Everyone knows or has heard of the saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” and while I believe that all meals are important – I do believe that eating a healthy breakfast is key to getting a good start to your day, and providing your body with the initial fuel it needs to get going in the morning. And yet so many people skip breakfast for various reasons: they’re not hungry in the morning, or they don’t have time, they don’t know what to make that’s quick etc….
I actually cannot function without eating breakfast, and it has to be a decent sized and healthy meal, not just a granola bar or piece of toast, or a greasy fat/sugar-laden concoction. In reviewing the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast, I think there are three areas which may be useful to address:
1. What comprises a healthy breakfast? 2. What are the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast, and 3. What are examples of some healthy, easy breakfast options for people with a busy lifestyle?
A Healthy Breakfast
A healthy breakfast essentially has the same components that comprise any healthy meal: – a balance of complex carbohydrates, protein, and some healthy fats.
Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, provide sustained energy to fuel you through your morning activities, and fiber to aid in digestion and ensure a slow, sustained release of energy (versus a sugar-crash that is often experienced after eating simple carbs like white bread, sugary doughnuts etc). Protein, found in eggs, dairy, soy products and nuts make you alert, and provide staying power to your breakfast since it takes longer to break down than most carbohydrates. Protein also provides a sense of satiety to your breakfast and helps keep you full till lunchtime. Healthy fats found in nuts, olive oil and flaxseed, aid in the absorption of some vitamins (like A and E), and also add satiety to your morning meal. The healthy omega-3 fats in flaxseed also provide important anti-inflammatory benefits.
The Benefits of Eating Breakfast
Many articles discuss the various benefits of eating a well-balanced, healthy breakfast. Among the many benefits are:
1. It kick starts your day and your metabolism, and provides you with the fuel and energy to start your morning activities. After a night of rest, your body needs fuel to get going – and a healthy breakfast provides just that – fuel! Your body and your brain need glycogen to function and after depleting these glycogen stores overnight, you need to replenish them to function at your best. Numerous studies have shown that a healthy breakfast makes you more alert and productive at work and school.
2. A healthy breakfast prevents you from getting too hungry and cranky by lunchtime – and so you are less likely to make unhealthy choices later on in the day, and especially at your midday meal. If you eat a healthy, filling breakfast, you’re probably also less likely to reach for quick-fix snacks mid morning – like doughnuts and cookies at the office.
3. Studies have also shown that healthy breakfast eaters tend to make better nutritional choices throughout the day, and are less likely to opt for higher calorie and fatty foods later on for their other meals. Perhaps it’s because individuals who spend the time preparing a nutritious breakfast also tend to be more mindful of their other meals and food choices.
4. A balanced healthy breakfast also ensures that you are starting your day with essential nutrients that your body needs. Most people fall short of meeting their calcium, fruit and vegetable, and fiber requirements over the course of a day, and making breakfast an important, essential meal contributes to meeting your daily quota for these food groups. For example, a breakfast that includes dairy or soy, a fruit and some whole grains in the form of whole grain toast or cereal, immediately starts you off with some calcium, protein, and various vitamins, minerals and fiber – all of which are essential in your daily diet.
Healthy, Easy Breakfast Options
One of the reasons many people say they skip breakfast is that they don’t have time in the morning to make a healthy meal. However breakfast does not have to be an elaborate or time consuming affair in the morning. Toast and eggs sounds like a project, but it honestly does not take long to fry or scramble some eggs and toast a couple of slices of bread in the morning. If you’re in a rush to leave for the office, simply put the eggs on the toast with some salt and pepper, wrap in some foil, and take it to go, to eat at the office later.
Other quick, healthy options are:
1. A bowl of whole grain cereal topped with skim, 1% or soy milk, 5 – 7 almonds (or other nuts) for some healthy fats, half a small banana or other piece of fruit, and a small side of yogurt (for added protein). I also like to add a some peanut or almond butter (about 1 – 2 tsp) to my morning cereal (usually eaten with the fruit), as an extra protein and fat booster. It also adds more satiety and staying power to my breakfast. You could also add a teaspoon or two of ground flaxseed to your morning cereal or yogurt for some extra fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
2. If you’re running out the door, grab an apple, some nuts and a small container of yogurt for a small but balanced breakfast option.
3. A whole grain english muffin with an egg and a slice of low-fat cheese, and a piece of fruit on the side. Or a whole grain english muffin with half a sliced banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter, with a glass of milk or soy milk, or container of yogurt.
4. A bowl of plain oatmeal made with skim or low fat milk, or soy milk, and topped with half a sliced banana, blueberries, some yogurt, flaxseed and nuts, and/or a teaspoon or two of peanut or almond butter for some extra protein, healthy fat and satiety. Old-fashioned or steel cut oats are chewier than instant oatmeal, but even instant oatmeal is healthy and has nutrients and fiber. Plus, if you’re in a hurry, then by all means go for the instant oatmeal rather than skipping breakfast entirely.
5. If you do go through the drive-through, then you can still make some healthy choices: an egg sandwich with a piece of fruit on the side, an egg-white omelet on flatbread or a mini whole grain bagel.
What Time Should You Eat Breakfast?
Ideally, you should eat breakfast within an hour of getting up in the morning in order to get your metabolism going and getting energized for the day. However, if you work out first thing in the morning, then you may opt for a small snack (like a banana or small piece of toast) prior to exercising, and then consume a more substantial breakfast afterwards. And that’s perfectly fine – as long as you refuel properly after your workout, and opt for a healthy, well-balance meal.
Other individuals may find that they are not quite hungry first thing in the morning, but like to eat after they get to the office. That’s fine too – but the danger there is that once you get to the office, you are pulled into various meetings, engagements etc, and breakfast is forgotten or pushed aside. In these situations, it may simply be better to eat something – however light, at home before you get to the office, and then have a light, healthy snack mid-morning to balance out your “breakfast” and make up for the nutrients you missed in your “first” meal.
In summary though, eating a healthy breakfast should be a priority in everyone’s schedule. The benefits of this initial meal make it so worthwhile – and at the end of the day, why wouldn’t you want to nourish your body, and provide it with the fuel and the essential nutrients that it needs to get you started for the day? If you don’t already incorporate breakfast in your daily routine, then do make an effort to start. As with many other healthy habits…your body will thank you for it 🙂
Some additional articles on the importance of breakfast and healthy breakfast ideas are posted below: