It’s not just ‘eating breakfast’ that is important; it’s what you eat for breakfast that can have profound health effects on your body and mind.
I wanted to share with you my findings and give you the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast, and not heading to McDonald’s every morning on your way to work. Some of the benefits I’ll get into of eating a healthy breakfast include:
- heart health
- lowered risk for type 2 diabetes
- higher chance of exercise and physical activity
- improved concentration and mental edge
- weight and appetite control
Not only do breakfast-eaters tend to have better overall diets and lifestyle habits, but a study called the Bath Breakfast Project showed that skipping breakfast can affect glucose levels by causing bigger spikes and drops in blood sugar levels of non-breakfast eaters.
I myself sometimes skip breakfast and have a hard time sticking to diets like The Military Diet, or a keto diet because I am running late to work, I don’t have enough time, or I simply forget. But after doing a lot of research on how your health is effected by skipping breakfast, I plan on paying more attention to eating a healthy breakfast.
So what exactly is a healthy breakfast, and what does everything we eat actually do to our bodies? Let’s take a look at the top 10 healthy breakfast ideas that can help you kick-start your day!
Once shunned for containing high levels of cholesterol (one egg contains about 186mg of cholesterol), eggs have made a prevalent comeback in recent years. As they also affect your mood enhancing brain chemicals and can make you feel happy 🙂
In fact, a 2008 study provides some evidence that eating whole eggs can actually increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Aside from promoting the heart-protective cholesterol levels, egg yolks are one of the richest dietary sources of choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient involved in many physiological processes such as:
- normal metabolism
- the transport of lipids (fats)
- methylation reactions
- neurotransmitter synthesis
Choline can help with fetal development when eaten by pregnant women, and is associated with better neurological function. Oh yes, and it can make you happier!
Whilst adding eggs to your breakfast menu is great, just ensure that the majority of other proteins are coming from lean sources and limit your intake of fat and cholesterol. Beware of consuming too much red meat too. Even though red meat is a great source of protein, processed red meat has been said to be carcinogenic.
There are many factors you have to consider when deciding whether or not you should add more or less eggs into your diet. Eggshells also contain a lot of calcium too. But be sure you are watching your vitamin D levels which affects your calcium intake.
- If you are healthy, consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day.
- If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease, limit your daily cholesterol intake to no more than 200 mg a day.
It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to pay attention to the glycemix index of the foods you eat to help regulate your overall fitness and wellbeing.
Ever wonder why there is a heart symbol on your box of oats? Oats contain soluble fiber which reduces LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels. I talked about soluble and insoluble fiber in a previous article on flaxseeds.
5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day decreases LDL cholesterol and it can help with reducing bloating. Eating 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal contains 6 grams of fiber. Top your oatmeal with some fruit and nuts to add even more of a health kick!
Incorporating oatmeal into your daily breakfast routine can help reduce your LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that soluble fiber found in oatmeal can help reduce this “bad cholesterol” by 10-15%.
The American Heart Association recommends you eat anywhere between 25-30 grams of fiber each day. Oatmeal is a great start to reaching that number since on average once serving contains about 4g of fiber.
Steel-cut, instant and old-fashioned oats are all great options, just skip the flavored kind to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners. Add honey for sweetness and top with peanut butter or nuts and some fruit for a well-rounded breakfast containing proteins, carbs and fats.
Coffee has gotten a little bit of a bad rap in the past. But there is good news for all of you coffee lovers out there. Studies have shown that three to five cups of joe a day can have multiple health benefits. Like I mentioned, avoid artificial sweeteners and stick with products like stevia (liquid preferred as the powdered usually has maltodextrin in it).
Research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research suggests that daily coffee consumption can reduce the risk of the most common cancer in the world, basal cell carcinoma.
Women who drank more than 3 cups of caffeinated coffee a day saw a 20% reduction in risk. White men saw a 9% reduction as compared with those who consumed less than one cup of coffee per month.
