See Part I for more healthy breakfast-building tips. In part two of this two-part post, I’ll finish off my list of twelve easy steps to building a healthier breakfast. With a little fine tuning, you can take the nutritional content of your morning meal to the next level helping to ensure you’ll get the needed nutrients you need everyday. Skipping breakfast, just grabbing a coffee or having overly simplistic meals like toast, jam and juice misses the mark. With a few simple tweaks, you can get more nutrition in one meal than most will get in two; the key is quality and consistency, so let’s get started.
Building A Better Breakfast Is Easier Than You Think
7. Add Some Egg-citment
Eggs are super versatile: hard-boiled, soft-boiled, fried, scrambled or poached. Because eggs taste great they’re an easy food for both adults and kids to enjoy. Homemade chili sauce, salsa, guacamole, and cheese all go great with eggs. With 14 essential vitamins and minerals, including lesser known nutrients like choline and lutein, eggs pack a nutritional punch in a very small package. A 70-calorie large egg boasts decent amounts of vitamin A, choline, lutein, vitamin B2, B12, folate, biotin, phosphorus, zinc, selenium and more. Not only are the amounts of nutrients in eggs impressive, but those nutrients are absorbed much more efficiently than they are from plant foods. You might be worried about the cholesterol in eggs; don’t be. Egg consumption has never been shown to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, and for those of whom it’s important, the Harvard School of Public Health has given the green light on regular egg consumption, and why shouldn’t they. One egg is a better choice than any piece of whole grain toast.
8. Optimize Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids are a unique form of polyunsaturated fat required for human health but not all omega-3 fats are created equal. There are two main types of omega-3 fat in our diet: plant-based alpha linolenic acid (ALA), and animal-based eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and decosahexanoic acid (DHA). Humans can not convert ALA to EPA and DHA efficiently so it’s important to include foods with EPA and DHA such as fish, seafood, omega-3 fortified eggs, liquid egg products and/or fish and algae oils. Make no mistake, ALA from foods such as flax, chia, hemp, or soy beans is not the same as EPA and DHA.
There is no shortage of research supporting the health-promoting properties of EPA & DHA omega-3 fats and we know from the Canadian Community Health Survey that Canadians just aren’t getting enough of these important fats. Many cultures will, and do, eat fish for breakfast so it’s just a matter of doing so on a consistent basis. You can also use omega-3 fortified eggs and egg products. My favourite are from Burnbrae Farms; their Naturegg Omega 3 shelled eggs have 125mg of DHA per egg and their Naturegg Omega Plus liquid egg product has a whopping 500mg of EPA & DHA combined per 125ml, or 1/2 cup, serving. If you like the ease of supplements, Ascenta Health makes omega-3 supplements from fish like their NutraSea hp, calamari NutraSea DHA or algae NutraVeg. Because they are citrus or mango flavoured, the liquid versions can be taken right from the spoon or stirred into yogurt, cottage cheese, or smoothies.
9. Dose Some Dairy
Dairy foods have been a staple of breakfast for what seems like forever. Dairy foods, while not mandatory for a healthy diet, can certainly be part of one. Everyone knows that dairy foods are a great source of calcium but they are also a great source of many other important nutrients too. Fluid milk has added vitamin A, a whiff of vitamin D, riboflavin or vitamin B2, vitamin B12, phosphorus and protein. Both cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are also great sources of concentrated protein; both have about 12 g per 125ml, or 1/2 cup, serving. A lesser appreciated dairy food for breakfast is aged cheeses; those that have been aged for more than 6 months. These are one of only a couple of sources of vitamin K2, a vitamin that is just starting to be appreciated despite being known about for decades. Vitamin K2 is especially important for its role in reducing the risk for osteoporosis and heart disease by helping to keep calcium in the bones and teeth where it belongs and out of blood vessels where it doesn’t belong. Vitamin K2 is showing promise in reducing the risk for diabetes, cancer, kidney disease and arthritis. Milk, cheeses, yogurt and butter used to be very rich in vitamin K2 when we pastured dairy cows and they ate grass as they’re meant to but that started to change in the late 1950s and early 1960s when they were moved inside and given feed base on corn and soy.
10. Shun The Sugars
Here I’m talking about the sugary cereals that have entire aisles dedicated to them in grocery stores. I’m not a huge fan of breakfast cereals in general since almost all of them are highly refined, including the so-called healthy versions but the worst offenders are those that are loaded with added sugars. There is no hard and fast rule, but I like to suggest to clients to stick to cereals that offer at most 8 g of sugar per serving, or about 2 teaspoons, easier said than done; it’s a personal and professional judgment call. The ways in which sugars have been traditionally used isn’t the problem; a teaspoon or two of brown sugar or maple syrup in oatmeal or used to bring out the natural flavours in fruit salad etc. Other breakfast foods to keep on your sugar radar are fruit bars, cereal bars, granola bars, yogurt drinks, or fruit-flavoured stirred yogurts. A word to the wise, because the nutrition facts table doesn’t distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars, be sure to double check the ingredient list. If sugar has been added, you’ll find it there.
11. Wicked Whey
My personal favourite protein powder is whey. It’s derived from milk and is the richest source of a unique set of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the three in particular are referred to as branched-chain amino acids. Whey, and branched chain amino acids have been shown to be the best at promoting muscle protein growth which is great for anyone who’s interested in maintaining muscle strength as they age. Whey has also been shown to be superior at increasing satiety or the sense of fullness after eating making it a great staple for breakfast smoothies. Whey is also a rich source of cysteine, another amino acid which the body uses to make a very important antioxidant called glutathione. Maintaining high glutathione levels throughout life has been associated with longevity and a lower risk for many degenerative diseases. One scoop of whey typically has as much protein as 85g or 3oz of fish, poultry, and meat or 3 eggs. Some have suggested stirring whey into yogurt, cottage cheese, cooked cereals like oatmeal but I’ve never found that to work well. My advice, save it for the protein shakes.
12. Include Some Intact Grains
While everyone has heard of whole grains, many will not be as familiar with the term ‘intact’ grain. Backing up a step, to be considered whole grain, a food may contain intact grains, or it can also contain minimally processed grains, or milled grains from which no component has been removed during the milling process. ‘Whole’ doesn’t mean intact, it means the sum, or the proportion, of the parts of the original intact grain need only be present in a food product.
In other words, food companies can produce products and claim that they’re made with whole grains but the quality of those products can vary greatly. Take for example steel cut oats, or barley, both intact grains compared to Lucky Charms, a highly refined cereal that is 35-40% sugar by weight but can make the claim of being made with whole grains or to contain 3oz of whole grains per serving because the milled grain they’ve added back has its “principle components, the endosperm, germ and bran, in relative proportion to how they exist in the intact grain”. The real difference here is that an intact grain will retain more of the original nutrients and intact grains are digested much, much more slowly than any minimally processed or milled grain grain or grain product will, even whole grain ones.
I’ve written about this before: Whole Grains Means Healthy Right? and Think Whole Wheat Is Healthier? You’re Not Alone.
Including more intact grains at breakfast is easy when you choose steel cut oats, 5-minute oats, or even quick oats. You can experiment and make a high protein breakfast pudding made with brown rice, barley, buckwheat, amaranth or quinoa [while technically a seed, it’s used and prepared like a grain]. You can even added cooled cooked intact grains to your breakfast smoothie or protein shake.
If you, or someone you know, has questions like these and is interested in improving their health and eating habits, I offer a variety of services including coaching, presentations & lunch n’ learns. For more information, check out my Services page