Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And, while the research goes back and forth on whether it’s really the most important, one thing is for sure: Breakfast matters. It provides your body with the nutrition and the fuel it needs to function in the morning.
But it’s also important to do breakfast right. A bad breakfast decision can throw off your energy levels and eating habits for the rest of the day. But what makes a decision at breakfast bad?
You might think you already know the answer. Eat the egg whites, not the doughnut, right? But are those egg whites really your smartest choice?
And if you’re choosing foods with only weight management in mind, you might only think about factors like calories and fat. But there’s much more to your health than just avoiding weight gain. Breakfast is important for reasons that have to do with how you feel, too.
You don’t want to end up eating something that leaves you feeling sluggish and sleepy. You also don’t want to be hungry again 20 minutes after you’ve eaten. You want to feel alert before lunchtime, not hungry and irritable. (Speaking of lunchtime, are you making big mistakes with your lunch, too?)
Don’t fall into bad habits when it comes to eating breakfast. Many people who think they are making a healthy choice are actually making one of these critical mistakes.
Trying to save calories by skipping breakfast? That might not be the best idea. “Eating breakfast can set you up for success by avoiding hunger and low energy levels, which in turn might make you turn to a healthier and more balanced diet throughout the day,” says Dana Harrison, the nutritionist behind Eats 2 Know, LLC. She also notes that while some people might feel fine after skipping this meal, the average person might experience low energy levels in the morning, increased cravings, and overconsumption throughout the day.
Sure, caffeine from espresso, soda, or an energy drink can give you a jolt. If you quit caffeine entirely, your body really feels a difference. But, Harrison points out, “This method is unstable and unreliable in the long run. Caffeine is a stimulant, but the body adjusts to caffeine and creates a tolerance level.” As that tolerance adapts, you’ll need to rely on more and more caffeine for energy. You’re also neglecting a really strong source of energy for your body: Food! Load up with energizing and nutritious foods and you might find yourself with higher energy levels and a better mood. Coffee, while still good for you, isn’t all you need to get your body moving. “Using food for fuel, staying hydrated, and getting a good night’s sleep is the best combo to have energy,” Harrison says.
Do you grab a cup of coffee with breakfast, but nothing else? It’s important to drink water all the time, but especially in the morning. Since you’ve been sleeping for so long, it’s been a while since you’ve rehydrated. Water is also a necessary tool for digestion. Eating food without any water to wash it down isn’t going to feel great. Avoid the uncomfortable side effects of dehydration by drinking at least one glass with breakfast. Bonus points if you add a lemon!
Eating a low-fat yogurt or skipping the butter on your toast might sound like healthy choices, but they’re really not. Fats are a critical component of a nutritious diet since they provide such a wide range of health benefits; a meal without enough fat content could leave you hungry and crashing soon after you eat it. “Eating fat is satiating, meaning it’s filling because it takes longer to digest,” explains Harrison. “Incorporating healthy fats into your breakfast can help keep you fuller and energized longer.” You might slice some avocado onto your breakfast sandwich or dollop a spoonful of peanut butter into your smoothie before you blend it.
If you get hangry after eating a bowl of cereal or slice of toast with jam, there’s a logical reason why. Carbohydrates are a healthy, important source of energy; but they’re not the only thing your body needs to function at its best. Protein and fat take longer to use for fuel and keep you satiated for longer after eating. Having a good balance of protein, fat, and carbs can keep your blood sugar from spiking and crashing. A piece of fruit is nutritious and can be great to eat with breakfast — just make sure you eat something else, too, or risk being hungry soon after.
You don’t want to rely only on carbs, but you may not want to omit them entirely, either. Carbohydrates are an easily accessible source of energy for your body. If you’re feeling sluggish in the morning, some carbohydrates in your breakfast could help give you the fuel you need to start your day. Bagels and toast are carbs, sure, and some mornings you might want them — but they’re not the only kinds you have to choose from. Fruit has carbs, along with fiber and other nutrients. So do oatmeal, granola, and potatoes! Switch it up to keep yourself from getting bored with the most important meal of the day.
