other Unhealthy Breakfast Foods
Processed cereal isn’t the only unhealthy type of breakfast food. There are several others that, while they may taste good, aren’t good for you and can set you up to feel tired and distracted throughout the day.
If you like these foods, save them for the occasional treat, and otherwise avoid adding them to your regular morning meals.
1. Pancakes and Waffles
These are typically made with refined flours that are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Top them with syrup—which is often made of high fructose corn syrup—and you have a high glycemic food that spikes blood sugar levels and provides little else but calories.
Read the nutrition label on these and you may be shocked at how unhealthy they are. They are usually made with refined flour, vegetable oils, and sugar, and many are extra-large, giving you way more calories than you need at one meal.
3. Toast with Margarine
Since most bread are made with refined grains that have little fiber, again, you're getting food that's going to break down quickly, spike your blood sugar levels, and leave you feeling hungry in a short amount of time.
And though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned food manufacturers from adding unhealthy trans fats to foods, some stick margarine may still have some.
You can make this item healthier by using real butter and whole-grain bread.
4. Toaster Pastries
Like processed foods, these little yummies are full of sugar, refined flours, and often high fructose corn syrup. You’re basically eating white flour and sugar—not a recipe for a healthy breakfast.
5. Sweetened Yogurt
Plain yogurt is always good for you, but many of today’s ready-made options are packed with sugar—often more than you’d get in a comparable serving of ice cream. If the yogurt is non-fat, that’s even worse, as you’re missing out on the healthy fats in regular yogurt that can keep you satisfied until lunch.
Make this one healthier by choosing plain yogurt and sweetening it yourself with added fruit.
6. Granola Bars
Oats and cinnamon sound like they’d be good for you, but check the ingredient list carefully. Many store-bought granola bars are high in sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and honey, and will spike your blood sugar levels the same way a candy bar might.
There are healthy ones out there—look for those made with whole grains and fruit that are low in sugar and high in fiber.
7. Scones with Jam and Fruit Juice
Scones, like muffins, are typically made with refined grains and sugar. Top them with jam or jelly and you add more sugar, creating a high-calorie, low-nutrient breakfast meal. Add in fruit juice—even if it’s 100 percent fruit juice—and you pack in even more sugar without any balancing fiber, almost ensuring that you’re going to feel tired and unfocused shortly.
8. Processed Meat and Eggs
While eggs are a good breakfast food, processed meats are not. They typically contain chemicals called “nitrites” or “nitrates” as preservatives that can interact in your gut to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. Several studies have linked the regular consumption of these foods with a higher risk of different types of cancer, including colorectal and stomach cancer.
10 Healthy Breakfast Recipes That Get You Going
The ideal breakfast is nutritious, filling, and satisfying, and helps you enjoy a happy and energetic morning without thinking about food until lunch.
Below are 10 healthy breakfast ideas that are not only good for you but also tasty.
1. Avocado Toast with Egg
The key here is to make sure you’re using whole-grain bread for the toast. Smash some avocado on top of each slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and layer on one-two eggs for a healthy dose of protein.
2. Berry and Yogurt Smoothie
If you’re in a hurry, whip up one of these before you head out. Add some fresh or frozen berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries), plain Greek yogurt, and your choice of liquid (coconut water, milk, or 100-percent juice) to the blender. Blend well, then enjoy the creamy goodness. (Limit your use of juice to keep the sugar content down.)
3. Breakfast Burrito
Cook up some onions and peppers in a skillet over medium-high heat, then add in some black beans and cook until warmed through. Cook up a couple of eggs, then add it all to your tortilla. Top with cheese, salsa, and avocado if you like.
4. Oatmeal However You Like It
Whole oats make a healthy breakfast and they’re also versatile. Dress up your oatmeal with cinnamon, berries, baked apples, chopped nuts, or cut-up bananas to make it irresistible. Just be sure to get the natural oats—skip the processed, high-sugar packets.
5. Classic Omelet and Greens
Cook up an omelet using eggs, onions, and baby spinach for a super nutritious and delicious protein-packed breakfast. Add some Parmesan cheese on top to taste.
6. Quinoa Muffins
If you hate to give up your morning muffin, choose this healthier option. Most recipes include almond flour, white quinoa, spices, baking soda and baking powder, salt, eggs, and perhaps some milk, yogurt, or berries.
7. Berry Breakfast Parfait
Jazz up your yogurt by layering it with fruit and nuts, or even plain granola if you like. Choose fruits that are in season to get the best flavor, but frozen will work too.
8. Quinoa Porridge
Cooking quinoa in milk with healthy spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and turmeric adds a savory and healthy flavor and gives you a nice alternative when you’re tired of oatmeal. Put all the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil, then simmer, stir, and top with fruit and more spices if you like.
9. Spinach and Cheddar Microwave Quiche
Quiche can be a healthy and convenient breakfast food if you make it right. Try covering half a cup of spinach with water in a mug and microwave it for a minute. Drain the water and add in one egg and a little milk and cheese. Mix, then microwave for three more minutes. Voila, instant breakfast.
10. Homemade Egg McMuffin
Using a whole-wheat English muffin, split it in half, add one large egg, and one slice of cheddar cheese. If you like avocado, put a couple of slices on top for some extra healthy fats.
A healthy breakfast is the best way to start your day, so it’s important to make nutritious choices that will fuel your body and mind. Remember, healthy does not necessarily mean boring or tasteless. Try some of the delicious ideas above and know you are starting your day off in the best possible way.
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Quick, easy breakfast ideas. (2020, March 20). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/food-and-nutrition/art-20048294
Richter, J., & Oltmanns, K. M. (2020). Response to letter to the editor: “Twice as high diet-induced thermogenesis after breakfast vs dinner on high-calorie as well as low-calorie meals”. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 105(7), e2685-e2686. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa209