What’s for breakfast? Pairing a bowl of muesli, a slice of toast or a blueberry muffin with a glass of fresh orange juice might seem healthy, but unfortunately, it isn’t.
The truth is, breakfast can be seriously confusing. TV ads, marketing campaigns and ‘health’ claims on breakfast products lead us to believe that packaged breakfast foods are wholesome. Touted as “the most important meal of the day,” many go-to breakfast options are jam-packed with sugar and other additives, causing blood sugar levels to soar and inevitably crash.
Here’s what you need to know about choosing a healthy breakfast.
The issue with breakfast
Many breakfast products on supermarket shelves contain high amounts of sugar and simple carbohydrates. After an entire night of fasting (i.e., while you’re sleeping), simple carbs are digested quickly, leading blood sugar and insulin levels to rise rapidly. As a result, your body stops burning fat and begins storing these carbs as fat. As if to add insult to injury, after digesting simple carbs, the initial boost of energy you experience is closely followed by a sudden plummet. This leaves you craving more food — primarily fast-digesting, simple carbohydrates — again. And so the cycle starts anew.
Keep it complex
Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains or plain oatmeal, will provide you with lasting energy. They absorb into your system gradually and, in turn, prevent drastic swings in blood sugar levels.
Include extra nutritional value at breakfast by adding protein and healthy fats, which help stabilize blood sugar levels between meals. A balanced combination of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat, will help you feel satisfied and energized.
How to make good choices
Ever read the nutrition label of your favorite sugar-coated cereal or packaged pastry? The front of the box might say, “Great source of fiber!” or, “Perfect way to jumpstart your day!”, but the nutrition label says otherwise. It might take more effort, but it’s best to ignore the advertising on the front of the box and read the information on the back. Look at the sugar, fat, protein and carbohydrate content to determine whether it’s a good choice or not:
- Fat: Avoid trans fats, limit saturated fats and opt for poly- and monounsaturated fats. We know it’s not that simple, so here are more tips.
- Protein: Protein should be a part of every meal to help keep you full and satisfied. Depending on your wellness goal, protein should make up 15-30% of your meal.
- Carbohydrates: Seeing complex carbs like whole grains, legumes and vegetables in the ingredient list is great. Avoid simple carbohydrates like white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, jams, fruit juices, soft drinks and candy. Sugar should only make up 10% of our daily food intake. For example, if someone is consuming 2000 calories per day, that would be approximately 200 calories from sugar, or 50 grams.
Another handy tip is to avoid fruit juices at breakfast. Did you know that a glass of carton orange juice contains more sugar than a glass of regular soda? Seems unbelievable but scan the carton label and you’ll find this to be true.
Now, this doesn’t mean that grabbing a Coke or Pepsi in the morning is a healthy choice, but drinking juice isn’t either. Many juices contain fructose, a simple sugar. Studies have found fructose to be a contributing factor in developing insulin resistance, type II diabetes, and obesity. Another problem with juice is that the fiber from the fruit’s flesh is removed. This lack of fiber causes blood sugar levels to rise quickly and interrupts the metabolism of fat.
So, we suggest ditching the juice and the soda and going for water instead.
Why you might not need breakfast
Whether you eat two, three or four meals a day, it’s essential to consume an adequate amount of calories and maintain a routine. Being consistent with meal frequency and meal times will help your body learn when it can burn fat.
If you are someone who eats breakfast 50% of the time, this lack of routine is likely confusing the body. It becomes unsure as to when the next meal is coming, so it instinctively goes into survival mode and it begins to store more fat to compensate and “survive” the next fasting phase. If this sounds like you, instead of deciding to skip breakfast every day, the better choice is to eat breakfast every day.
That said, some people skip breakfast their entire lives and remain fit and maintain a healthy weight. This means that their body has adapted to their routine and learned to function without breakfast. If they were to change their routine and began to eat breakfast sporadically, they might confuse their body and start to put on weight. Regularity is key.
- Steer clear of sugary foods and opt for wholesome and unprocessed ingredients.
- Combining complex carbs with healthy fats and protein at breakfast keep you satisfied and energized.
- If you’ve managed to live a healthy life without breakfast, then continue — just maintain a routine.
- Should you find yourself eating breakfast at erratic times or not at all, then try eating at a regular time for a week or two and see how you feel.