By Lindsay Keach Bronstein, RD
We’ve all heard the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and although everyone is unique (some people are just NOT breakfast eaters, and yes, intermittent fasting may work for some…), for mostof my clients, starting the day with the right foods makes a huge difference in their energy, cravings, and even total food intake. It’s often where I’ll start tweaking someone’s diet, because it can set the tone for the rest of the day.
Here are a few common breakfast pitfalls that I see, along with recommendations for healthy breakfast adjustments:
- Skipping breakfast because you’re in a rush. It’s a long time between breakfast and lunch, and skipping out on your morning fuel (especially if you are loading up on coffee in lieu of breakfast) can lead to excessive hunger and cravings later in the day. In fact, skipping breakfast is strongly associated with unhealthy snacking, overeating (especially at night), and weight gain.
The fix:Try a make-ahead or “grab-and-go” breakfast like overnight oats, a protein smoothie, or a veggie-packed frittata wrapped in a whole-grain tortilla. Commit to eating somethingfor breakfast every day for a week (even if it’s just a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit) and notice how you feel.
- Consuming “traditional” breakfast foods like sugar-packed cereal, muffins, scones or bagels. Although these foods are convenient and easy to grab at your local coffee or bagel shop, starting your day with low-fiber refined carbs and added sugars will send you on a wild blood sugar rollercoaster ride. You’ll digest these foods rapidly and your energy and blood sugar will spike quickly and then dip soon after, leaving you hungry, low on energy, and looking for more sugary/carby foods: a vicious cycle!
The fix:Save the sweets and refined carbs for dessert or for a “once-in-a-while” breakfast indulgence. Most of the time, skip sugary cereals and anything made with white flour in the AM. If you’re stuck on cereal, look for one that is 100% whole grain, with at least 5 g of fiber and 5 g of sugar or less. Even better? See the next tip for “the magic trio” to aim for in any breakfast combo.
- Not combining protein, fiber, and healthy fat. This combo seems to be the “magic trio” for satiety. If your breakfast is missing one of these three, you may find that you feel less satisfied and get hungry faster. Protein in the morning has been specifically found to reduce the brain signals that control reward-driven eating behavior (i.e. cravings for “junky” foods) later in the day. Fiber literally fills up your stomach and makes you feel fuller faster, and healthy fats take the longest to digest, so they keep you feeling fuller longer. Consuming these three together will also lead to more stable blood sugar levels, which means more stable energy and less hunger. Ideally, your breakfast will keep you feeling satisfied for at least 3 hours.
The fix: Assess your current breakfast and add what’s missing. Need protein? Try eggs, baked tofu, Greek yogurt, nuts/seeds, soy milk, or beans/lentils. Fiber? Fruit (especially berries), vegetables (try sweet potato!), whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds (especially chia and flax seeds) are all great sources. Healthy fat? Eggs, avocado, nuts/seeds, whole-fat or 2% yogurt, olive oil, nut butter, sardines or salmon. Think outside the box – leftovers and soups can make for a balanced, healthy breakfast.
- Not eating enough at breakfast because it seems like one of the easiest meals to keep calorie restricted when you’re trying to lose weight. As counterintuitive as it may sound, often eating more (of the right foods) at breakfast actually leads to eating LESS, not more, later in the day. If you are starting your day with 4oz of non-fat yogurt and find yourself counting down the minutes until your mid-morning snack, I’m looking at you!
The fix: Increase the size of your breakfast until you feel satisfied for at least 3 hours after eating, and make sure that you are combining protein, fiber and healthy fat (see above!). Depending on when you eat breakfast, you may be able to reduce or skip your mid-morning snack, and should be able to go into lunch feeling hungry but not ravenous.
Do any of these pitfalls sound familiar? If so, I encourage you to try a “breakfast experiment.” In this experiment, you’ll try a few different breakfast combos to see which one or two leave you feeling satisfied the longest andfit into your lifestyle. Jotting down what you ate and when you next felt hungry will help you to track your progress.
Need some help upgrading your breakfast routine? Get in touch, we’re happy to help!
DID YOU KNOW? We accept Blue Cross, Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts and some United and Cigna health insurances.To find out more information or learn more about what nutrition counseling can do for you, please contact our nutrition team at firstname.lastname@example.org 781.786.6079.