Q&A: What should I eat for breakfast?
Thursday, November 3, 2011
LifeTime WeightLoss in Breakfast, Nutrition, Protein, Tom Nikkola

Hello Tom,

I enjoyed reading your most recent article online, and I was hoping you might be able to advise me.  I am creating a weight loss plan for myself, and I thought your 3 tips would be a great place for me to start.  I read that eating a high protein breakfast is critical, can you please offer a few suggestions?  I usually like to make two open faced egg sandwiches with 2 pieces of whole wheat toast, 2 eggs, and 3 slices of turkey bacon divided in between.  Occasionally, I will add a tomato slice or a slice of avocado.  Is this too heavy?  Not enough protein?  I teach middle school full time (in addition to teaching Pilates at Life Time) so if I don't eat something fairly big, I am ravenous and cranky with the kids within two hours.

-- Lisi

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Great question Lisi!

I’m going to provide a bit more than just a direct answer to the above question. I believe many people are confused about what a "good" breakfast is. When shopping for groceries, the story you see on the label of food products is quite different than what you'll hear from a Life Time Registered Dietitian, personal trainer, or what you'll read on this website.

If you were to ask the average person what breakfast typically includes, it’s cereal, pancakes, waffles, toast, bagels, or some other carbohydrate-rich food. We’ve been conditioned to believe we need carbohydrates in the morning for energy. In reality, these high-carb foods are often the reason we feel hungry, sluggish and have a hard time focusing by mid-morning. Fortunately for Lisi above, it looks like she understand the importance of getting protein and some fat with breakfast. We’ll look at what constitutes a good breakfast and some alternatives to keep you from getting bored in the morning.

Why a Carb-Rich Breakfast Doesn’t Work

As much as the marketing on cereal boxes suggests they are the best thing to get you going in the morning, research and experience don’t support it. The same can be said of bagels, toast, and other carbohydrate-rich foods. There are three main reasons why these are not ideal ways to get your day started.

1. High-carb breakfasts raise blood sugar

We’ve discussed how carbohydrates raise insulin in many past articles. Many people don’t realize many grain-based foods raise blood sugar and insulin levels as much as eating sugar does. That goes for toast, cereal, bagels and other such foods. As Dr. William Davis explains in his best-selling book Wheat Belly,

“with few exceptions, few foods have as high a GI (glycemic index) as foods made from wheat. Outside of dried sugar-rich fruits such as dates and figs, the only other foods that have GIs as high as wheat products are dried, pulverized starches such as cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. (It is worth noting that these are the very same carbohydrates often used to make “gluten-free” food).”[i]

Once blood sugar goes up, it’s bound to come down. When levels fall too low it leaves you hungry, irritable and craving more starchy foods. Also, by avoiding a rise in blood sugar, the body can use fat for its preferred fuel. We all have plenty of fat to burn and when our bodies are using more fat, we don’t have as much of a craving for food. Our energy needs can be better met by our own fat stores.

2. Many high-carb breakfast options contain gluten

Another topic we’ve discussed before is the vast number of people who don’t know they have issues with gluten. They might not have a full-blown allergy, but intolerances are becoming more and more common. Not only might intolerances lead to longer-term issues like arthritis, leaky gut and a number of other complications, but wheat may by itself stimulate appetite. Again, Dr. Davis discusses this in great detail in his book.

3. High-carb often means low-protein

Lisi seems to be trying to get more protein by using the turkey bacon and the eggs. Two eggs have about 12 grams of protein in total, and the three pieces of turkey bacon likely provide 9 grams of protein in total, for a breakfast of about 21 grams of protein. The bread might provide a bit more. Without knowing her current body size, it’s not clear whether that would be enough. Protein helps to reduce appetite and can also help reduce the effect carbohydrates have on blood sugar. One idea might be to just eat the eggs and turkey bacon for a couple days and see what kind of effect it has on appetite. It’s possible that eliminating the toast might reduce appetite by getting rid of the wheat and extra carbohydrates. Another option would be to scramble the eggs and turkey bacon with some frozen vegetables. The vegetables would provide some fibrous carbohydrates and more nutrients.

Building a Better Breakfast

A good breakfast will leave you with sustained energy throughout the morning. Rather than feeling famished mid-morning, many people find when they make the right breakfast choices, they can easily last until lunch time before they need to eat again. The following are some ideas to give your breakfast routine some variety. However, if you’re normally in a rush in the mornings, you may find it’s easier to just make the same thing each morning so you don’t have to think about it so much. If anyone reading this has some other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section:

Omelet: There are an unlimited number of ways to make an omelet – sausage, bacon, chicken, turkey, steak, cheese (try goat cheese if you have issues with dairy), mixed vegetables. If you’re not good at actually making the omelet come out like an omelet (like me), just scramble the ingredients together and eat them from a bowl.

Cottage cheese & berries: Full-fat cottage cheese, berries and some stevia sprinkled in.

Protein shake: There are an unlimited number of options here, too. Here are some choices

Bacon & Eggs, with some vegetables on the side: Not much explanation needed on this one.

Egg bake: There are countless ways of making this on the internet. An egg bake is great for making one day and then having some of it for several days afterwards.

Last night’s dinner: There’s no reason you have to eat a “breakfast” meal for breakfast. Make your dinner larger than normal and then save some of it for the next day.

Summary

To feel satisfied from breakfast, be sure you’re getting enough protein and avoid appetite stimulants like too much carbohydrate, or gluten-containing foods if you have an sign of intolerance to them. Lisi has a great start on breakfast. Her choices are better than many people’s, but with a few modifications, she might feel great all the way until lunch time and have a lot more fun with the kids in her class. Check out tomorrow’s article for a unique way of making waffles – gluten-free, high protein, low-carb.

Keep the discussion going in the comments section below.

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


[i] Davis, William (2011-08-30). Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health (p. 63). Rodale. Kindle Edition.

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