CNN released an article on how coffee has also been related to reducing the risk for a number of diseases including:
- heart disease
- multiple sclerosis
- type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- liver disease
- prostate cancer
- Alzheimer’s by 65% in late life
- and even computer-related back pain
It is thought to be the combined effects of caffeine and antioxidants that are responsible for these mind-blowing benefits. More good news…according to one study coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S diet; keep it up America!
Americans are also known, however, for consuming an overabundance of sugar, so beware of this when making your coffee. Black is best but if you like it sweet skip the flavored lattes and stick with a small amount of cream or almond milk and natural sweeteners.
Not a coffee fan? That’s OK because there is an alternative in store for you. Tea has been around for thousands of years. Not only does it hydrate you more effectively than coffee due to its lower caffeine content, but it is a powerful source of immune-boosting antioxidants, known as catechins.
Antioxidants are substances that fight free-radicals and prevent slow cell damage. They fight compounds in the body that damage cells, DNA or even cause cell death. While all tea (green, black or white) contain these amazing antioxidants, green tea may be the healthiest version, as they are made up of the most catechins. You can also try oolong tea which has lower amounts of caffeine.
And if you’re on a free radical fighting frenzy, there are a list of foods that fight free radicals that I wrote in a previous post.
Studies have shown that green tea lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and in turn reduces risk for heart disease. A meta-analysis of observational studies between green and black tea drinkers found that risk for coronary artery disease was decreased by 28% in those who drank more green tea.
A study that looked at the daily consumption of tea containing 690 mg catechins for 12 weeks showed that the tea was able to reduced body fat. The consumption of catechins might be useful in the prevention and improvement of lifestyle-related diseases, mainly obesity.
If you’re trying to lose weight, consuming tea everyday that is rich in catechins may help to reduce body fat and increase metabolism. It’s the combination of antioxidants and caffeine that may aid in weight loss.
As with coffee, don’t ruin these amazing health benefits by loading your tea with sugar! Plain and simple is the way to go.
Berries aren’t just great for their low sugar content (1 cup of berries contains only 5 grams of sugar as opposed to grapes which contains 23 grams per cup). But, these super-fruits are a great source of dietary fiber which is important in digestive health. 1 serving of mixed berries has a whopping 10 grams of dietary fiber, that’s almost half of the daily recommended intake!
- lowered blood pressure
- eyesight improvement
- antimicrobial activities
- suppression of the growth of human cancer cells
All types of berries are great sources of fiber, have a low calorie content with a high nutritional value, and carry a myriad of health benefits, even for your heart. I have added berries to my breakfast menu every morning. Eggs and berries are my favorite!
In one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating around 1 cup of mixed berries for eight weeks was associated with increased HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure.
Along with the entire family of citrus fruits, grapefruits are a great source of:
- vitamin C
Eating half a grapefruit before meals may even speed up weight loss. In a 12 week study of 91 obese patients, those who ate half a grapefruit before every meal lost an average of 3.6 pounds. Those who were not eating grapefruit before meals were only losing an average of 1 pound. Who would have thought you can have an appetizer for breakfast!?
Through this study, the weight loss was attributed to plant compounds in grapefruits that help lower insulin levels. When insulin is lowered, particularly right after a meal, the body uses the food as energy more efficiently rather than storing it away as fat.
If you are eating grapefruit as your full breakfast entree rather than an “appetizer” be sure to pair it with an egg, yogurt or nuts for a well-balanced, nutritional breakfast.
Bananas and banana peels, YES i said the peel — are another food that have gotten a bad rap in the past and put by many on a “do not eat” list. Yes bananas are starchy but that doesn’t negate the nutritional value of this yellow fruit. I eat bananas throughout the day, not just for breakfast.
Bananas contain 3.07 grams of fiber (12% daily value), 10.27 mg of vitamin C (14% daily value) and 422 grams of potassium (12% daily value). One of the big problems with the American diet is too much sodium and not enough potassium. A banana can give you a generous serving of potassium with almost no sodium.
Not only that, but bananas consist of resistant starch, a healthy carbohydrate that is getting a lot of recent attention, and for good reason. As the name suggests, a resistant starch resists digestion, so it passes through the small intestine without actually being digested.
