We’ve all heard the age-old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Yet there remains overarching confusion about whether breakfast really is that important, and what foods constitute a truly great start to the day.
While it’s been universally accepted that a healthy breakfast is important to maintaining healthy blood sugars, regulating your appetite throughout the day and giving you energy, what isn’t so universal is when to eat it, and what to eat.
The need for a breakfast makover: How breakfast has changed.
Since the post-war era, breakfast food has become more commercialized and highly processed. People’s lifestyles have also changed dramatically to include less time in the morning, more stress and less physical activity throughout the day. As modern society has changed, so has our need for a breakfast that looks different than that of our grandparents and great grandparents.
What overwhelms people the most when they are searching for a good breakfast is finding something to fit their body’s nutritional needs without having to do a lot of elaborate prep. It’s often tempting to fall back on old breakfast habits and routines simply because the alternatives aren’t obvious, or readily easy to make.
Today I’m going to talk to you about how to do your own breakfast makeover by turning the traditional, common breakfast foods you know and love into a healthier start to the day with just a few tweaks.
The cereal breakfast: Cereal, milk, toast and juice.
Cereal was invented back to the 1800s, but the ever-popular cereal breakfast really took off after World War II, with the advent of the baby boom, and sugar becoming a selling point.
Cereal, toast and juice are all source of carbohydrates, so this breakfast option is high in carbohydrates – especially if the cereal, bread and/or juice contain added sugar (which almost all do!).
Store bought cereal may contain grains that have been processed and had the fibre removed. This meal contains only some protein from the milk. Here are my suggested ways to increase fibre, protein and healthy fats in a toast and cereal breakfast:
- Ensure the cereal and bread are both whole grain so you get more fibre. Choose lower sugar options.
- Choose either cereal OR toast to reduce the overall reliance on carbohydrates.
- Consider adding protein and healthy fats with nut milk in the cereal, nut or seed butter on the toast or a boiled egg on the side.
- Replace highly processed cereal with homemade granola or oatmeal. Choose buckwheat, quinoa, chia or hemp cereal for a grain-free alternative.
- Have a piece of whole fruit instead of juice to get more fibre.
- Replace the glass of milk with full fat Greek yogurt for more protein and healthy fat.
The On-the-Go breakfast: Microwave oatmeal and a toaster pastry.
This breakfast is highly processed. It will likely be high in sugar, fat and sodium. While it is important to eat breakfast, there may be other quick alternatives that provide more fibre, healthy fats, and protein.
Suggestions to reduce sugar and add fibre, healthy fat and protein:
- Consider making your own oatmeal. Overnight oatmeal or slow cooker oatmeal are both quick to prepare ahead of time and ready for breakfast on the go.
- Add nuts or seeds to the oatmeal for more fibre, protein and healthy fat.
- Choose unsweetened oatmeal and add fruit for sweetness.
- Choose lower sodium options.
- Look for products without artificial flavours or colours.
- Make muffins ahead of time for a quick breakfast. Consider a high protein, high fibre muffin made with almond flour or quinoa flour. Here is a great recipe for hearty breakfast muffins that are loaded with vegies, protein and don’t contain any white flour or sugar.
- Add coconut milk or nut milk to the oatmeal for protein and fat.
Traditional eggs and bacon: Eggs, bacon & toast.
There are so many opportunities for variety in this breakfast by choosing different types of breakfast meat and by preparing the eggs differently. This breakfast includes fat, protein and carbohydrates to keep the body going, but it could use more fibre. Bacon tends to be high in sodium and may be highly processed.
Suggestions to add fibre and lower sodium:
- Add vegetables to the meal. Consider an omelet with bell peppers and mushrooms, a side of leftover roasted vegetables or some cooked greens.
- Look for bacon that is lower in sodium and additives.
- Choose whole grain toast or, for a paleo breakfast, choose a grain-free seed bread.
- For a vegetarian option, prepare a tofu scramble with avocado instead of bacon and eggs.
The caffeine and sugar fix: Coffee and a muffin.
For some people, eating breakfast is a challenge. A cup of coffee and a pastry from the drive-thru coffee shop is a common breakfast of choice. While caffeine provides a burst of energy and a muffin or donut can fill the pit, the influx of sugar and caffeine will wear off leaving you craving more. This breakfast tends to be high in trans fats and sugar, and low in fibre, protein and healthy fats.
Suggestion to add fibre, protein and healthy fats:
- Make your own muffins with whole grains, nuts and seeds for fibre. Choose a recipe that uses fruit such as bananas for sweetness.
- Try ‘bullet proof’ style coffee with added fat and protein. Include chia seeds for fibre.
- Substitute the muffin or pastry for a slice of whole grain toast or seed bread. Top it with seed or nut butter for extra protein and fat.
- Try matcha tea as an alternative to coffee for added antioxidants.
The blender breakfast: Smoothie with banana, yogurt and frozen fruit.
Smoothies seem a popular choice for health-conscious people – and they can provide a quick nutritious meal on the go. But, fruit-based smoothies with banana can be high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. This means you will feel hungry faster and will hit a mid-morning energy slump.
Suggestions to include protein and healthy fats:
- Add protein powder, nuts or seeds to increase the protein level.
- Use full fat, unsweetened yogurt for healthy fats and protein, with less sugar
- Choose berries rather than tropical fruits for a lower glycemic index.
- Add chia seeds for fibre and omega 3s.
- Add leafy greens or a greens powder for extra vitamins and minerals.
- Replace the yogurt with coconut milk or avocado for more healthy fats and a non-dairy option.
- Use coconut milk or nut milk for liquid.
A Stack with Syrup – Pancakes and maple syrup.
Pancakes and waffles were a weekend breakfast treat for me growing up. I don’t make them often for my family, but we enjoy them as an occasional breakfast-for-dinner meal and on birthdays. Pancakes with syrup tend to be high in carbohydrates, which can leave you feeling tired shortly after eating. This can be a tough one to make healthy, but adding protein, fibre and healthy fats can help keep you energized longer.
- Choose a higher protein and higher fibre recipe. Using whole grains, oatmeal or nut flour can help. You can also include protein powder in the batter.
- Replace some of the maple syrup with fruit salad or a berry sauce for less sugar.
- Add fruit to the batter for sweetness with less sugar.
- Add whipped coconut milk or full fat Greek yogurt to the top for fat and protein.
- Add a boiled egg or breakfast meat on the side for protein
- Sprinkle the pancakes with cinnamon for flavour, instead of syrup.
Your choice for breakfast will determine your energy levels, mood and appetite for the day. It’s important to remember when choosing what to eat that you make it as balanced and energy-providing as you can, without relying so much on refined sugars and carbohydrates, so you can be truly fueled in a way your body and your mind will appreciate!