A crucial (but underrepresented) part of healthy eating is enjoyment. Your body craves foods for a reason — let yourself give in to them! There are more purposes to eating than pure nutrition. Health involves enjoyment, experience, and happiness, too. A pastry for breakfast might not be the best choice if you are eating it to provide lasting energy or keep you alert. But if the purpose of the pastry is to satisfy a craving or eat for enjoyment (or the pastry is the only breakfast available), it could actually be the smartest option.
You’re cutting calories when you omit the yolks, but what else are you cutting? More than you’d think — the yolk of the egg is where most of the nutrition lies. People started omitting egg yolks for fear of cholesterol, but if you’re eating two or fewer eggs per day, the science indicates that your cholesterol is probably safe. Keep the yolks in for all their deliciousness (let’s be honest, an egg white omelet just does not taste the same) and all their nutrients, including folate, vitamin D, choline, iron, and more. So go ahead and throw the whole egg in to these delicious egg recipes.
Remember what we were saying about enjoyment? Choking down a concoction of kale, flax seeds, and raw eggs every morning might not be as healthy as you think — unless you’re really into that sort of thing. Your body actually absorbs more nutrition from food when you enjoy it. In fact, one study analyzed the difference in nutrient absorption between two groups: one that ate a delicious cooked meal and another that ate the same exact meal, but in the form of a grotesque savory smoothie. The first group actually was able to acquire more nutrients during digestion than the latter!
Just because it has “breakfast” in the name doesn’t mean it’s a complete meal. These bars are often low-calorie, meaning that they probably won’t fill you up for very long or give you the energy you need. Additionally, they may not have enough nutritious value from protein and fats. These bars often have more sugar than anything else — leaving you hungry again soon after you’ve eaten one.
Cereal and milk may be a sufficient breakfast — depending on the cereal you choose. Many cereals don’t include nutrient-dense mix-ins such as nuts, seeds, or fruit and instead rely mostly on sugar. Sugary cereal won’t kill you; but if you don't want to have an energy crash soon after, you might want to add in something extra. Consider sprinkling in some sliced almonds or granola. And don’t hesitate to add real milk — even though it took Kylie Jenner nearly her entire life to try it, adding milk to your cereal can add some much-needed calcium and protein!
You won’t always have time to sit down for 30 minutes or more and enjoy a slow meal. But you don’t have to scarf your food down mindlessly, either. “Eating in a rush doesn’t allow the body to catch up with your mind,” says Harrison. “You typically eat more when you’re eating in a rush; the satiety cues haven’t been reached, and you still think you’re hungry, so you are most likely to continue to eat past feeling full.” Overeating isn’t the end of the world, but you might not feel your best after you’re done. “My advice is to take it slow,” says Harrison. “Focus on internal cues and mindful eating, allowing your body to be in tune to physiological cues instead of eating based on external cues.”
There are more options for breakfast than premade store-bought items and fast food. While fast food breakfasts menus can actually list some healthy options, you can also keep things interesting with breakfast by cooking something delicious for yourself. No need to eat the same boring bowl of oatmeal every day! These simple breakfast recipes can add some pizzazz to your plate.
Fruit has fiber and other important nutrients your body needs! Adding fruit to breakfast can also be a great way to energize with natural sugars. Eat some sliced banana on the side (which can also help with your blood pressure) or wash some fresh berries to snack on. If you’re eating yogurt or a bowl of cereal, mix fresh fruit into your bowl for a delicious twist!
Just because you’re rushing out the door doesn’t mean you have to skip breakfast entirely. There are some great on-the-go options you can make ahead at home (some can even be kept in your freezer to quickly heat whenever you’re in a bind).
According to some studies, drinking coffee on an empty stomach stimulates the production of stomach acid. For people with sensitive stomachs, having too much stomach acid can make them feel nauseous or sick. If you find that your stomach is upset before lunch, consider eating before you sip your morning cup of joe. You don’t have to omit it entirely, however. Coffee is actually pretty good for you!
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