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The Healthy Way FOR Life: Breakfast

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Is there a "best" breakfast? Is there a way to get breakfast in without disrupting your morning routine? We'll take a look at some of these questions in today's article.

Last week, we discussed the importance of really finding out what your personal motivations may be to make a change in your nutritional habits. If you haven't taken some time to consider why you're going to change, be sure to do that first. If you've done that already, the first place we'll start for making a change is with breakfast.

A 2005 poll by ABC News found that about 40% of Americans do not eat any breakfast. For the 60% that did eat breakfast, the report did not uncover what percentage make breakfast a daily occurrence rather than an occasional occurrence. For those who do eat breakfast, cereal with milk topped the list of the most common breakfasts. We'll take a look at why breakfast is important, what a good breakfast should include and what you can do to easily fit it into your daily plan.

Why is breakfast so important?

According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78% of those who are successful maintaining their weight loss, eat breakfast each day. Other research studies have also shown that breakfast consistently supports weight loss. There are a variety of possible explanations, which vary for each individual. For many people, when they eat breakfast, especially a high-protein breakfast, they eat less later in the day. Most people eat a consistent number of calories, even when they don't pay attention to their calorie consumption. By eating a good breakfast every day, there are less calories to eat later in the day. A good breakfast may reduce the chance of reaching for sweets or snacks mid-morning.

A good breakfast can help set you up for success mentally as well. When your first meal of the day is something healthy, it may give you the mental encouragement needed to make a wise choice for your next meal. This can set you up for success throughout the day. It doesn't make as much sense to start focusing on eating healthy dinners first. If you make poor choices throughout the day, it's easy to say, "Well, I blew it all day, so what's the point tonight?" Starting the day with the right choices can set you up for success the rest of the day.

What should I eat?

As I've been writing this, I've had the TV on in the background. Almost every time commercials have come on, there's been an advertisement for a different cereal. As much as they are marketed, it's easy to assume they are a perfect breakfast, but are they? The simple answer is, "it depends on the individual." Though cereal is quick and easy, it often lacks a sufficient source of protein.

Protein is a critical part of breakfast. Study after study has shown that higher amounts of protein can support cravings, blood-sugar regulation and satiety (stay full longer). Not everyone has a strong appetite in the morning, which can make protein consumption a bit of a challenge. Eggs are an outstanding source of protein and other nutrients, especially when they come from cage free, pasture raised chickens. You may need to seek out a local farm to find them, but they are well worth it. To really get the benefits of a higher-protein breakfast, shoot for 20-30 grams of protein with breakfast. Some good breakfast protein sources include:

  • eggs from cage-free, pasture raised chickens
  • nitrate/nitrite free, uncured bacon from either pig or turkey
  • Fage Greek-Style Plain Yogurt
  • FastFuel Complete meal replacement shake
  • cottage cheese
  • organic chicken sausage

What about carbohydrates with breakfast? It depends on the individual. For most people, protein should be a priority, and if they would like something more, carbohydrates can be fine. The problem for many breakfast-eaters is they rely only on their high-carbohydrate foods such as cereal, toast, juice, bagels, sugar in coffee, etc. Any of these foods can set someone up for a roller-coaster day in blood-sugar levels, which can lead to strong cravings, varying levels of energy and poor dietary choices later in the day. While cereal in milk does provide some protein, it is not enough to have much of an impact. My wife and I always ensure our two boys have plenty of protein with their breakfast each morning. One likes bacon and the other likes sausage.  After they've eaten their protein they can have organic gluten free cereal with whole milk from grassfed cows. This past week, our 15-year-old, said he didn't want the cereal anymore because when he eats it he is hungry before lunch time (which is about 11 am). Pretty observant for a 15-year old! Reasonable carbohydrate sources include:

  • whole fruit (organic if possible)
  • sprouted-grain bread (Trader Joe's brand is my favorite)
  • organic, gluten-free cereals (Nature's Path makes some great ones)

Note: I have mentioned some name brands above. These are not advertisements as we do not have any business relationship with these company's. I'm only sharing what I personally like and use.

