We’ve all heard the adage that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” In fact, there is some scientific rationale behind this premise. After sleeping all night without food, our glucose or blood sugar levels are at their lowest point of the day, and without glucose, our brains and central nervous system seem slow and sluggish. Breakfast provides the necessary jump-start to our bodies.
The need for glucose, however, does not mean we need sugar-filled breakfasts. In fact, we need just the opposite: low sugar, high fiber options.
“Breakfast is an excellent opportunity to get all the nutrients we need to be healthy. Without getting healthy foods at breakfast, it would be very difficult to meet the body’s daily needs for fiber and antioxidants,” said Alesha Orton, registered dietitian, Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital.
The Importance of Fiber
When thinking of what to have for breakfast, consider building your meal around fiber. “High-fiber diets contribute to a decreased risk in cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and keep you full longer to help promote weight loss too. High-fiber foods usually also have additional benefits like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Try to get 25-30 grams of fiber per day,” said Orton.
The average American gets only half the recommended amount of fiber each day.
“Fiber, specifically soluble fiber, will lower cholesterol in the body,” Orton said. “In order for us to get the daily recommended amounts of fiber and antioxidants to prevent heart disease and cancer, you will want to look for high fiber foods and include fresh fruit or veggies with breakfast.”
Fiber Sources for Breakfast
Start with a whole grain cereal with at least four grams of fiber per serving. Whole grains like shredded wheat or oatmeal are a good option.
“Even better than oatmeal is barley with three times more soluble fiber, which is good for your heart,” she said.
Just cook barley as you would oatmeal, and eat as a cereal, or look for cereals and breads with whole wheat, whole oats, or whole barley as a primary ingredient.
“To hot cereals you can also add flax seed, chia seeds or nuts, all good for lowering cholesterol. Ground flax seed and chia seed help lower blood pressure too, and studies have shown that nuts can help you live longer because of their good fats that work to lower cholesterol,” she said.
When you are packing in the nutrition, don’t forget the fruit.
“Fruit has received a bad rap lately because of fad diets, but eliminating it from your diet is a mistake,” she said. “Fruit is low in calories and high in soluble fiber and antioxidants, which help your heart and reduce cancer risk.”
Protein & Other Nutritional Considerations
When it comes to protein for breakfast, Orton does not recommend the typical American choice of cured meats such as bacon and sausage. “Cured meats have been linked to inflammation and increased risk of both cancer and heart disease. They also have a lot of sodium,” she said.
However, eggs, as a general rule, are not bad for breakfast. According to the most current research, consuming one egg per day or two eggs every other day can reduce cholesterol. After that, too many eggs can be problematic.
“Specifically if you have diabetes, you should not eat more than four eggs a week according to the current research to reduce cholesterol,” she said.
Additionally, stay away from donuts and breakfast pastries, which often contain hydrogenated oils.
“Avoid eating hydrogenated oils. They are the worst kind of fat because they greatly increase risk for heart disease,” said Orton.
Instead, reach for a piece of whole grain, high-fiber toast and top it with heart-healthy avocado or peanut butter.
When it comes to beverages, water in the morning is the very best option because it helps your body rehydrate after that long night of sleep.
Coffee and tea are also fine choices. But watch out for those specialty coffee drinks that pack on calories without nutritional benefit.
Same goes for fruit juice.
“Juice seems like it would be a good thing but it has none of the fiber of whole fruit, so you are only drinking calories without the heart benefits,” Orton noted. “For better health, choose a piece of fruit over a glass of fruit juice.”
Most of all, make changes that are easy for you to incorporate and stick with. Try different foods and see what tastes good to you. Over time, you’ll discover that eating a healthy breakfast gives you more energy and a proper kick-start to your day.