Your breakfast choices lay the foundation for your entire day and your long-term health. But you don't have to stick with the traditional options.
By Madeline Vann, MPH
Whether you prefer eggs, yogurt, or oatmeal, getting a healthy breakfast under your belt sets the tone for a day of weight control and fewer calories overall. In fact, research shows that people who start their day with breakfast make healthier choices and have a lower body mass index in general. The breakfast effect is even stronger for women than men.
"If we skip breakfast, we'll make unhealthier choices at lunch. People who skip breakfast eat more during the day," says Emily Banes, RD, clinical dietitian at the Houston Northwest Medical Center. This is partly due to a thought process in which people believe — incorrectly — that if they don't eat breakfast, they can eat more at lunch or dinner.
Here's the reality. On a physiological level, your breakfast choices — or lack of them — can set off a cycle of cravings and blood sugar spikes that spells doom for weight control. Better to start the day with stable blood sugar and ultimately fewer calories, courtesy of breakfast, says Banes.
Breakfast Calories: What to Eat
You may have to find your perfect breakfast food through a trial and error process. Banes advises thinking outside the breakfast box. It's fine if you prefer a small turkey sandwich or a hard-boiled egg to traditional breakfast foods, she says. Here are other ideas:
Consider whole grains. Whole grains are a good choice because they keep you feeling full, according to a dietary study that compared feelings of satisfaction between people who ate a hot whole-grain cereal for breakfast and those who ate refined wheat bread. Those who ate the whole-grain breakfast reported feeling less hungry over the following eight hours than the comparison group.
Opt for eggs. A study of people between the ages of 25 and 60 who were trying to lose weight found that those who ate two eggs for breakfast lost 65 percent more weight than those who ate bagels, and they also reported having higher energy levels throughout the day. Although this study showed no effect of egg consumption on cholesterol levels, Banes cautions that this may not be the right choice if you already have high cholesterol. Ask your doctor about egg-white alternatives.
Avoid high-sugar choices. Eating doughnuts, breakfast pastries, and sugary cereals may begin that cycle of cravings and blood sugar lows that can undermine your efforts.
Breakfast Calories: Ideas for Slow Starters
Not everyone leaps out of bed ravenously hungry.
"When you first wake up in the morning, if you are not a breakfast person, but you can eat two hours later, that's fine. Have a little yogurt with cereal in it, a little bit of peanut butter on some crackers, or a granola bar with a little bit of protein in it. It doesn't have to be traditional breakfast foods," says Banes.
Once you find the breakfast options that suit your diet and your taste buds, plan ahead so that these foods are on hand when you want them — and you can solidify a healthy habit that will last a lifetime.