How can I get started?

You may be among the 40% of the population not eating any breakfast and just need to get started. You may also be among the 60% of the population that makes breakfast a regular habit, but it might not be the best choices. As was mentioned in last week's message, the best way to make good nutrition a part of your lifestyle for the long-run is to keep it simple.

  • If you don't eat breakfast regularly, eat something every day for a week. It could be bacon & eggs, cold pizza, a sandwich, or anything else you can get yourself to eat every day
  • If you do eat breakfast regularly, make sure you're getting in enough protein every day. If you'd like, you can vary the sources. However, most people find that planning the same breakfast each morning helps them stick with it, especially if they're short on time. If that's the case, make the same breakfast during the week and give yourself some variety on the weekend.
  • If you're getting enough protein every day, round out your breakfast. If you'd like some carbohydrates, see what works best for you. Try out a new, healthy cereal or a new sprouted-grain bread for your toast. Just be sure to get in enough protein first.

One final point for this week. We talked about how protein helps you feel full longer and helps control cravings. In this upcoming week, try eating only a high-carbohydrate breakfast like cereal, a bagel, toast with jelly, and/or juice and see how you feel a couple of hours later. Compare that with a breakfast that includes 20-30 grams of protein. You may be very surprised at the difference in how you feel.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, noras a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medicaladvice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at thechoice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (7)

I eat old fashioned oatmeal with raisins and a bit of honey - and some kind of nut (this week it's walnuts). Am unsure of the protein content though (usually 8-10 nuts). Oatmeal is a constant, but I do feel hungry between 10:30 and 11:00 am, which I bring snacks (nuts, fruit, cheese, etc.) so it isn't a huge deal. Last Friday, I made eggs (with tomatoes, sauteed onions, and cheese). Definitely noticed a difference. I didn't get hungry until 11:30/11:45 am. Since I have issues with Greek yogurt - because it is so bitter - any suggestions on ones I might like? While I've been okay with the same breakfast everyday, changing it up a bit would be nice too.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhitley79

The nuts won't give you too much for protein, so you may want to include a scoop of protein powder in your oatmeal. If you tolerate peanuts, you could replace the nuts you're using with peanut butter and put a scoop of chocolate whey isolate in it. It'll taste kind of like a Reese's. Skip the honey, though. It wouldn't taste that good in the mix.
Eggs are a great option - hard boiled, scrambled, as an omelet. Full-fat cottage cheese with fresh berries and a little stevia is great if you handle cottage cheese. As far as the yogurt goes, Greek yogurt is great, but the fat free tastes terrible. I can't believe anyone buys it. 2% is okay, but the full fat is outstanding. It's really good with some stevia and cacao nibs. Of course, you could just make a shake if you're on the run as well. I'd shoot for at least 30 grams of protein with breakfast to hold you over until lunch. Hope that helps.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

Wow - thanks! That is a definite help!

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWhitley79

I noticed that you don't mention protein supplements as a good breakfast choice. Most mornings I have 2 scoops of protein powder in 12 ounces of water on the way to work. Are eggs a better fix? The protein usually keeps me full until lunch (noonish). If I'm hungry I'll have a little flax in almond milk around 11 or so.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

@Kelly: FastFuel Complete is mentioned above, but you could also do a whey protein shake as well. Shakes are a great alternative to whole food if the protein is good quality.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

What is the difference between Fast Fuel and whey protein? I usually drink whey in the AM and post workout.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

@Kelly: FastFuel Complete has added nutrients including extra glutamine (to support the immune and digestive systems), digestive enzymes, a fruit and vegetable blend (to increase antioxidants), Sunfiber (which lowers the glycemic effect of foods, increases mineral absorption and helps with digestion), and coconut cream (to increase the medium-chain triglycerides). It's more of a meal replacement. If you're adding other things to your whey protein, that could be fine for breakfast as well. FastFuel Complete is really designed for just mixing with water on the run, though a lot of people add a little extra to it when they mix it at home or order it at LifeCafe.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom Nikkola

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