A study has shown that replacing digestible starches with resistant starch can improve insulin sensitivity and aid in satiety.
Bananas, particularly when they are still a little ripe, also contains pectin. Pectin is a type of soluble fiber that helps the banana keep its shape. Pectin has been shown to:
- improve glucose tolerance
- reduce appetite by slowing gastric emptying
- protect against colon cancer
- may have anti-metastatic effects in patients who already have colon cancer
Since this fruit contains very little protein and almost no fat, pair it was some almond butter or a handful of nuts to complete your morning breakfast meal.
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein. It has 20 grams of protein per cup, as compared to 14 grams per cup of regular yogurt; that’s nearly twice as much protein!
Greek yogurt, as with other milk proteins, is made up of 80% casein protein and 20% whey protein. Casein protein is a slower digesting protein known for being a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acid your body needs.
Because casein is digested slowly, there is a slower more prolonged rise in blood levels of amino acids. Because of this some professionals think it may help athletes when it comes to muscle growth and gain. Casein may also add in weight loss due to it’s effects on appetite, calorie burning and body composition.
Not only will a meal high in protein aid in satiety, but one study showed that people who enjoy breakfasts high in protein are less likely to consume foods high in fat and sugar later in the day. Thus, high-protein meals particularly at breakfast time, aid in appetite control and helps to control cravings.
Greek yogurt is also loaded with calcium; it has 25% of the recommended daily value. Did you know that calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body? In fact, 99% of calcium is stored in the teeth and bones, whereas the remaining 1% supports critical metabolic functions like:
- cell communication
- hormone secretion
- muscle function
1 serving of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt contains 415 mg of calcium, that’s 42% of the daily value.
Whether you go full or non-fat really depends on your goals. For muscle and weight gain, go for full-fat and for weight loss or maintenance, go for low or non-fat.
Just stay clear of the flavored yogurts. Instead you can flavor plain yogurt with honey, cinnamon, peanut butter and toppings like berries or dark chocolate chips.
Orange Juice is the staple of a great breakfast. While fruit juices should certainly be limited, OJ packs a punch of vitamin D that might just do you some good.
The sunshine vitamin has been linked to fighting colds. Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and respiratory infections. Colds are also more common in the wintertime, a time when vitamin D levels tend to be lower.
Research also suggests that vitamin D may help ward off depression. It’s also essential to bone health as vitamin D is a required prerequisite for the body’s absorption of calcium.
Make your own freshly squeezed orange juice or go for a store-bought variety that is fortified with vitamin D for even more nutritional benefit. Please beware of added sugars and stick to no more than one small glass a day. In my previous post, we discussed NPR’s article on added sugars.
These amazing little seeds are loaded with beneficial nutrients. I talked a lot about the benefits in “The Reasons To Why Flaxseeds Should Not Be Neglected In Your Diet.”
In particular, flaxseeds are packed with heart-healthy omeg-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fats, meaning the body cannot produce it on its own and thus needs to get it from food.
Omega-3s are extremely heart-healthy and have been shown to lower the risk for heart disease. Flaxseed enriched diets have been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol anywhere from 0% to 18% and to decrease total cholesterol by 0% to 11%.
This amazing fat can also help to reduce blood pressure levels. One study followed patients with hypertension for 1 year and noted a significant reduction in blood pressure levels when flaxseed was taken daily.
Want to know something more impressive? Just 2 tablespoon of flaxseed contains over 100% of the daily recommended intake of omega-3! Flaxseeds can be easily incorporated into your breakfast by grinding them and sprinkling them on your oatmeal, in your cereal or mixing them into a smoothie.
The saying that breakfast is the most important meal is true, but what’s even more important is what you eat. A breakfast menu filled with delicious, healthy foods and balanced with protein, carbohydrates and fats can give you the jumpstart your need to your day and your health. I also like to add avocados somewhere into my breakfast each morning too.
Adding spices like curcumin and turmeric can give you added health benefits too. Most people forget how healthy spices can really be.
What are some of your top breakfast foods? What foods from this list will you be adding into your morning meals? Leave your answers in the comments below!