Many people wonder: Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
Plenty of studies have been conducted on whether breakfast is necessary. The consensus is yes, breakfast is important and what you choose for breakfast is even more important.
Keep in mind, a study was published a few years ago that breakfasts high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can do more damage than good.
UC Davis Health registered dietitian Melinda Gong helps you make sense of the breakfast debate.
How can breakfast benefit your health?
Eating breakfast regularly has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. There's also evidence that eating a healthy breakfast helps with brain function, especially memory and focus.
Can breakfast make you gain weight?
Some evidence shows that eating breakfast may lead to eating a few more calories in a day. It’s important to balance calories throughout the day. If you choose to eat breakfast, divide your food intake (calories) evenly between all your meals.
Breakfast foods to eat and avoid
Many studies on breakfast foods have one over-arching theme: what you eat for your morning meal is the most important. Sugary cereals, pastries, bagels, along with high fat, processed meats tend to be popular breakfast food items.
Most of these items contain refined grains and have added sugar. This could cause a rapid blood sugar spike, leading to mid-morning hunger. They also can contain a lot of extra sodium, which could affect blood pressure.
Research shows that having a high-fiber breakfast along with a good amount of protein and some heart-healthy fats leads to better health.
Start with breakfast cereal
If you don’t have a lot of time in the mornings, a high-fiber cereal with low added sugar can provide your body with a good start to the day. Buy cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber.
Many breakfast cereals have added protein to help pump up your protein intake. These cereals are often made from whole grains, which give your body many vitamins and minerals such as iron and folic acid.
Aim to purchase cereals that are made from 100% whole grains to get the most fiber. Add some 1% milk or unsweetened plant-based milk to increase your protein intake.
What breakfast foods are high in protein?
Many breakfast meats are high in sodium and saturated fat, which could increase your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, otherwise known as “bad”) cholesterol levels. Instead, swap that meat for a hard-boiled egg. Eggs contain protein and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins D and E.
If you want to consume less cholesterol, egg whites also provide a lot of protein without any added fat and cholesterol. A breakfast sandwich made up of a whole grain English muffin, one egg and a slice of tomato or avocado is a balanced breakfast that will keep you going all morning.
Plain yogurt is another great option for an easy high-protein breakfast. By choosing unsweetened yogurt, you can control how much sweetener you would like to add. Frozen fruit is an easy way to sweeten your yogurt. Thaw the fruit overnight in the fridge and then add to yogurt in the morning, along with a little sprinkle of some high-fiber cereal.
If you’re looking for plant-based protein options, tofu is a winner for making an egg-like scramble. You can also cut the tofu into slices and pan fry it to create a patty in place of meat.
Legumes (peas and beans) are a delicious and unique way to add plant-based protein to your morning. Garbanzo bean flour can be used to make pancakes. Just add in your favorite fruit filling for a healthy sweet breakfast.
Last but not least, nuts can make a great addition to any breakfast. You can make a homemade breakfast bar with whole grain flour or oats, nuts and dried fruit for an easy grab-and-go meal.
Ways to include breakfast in your daily routine
As should be the case when you begin any new habit, start slow and steady. Look at your current breakfast choices to see if there is anything you can substitute for something higher in fiber and protein and lower in sugar. Decide on a few breakfast ideas that will work with your lifestyle, and stock your house with the proper ingredients. Keep breakfast simple when you don’t have a lot of time in the morning. Save the more elaborate breakfasts for the weekends.
Melinda Gong is a registered dietitian at UC Davis Health. She is certified as a diabetes care and education specialist and a weight management specialist. She conducts health classes that focus on empowering people to self-manage their health. If you're interested in taking a class to learn more about nutrition or many other health condition, check out our Health Education Classes.