Update March 2019
Everyone’s heard the expression “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and while I don’t necessarily agree with this, there are definite benefits of eating a good quality breakfast.
We know that people who are most successful at losing and/or maintaining a healthy weight are breakfast eaters. This may be due to the fact that eating breakfast can help keep hunger at bay and prevent people from over eating at the following meals.
The body is pretty smart and it knows that it needs a certain amount of food and food energy. Skipping meals or under-eating can lead to overeating more calories to make up for the deficit. Breakfast eaters tend to eat fewer calories over the course of a day and aren’t as prone to big swings in blood sugar and energy levels.
Keep in mind though, that not all breakfasts are created equal. Grabbing a coffee and piece of cake, er, I mean a coffee shop muffin is not the way to go for many reasons. Even if you managed a latte made with milk or soy beverage, at least you’d be getting some much needed protein.
In this two-part post, I’ll review 12 easy steps to build a breakfast of champions . This will help you take full advantage of the benefits from eating a healthy, nutrient-dense meal to help get you on with your day!
Better breakfast food
There are lots of ways to start your day with a nutritious breakfast. You could go for a healthy breakfast sandwich, or breakfast smoothies, or breakfast quiche. There’s not shortage of ideas.
1. Add a veggie or a fruit
When it comes to boosting your nutrition, it’s not a decision of vegetable vs fruit. Both are good and you can include one or the other or both to your list of healthy breakfast food.
Plant foods are loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients. These are just buzzwords which simply means they have a lot of heal-promoting properties above and beyond their vitamin and mineral content. Fruit and veggies are fiber rich foods and we could all stand to get more fiber benefits in our lives!
Don’t get caught up in the noise of only choosing fruit low in sugar. All fruit is nutritious and can be part of a healthy diet. While choosing fruit in season will ensure you’re getting the best tasting, local produce, frozen fruit works too.
Including one or two servings of fruit or vegetables at breakfast will help you increase your intake of plant foods. Higher consumption of plants reduces your risk for chronic diseases.
Don’t forget dried fruit. Small amounts won’t blow your calorie budget. You can sweetened protein shakes with dates. Add some figs, currants, raisins or dried cranberries to your favourite cooked cereal like oatmeal, cornmeal porridge or Red River Cereal.
Throw some cold cooked spinach, squash, sweet potato, or carrots in your favorite fruit smoothie [trust me, you won’t taste it]. What about a vegetable quiche, made on the weekend and reheated either at home or at work? Or try adding shredded zucchini, spinach and peppers to your scrambled eggs. Yum!
2. Finesse your fiber
Women need about 25 g of fiber per day and men 38 g; most of us fall waaaaay short of this goal.
Breakfast is a great time to get more fiber as many traditional breakfast foods are typically fiber rich foods.
Go for unrefined grains like steel cut oats or unsweetened cereal containing wheat bran. Add a tablespoon of bran cereal to oatmeal or throw some into your fruit smoothie or protein shake.
Sprinkle some ground chia seeds and flax seeds, on top of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and fruit salad or thawed frozen fruit.
Fiber benefits your overall health primarily through its role in supporting your gut bacteria. Having a robust and diverse population of microbiota is one of the best ways to support your gut health. As well, fiber works to help keep you feeling full, longer especially if paired with protein [like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt or whey protein powder in a smoothie].
Of course, any fruit or vegetable at breakfast will also help to add to your daily fiber bottom line.
3. Time is of the essence?
Some have suggested that timing is critical; that it’s important to eat breakfast within 60 to 90 minutes of waking up to avoid your body from going into ‘starvation mode’.
A near mythical state where you’re losing lots of muscle tissue, your metabolism slows further and stores fat if you eat your first meal beyond that arbitrary time frame.
Relax, this isn’t true. I’ve yet to see any credible research to support this, or rather, to be blunt, this is false.
It’s true, there are benefits from eating breakfast and good research demonstrates a greater benefits when protein is included at this morning meal rather than the typical carb-heavy ones we tend to eat. Getting more protein as you’ll read in the next point does have its benefits though.
Don’t get dragged into all the internet chatter. Breathe, put down the stop watch. Do your best to have something even if it’s just a piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg.
4. Protein power
Getting more protein at breakfast definitely has merit. A full-on protein breakfast though isn’t the answer though. It’s not about more protein at the expense of other foods, and therefore nutrients.
Eating a protein-rich breakfast helps to stimulate your metabolism which slowed down a bit while you slept.
Also, eating breakfast, especially when it includes a good source of protein, replaces some of the protein that you lost from your muscles during sleep.
Muscles are made up of protein and protein is made up of amino acids. During the night, muscle is broken down to supply your body with necessary amino acids to repair and maintain other bodily tissues. It’s supers critical to eat protein, and to eat it early, to “top up” your tank.
Good breakfast protein choices include:
- Cottage cheese & cheese
- Greek yogurt & regular yogurt
- Protein powders
- brown rice
- Left over meats or fish
- Legumes (pulses) such as chickpeas or lentils
A great protein (and fiber) hack for smoothies and protein shakes is to add legumes to the mix. True, legumes have more carb calories than protein but they are the highest protein plant food so they can help to boost your protein intake.
5. Fill up on fat
Yes, you read that correctly, fat is no longer a four-lettered word.
Fat is an essential nutrient, just like water, or vitamins and minerals are. Fat also provides a sense of satiety, helping to keep you feeling satisfied in between meals. The ultimate triad of keeping hunger at bay is protein, fiber and fat.
Fat is needed for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins like D, A, E and K. Fat is also needed to increase the absorption of the carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables like lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein etc.
Many nutritious foods naturally contain fat like eggs, dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese. As do milk alternatives like hemp, and soy. Avocados are rich in fat and so is coconut.
Nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters have heaps of healthy fat but there’s also added fats like butter, olive, avocado, and coconut oil.
Including foods with fat and added fats at breakfast will help to add flavour, energy and fullness to your morning meal.
6. Lose the juice
There’s nothing special or magical about fruit juice.
Having said that, juice was a staple at breakfast when I was growing up. Keep in mind, juice glasses back then were 125 ml, or 4 oz, unlike the way juice is often drank today. A 250 ml/8 oz glass of juice can have 120 calories whereas you’d need to eat two pieces of fruit to get that amount.
Juice lacks fiber and doesn’t require chewing like eating whole fruit does, as such; it’s easier to potentially over-consume calorie and sugar-rich juice. There are a couple of caveats, low-sodium tomato juice, or vegetable cocktail is naturally low in sugar and rich in lycopene.
Small amounts of 100% fruit juice like blueberry, pomegranate, grape, or freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice will be loaded with healthy antioxidants – just keep it to 125 ml per day if you opt to have juice. Not to worry, that amount is not going to have any ill effects on your health.
In part two of this two-part post, I’ll finish off my list of 12 Steps to a Breakfast of Champions. 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.