How many times have you heard, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”? Did you know that on any given day, approximately 20% of Americans skip breakfast and that teens and young adults are most likely to skip eating that morning meal?
Health Benefits of Breakfast
Data from the Breakfast Research Institute (www.breakfastresearchinstitute.com) shows that breakfast eaters have more success with weight control, have reduced risk of heart disease, and perform better at cognitive tasks. Why is this? Breakfast helps with weight control, as it jump-starts your metabolism and provides your body and brain with the fuel it needs to be physically active. When smart choices are made, the nutrient composition of the meal is high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, as well as a balanced intake of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat. This kind of eating is associated with lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decreasing risk of heart disease. As for improved cognitive performance, we know that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school, with higher test scores (especially in memory and recall) and better behavior.
When to Eat?
I recommend that breakfast is eaten within an hour of waking up. You’ve just come off of an overnight fast of 8-10 hours, so your metabolism is very low first thing in the morning. You have to break the fast in order to get that metabolism pumping and your brain going. I often hear, “But, I’m not hungry when I wake up!” If that’s the case, don’t force-feed yourself a meal, instead give your body a snack of something small, like a piece of fruit and some string cheese or just a glass of milk would suffice. When you get hungry mid-morning, that’s the right time for breakfast. Just make sure to be prepared and bring it with you to work, school, or on the go. Or have a back-up plan of places you can stop for something healthy to eat. A great new option for a grab-and-go breakfast is Subways’ new breakfast sandwiches (go for the Western egg white variety). Check them out at www.subway.com.
What to Eat?
The beauty of breakfast is that you have so many options. You can cook up a storm or just assemble something from the refrigerator and pantry and take it to go. Breakfast doesn’t even have to be traditional breakfast foods. Instead, you can have a sandwich or even last night’s leftovers.
Because breakfast is the first chance you have to fuel your body properly, it’s so important that this meal contains the right balance of nutrients and enough food to keep you going for a few hours. Ideally, there will be some sort of high-fiber carb, a lean protein, some kind of fruit or vegetable, a little healthy fat, and plenty of water. Try putting together your own combinations from the following Mix & Match Guide:
(Choose one item from each category and put them together to make a complete meal; always include water or green or herbal tea with your meal)
- 1 cup cooked oatmeal (steel-cut or old-fashioned oats)
- 1 cup high-fiber cold cereal (Barbara’s, Kashi, Nature’s Path, Cheerios)
- 2 slices whole-grain bread
- 1 whole-wheat tortilla or 2 corn tortillas
- 1 whole-wheat English muffin
- 1 cup cooked brown rice or quinoa
- 1 sweet potato
- 1-2 high-fiber waffles (Van’s or Kashi)
- 1 egg or 4 egg whites
- 1 Morningstar breakfast sausage patty
- 1 cup nonfat cottage cheese
- 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 3 oz. turkey breast or smoked salmon
- 1 tbs. nut butter
- 1 piece fruit
- 1 cup fruit pieces
- 1/2 cup fresh salsa
- 1 cup sautéed vegetables
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 1/4 avocado
- 1 tbs. ground flax seed
- Breakfast burrito: scramble 1 egg, add salsa and avocado and wrap in whole-wheat tortilla
- Power Oatmeal: Cook oats according to directions using milk instead of water and cook with 1 cup blueberries (or any fruit) and cinnamon. When done, pour into bowl and top with ground flaxseeds.
- Yogurt Parfait: Mix Greek yogurt with cinnamon, vanilla extract and 1 tsp. agave nectar. Place 1/2 cup yogurt into a glass and top with 1/2 cup berries and 1/2 cup cereal; repeat layers.
- Erin’s MacMuffin: toast 1 whole-wheat English muffin. In a skillet cook 4 egg whites with 1 crumbled Morningstar sausage link and 1 tbs. Trader Joe’s salsa verde; place on English muffin when fully cooked. Serve with 1 piece of fruit.
- Smoothie: 1 cup unsweetened almond milk + 1 cup frozen berries + 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt + 1 tbs. ground flax seed + 1/2 cup uncooked oats. Blend it up and take it in a to-go cup.