Why Is Breakfast So Important?
People sometimes mistakenly believe that skipping breakfast is a good way to cut extra calories from their diet. Unfortunately, this plan often backfires. Scientific research suggests that successful dieters are significantly more likely to eat breakfast than those who fail to lose weight (Wyatt, 2002). Indeed, a dietary intervention performed with obese women found that eating a high-calorie breakfast was associated with greater weight loss than eating an equivalent amount of calories at dinner (Jakubowicz, Barnea, Wainstein, & Frey, 2013).
So what makes breakfast so important? One reason that breakfast is a critical meal is that it jumpstarts your metabolism in the morning. The amount of time that passes between dinner and the first meal of the morning is the longest your body typically goes without food. Eating right away provides your body with energy that impacts your metabolism for the rest of the day (Consumer Reports, 2015). Additionally, people who skip breakfast tend to have increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone that has been associated with hunger. This may cause you to feel hungrier later in the morning, leading to overeating or an energy crash.
Components of a Healthy Breakfast
Of course, not all breakfasts are created equal. Crafting a healthy breakfast requires an eye for portion size and nutrient balance. The key is to get a good balance of carbohydrates and lean protein. Carbohydrates are the molecules that your body uses for energy (MacMillan, 2015). Eating carbohydrates in the morning gives your body an energy boost, providing you with easily digestible nutrients. Meanwhile, eating protein tends to increase your satiety after a meal. Getting enough protein can also stabilize your blood sugar, preventing a crash in blood glucose levels that leads to mid-morning cravings.
Although carbohydrates are an important part of breakfast, not all carbs are created equal. For instance, a doughnut is high in carbohydrates, mostly in the form of simple carbs such as sugar. Eating a large portion of simple carbohydrates causes your blood glucose levels to rise suddenly and fall quickly. In contrast, complex carbohydrates provide a more sustained source of energy (American Diabetes Association, 2015). Additionally, many whole grain foods that are high in complex carbohydrates also contain dietary fiber. Dietary fiber promotes digestive regularity and blood glucose stability.
Healthy Breakfast Ideas
A healthy breakfast is a simple formula: complex carbohydrates plus protein plus fruit. Regarding complex carbohydrates, consider making steel cut oats, buckwheat pancakes, whole-grain toast, bran cereal, oat bran muffins, or muesli. Then, add a source of protein. This could be eggs, yogurt, a glass of milk, a protein smoothie, peanut or almond butter, or cottage cheese. Finally, add a piece of fruit to round out your meal. Most fruits naturally contain fiber, which helps to increase satiety and promote healthy cholesterol levels (American Diabetes Association, 2015). Plus, fruits contain few calories for their size, keeping you full for longer.
If you are the type of person who skips breakfast because you are too busy, also consider convenience when choosing your meal. For instance, making a serving of steel cut oats the night before cuts back on the time spent cooking in the morning. If that is still too much effort, a cup of Greek yogurt with an apple or banana can be enough to get your body going.
When planning your breakfast, also keep in mind the beverages you drink. A glass of milk is a good choice, as one cup of nonfat milk contains 8 grams of protein and no added sugars (although milk does naturally contain the sugar lactose) (Self Nutrition Data, 2015). Drinking green tea with breakfast can be another healthy choice, as this drink has been shown to promote weight loss (Hursel, Viechtbauer, & Westerterp-Plantenga, 2009). Although fruit juice can be tempting, make sure you find a brand that contains 100% juice. Many fruit juices contain added sugars that can cause your blood sugar levels to spike.