I get this question a lot in my practice. Why are we confused about what to eat for this morning meal? I believe most of us were brainwashed by watching TV commercials as children and sit-coms with images of smiling kids in front of giant bowls of cereal, tall glasses of orange juice, and plates of buttered toast. In recent years, we are learning that all of those items are contributing to obesity and diabetes. The cereal and bread are “carbs” and the juice is nothing more than sugar water, butter is a saturated fat. So what is left to eat?
I think the question also brings up the idea, who determined what considered “normal” to have for breakfast or any meal. Most of the world does not eat cereal for breakfast. In China and Japan, it is common to eat a rice porridge called congee with pickled vegetables, fish, meat, and eggs. In Southern India, they may eat a crepe called a dosa with fillings such as potatoes and side of cooked lentils. In terms of quantity, some of these meals can be almost as much as dinner.
I believe “one size does not fit all”, see how your body responds to what you eat. Ask yourself, how do you feel after eating breakfast, are you energetic or tired? hungry or satisfied? Change the breakfast to suit your needs and not base it on what the media thinks your breakfast should be. Want to have a chicken salad for breakfast? Why not?
Here are some tips I recommend to help you plan the most important meal of the day.
- Eat breakfast every day. Your body is like a car and needs fuel regularly to keep going. By not eating breakfast, you are essentially running on an empty tank of gas. Certainly not good for your engine (your body)
- Minimize or avoid carbs such as breads, pastries, donuts, and bagels. Complex carbohydrates are broken up into sugars in our body. This can give you a surge in energy but then lead to a fast “crash” and fluctuation in insulin levels which ultimately lead to weight gain. Whole grains such as oatmeal are the exception (see below).
- Eat protein. Protein keeps hunger away and is your body’s preferred fuel for endurance. I recommend eggs, Greek yogurt, lean meats (chicken breast), beans, and tofu. Concerned about the cholesterol in eggs? Read this post.
- Eat vegetables or fruit (make sure they are low in sugar). This is an easy way to get toward your goal of 5 fruits or vegetables per day as recommended in the Mediterranean diet. Fruit also is a great source of fiber to keep you feeling full the whole morning.
- If you want to eat oatmeal, make sure you are eating reasonable portions. My recommendation is to eat an amount (after it is cooked) no larger than the size of your fist. Make sure that you are eating oatmeal that is not instant (not the kind where you just add hot water). I recommend the old fashioned oats that you cook on the stove (10 minutes) and make sure you don’t cook it until it turns to a complete mush.
- Coffee or tea are both great as they contain antioxidants. Avoid adding milk containing fats or cream as that can raise your cholesterol significantly. Sugar is also a no-no. I add powdered cinnamon to my coffee to give it more depth of flavor. You may also add stevia (which is a no-calorie spice which tastes sweet)
- Non-fat dairy or vegan milk. Milk has been vilified in recent years. Milk or non-fat yogurt is still a very important source of calcium. Over the years, we are learning that the best sources of calcium can not be replaced with supplements. If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, you can drink almond milk, soy milk, or eat soy yogurt.
- Incorporate chia, flax seeds, or nuts into your breakfast. These “Superfoods” are versatile and can be added to your yogurt or oatmeal. Be creative!