Breakfast may just be the most important meal of the day. It’s the perfect opportunity to start your day on the right foot, but you must choose wisely. Sure, many of us would rather reach for that iced doughnut with sprinkles, that greasy breakfast sandwich with mystery meat, or even the sugary mocha Frappuccino with an extra shot, but the ease of these options is far greater than their health benefits. We’d be better off whipping up some overnight oats or a protein-rich omelette.
The popular avocado makes for a nutritious addition to breakfast. Lauren Harris-Pincus, registered dietician, explains that "Avocados are a great energy source because their heart healthy, monounsaturated fat will take longer to digest." Kristen F. Gradney, registered dietitian and owner of Louisiana-based Pure Nutrition, a lifestyle education and counseling service, adds, "Avocados also contain energy boosting B vitamins and fiber." Maybe that's why everyone is going wild for avocado toast. Harris-Pincus recommends putting an egg on it for "an amazing energy-packed breakfast."
Bananas make breakfast on the go that much easier and more healthful. Dr. Sue Decotiis, weight-loss expert, says, "Bananas provide a unique mixture of antioxidants, carbohydrates, and potassium that give your body an energy boost." She recommends bananas instead of energy drinks, as "eating a banana is much more beneficial to your health, cutting down on sugars and artificial ingredients." How about broiled bananas on toast to start your day?
Portable, customizable, and easily made ahead, breakfast smoothies are great options for busy mornings. "The nutrients that fruits and vegetables add to your breakfast smoothie will provide you with energy throughout the day," says Dr. Decotiis. "It is very important to add a source of protein, as this is what will keep you full." Gradney emphasizes that "having some components of each macronutrient can make a smoothie a whole food without being loaded with sugar and calories." Start the day off right with a 4-Minute Breakfast Smoothie or a Raspberry, Cacao, and Maca smoothie.
"Eggs are very nutrient-rich and contain high biological value protein, which is easily absorbed by the body," says Gradney. "Including protein at breakfast fills you up and keeps you feeling full longer, helping to keep energy levels stable," adds Lisa Rutledge, registered dietitian and Debunking Dietician blogger. Eggs also contain choline, which Matthew Robinson, nutritional scientist, chef, and food blogger at The Culinary Exchange, points out “is an essential nutrient in the metabolism of important metabolites used in muscle control.” Egg yolks are rich in B vitamins, which convert food into energy. So will it be scrambled or an omelette?
Why not sweeten breakfast with nature's candy — fruit? "Fresh fruit is packed full of powerful antioxidants and other compounds to get the body moving,” says Andy LaPointe, author of the Super Fruit Handbook and the FruitCeuticals Handbook. "Also, the presence of sugar helps to keep you energized without the ‘sugar crash’ of donuts or other sweets." This is because Fruits contain fiber, which keeps blood sugar levels steady. "Blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, manganese, fiber, and vitamin E. Grapefruits contain potassium and folate, which helps to boost energy levels and combat depression,” LaPointe explains.
Greek yogurt is all the rage for good reason. “It’s a great source of lean protein, fat, and carbohydrates," says Gradney. "Greek yogurt contains roughly twice the protein of traditional yogurt and usually less sugar as well," adds Harris-Pincus. "The combination of protein and fiber will delay digestion of the meal and help avoid the spike and crash in blood sugar you may find in a breakfast that's high in sugar and refined carbs and low in protein.” A Greek Yogurt Parfait or Grilled Figs with Greek Yogurt and Spiced Nuts makes for a delicious and effective breakfast.
While some of us need coffee to function in the morning, herbal teas may have more benefits. “Teas are more hydrating because they have less caffeine and are water based,” says Annie Lawless of Suja Juice. “They are also packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants to help protect you from free radicals.” Gradney says that green teas “provide antioxidants and a natural source of caffeine,” while Lawless adds, “they have a thermic — or fat-burning — effect which promotes a little bump in metabolism. That helps you burn more calories throughout the day.”
There are a ton of cereal options, but high-fiber, whole grain cereals are your best bet. “Fiber from the whole grains will help you feel satiated and fill you up faster than a cereal that is made from refined grains,” says Rutledge. “The carbs from the cereal also nourish your body by providing energy. Refined cereals, or those that contain a lot of added sugar, are more likely to lead to a mid-morning sugar ‘crash.’” So skip the Lucky Charms and opt for that more “mature” cereal.
Meat is a breakfast mainstay, but you should be choosing lean meat options. “Protein from lean meats is a great start, because they are not high-fat and will prevent the slump you may feel after eating a high-fat, high-protein meal,” says Gradney. Dr. Decotiis adds, “The amino acids in proteins will keep you alert throughout the day. The brain needs amino acids to function at its greatest potential.” Try lean meats like ham, turkey, and smoked salmon.
For dietary restrictions, non-dairy milk products are an important addition to breakfast. “Non-dairy milk can add vitamins and protein,” says Robinson. “Make sure you go for the fortified versions as they will have more of the important energy supporting nutrients.” Grandey adds that they are a “lean source of protein without cholesterol.” So throw some in your breakfast smoothie, on your high-fiber cereal, or even in your oatmeal for an added bonus.
Peanut and other nut butters are great snacks throughout the day, but they give breakfast an extra boost. “Quality nut butters will give you energy but, again, it’s the combination approach of the protein and fat that prevent any highs, lows, or crashes,” says nutritionist Brooke Alpert. As Gradney puts it, “The combination of fat, protein, and fiber greatly curb the appetite.” Peanut Butter and Jelly French Toast will definitely jumpstart your day.
Oatmeal makes for a healthy cold-weather breakfast. “The soluble fibers in oats help slow the digestion of simple carbohydrates, so there’s not a big spike and crash of blood sugar, which can leave you in an energy slump,” says Robinson. Harris-Pincus agrees: “There’s a big difference in the rates of digestion between steel-cut oats and processed instant oatmeal,” she says. “Your body has to work harder to break down the steel-cut variety, which leaves you with more sustained energy.” Baked Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Cherries or Steel- Cut Oats with Pears, Cinnamon and Almonds are sure to put some pep in your step.
An easy-to-carry breakfast can be essential. Trail mix is a healthful option that’s effortless to throw together and customize. "Fats and fiber in trail mix are all digested slowly. Therefore, you feel fuller for a longer period of time and have a source of energy that will not be utilized quickly," says Gradney. "Having a good immediate source of energy from carbohydrates (fiber), protein, and fat fuels your muscles, brain, and cells efficiently and provides your body with a long-lasting energy supply." Put together some Pumpkin Seed and Dried Cherry trail mix and off you go.
It’s time to upgrade from white bread to whole grain. “Whole grain bread naturally contains more fiber and good fats than white or whole wheat versions,” says Rutledge. “The added fiber helps to keep you feeling fuller longer, as does the extra bit of fat. Feeling fuller longer is an indication that your body is breaking down the food and feeding the cells more slowly, which means more consistent energy levels.” But wait, Robinson says, there’s more: “The other benefit of whole grain bread is that it is fortified with B vitamins, which are very important to energy production in the body.”