What is a healthy breakfast?

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A healthy breakfast that will fuel your morning should contain a combination of nutrient-rich carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and veggies, some lean dairy and a smidgen of fat.

Additionally, a hard cooked egg, a serving of nuts, a cup of yogurt, or some reduced fat cheese are a few ways to add protein to any breakfast which has been shown to reduce hunger, increase satiety, as well as reduce activity in the regions of the brain that control food motivation and cravings.

Unfortunately, many staples of the classic American breakfast, such as bacon and sausage, are full of four-legged or saturated fats, and should be avoided. What about another classic staple—the egg? Luckily, only the yolk of the egg is high in fat and cholesterol, so egg white and vegetable omelets with salsa—no cheese—are a delicious low-cholesterol, low-fat breakfast choice. (The average omelet made with three egg whites in a little canola oil has less than 2 grams of healthy fat and only 75 to 125 calories.) Or, if you can't bear to go completely yolk-free, one yolk included with three whites makes a scramble or omelet look and taste almost like a regular one. If you crave pancakes or waffles for breakfast, cook them in a nonstick pan or in one coated with low-fat vegetable spray. Top with chopped fruit and a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of mounds of butter and syrup.

Another staple of the American breakfast—the donut—is an absolutely empty breakfast, with lots of calories and artery-aging trans fat but no nutrition. Instead of eating the same thing every morning, use breakfast time to stimulate your imagination: Try unconventional breakfast foods, such as chopped vegetables with a handful of low-fat whole grain crackers, or a corn tortilla loaded with beans, lettuce, and tomato. If you own a juicer, you can make carrot or tomato juice mixed with celery, spinach, and other vegetables. It's a time-saving, nutrient-rich, and fat-free way to begin the day.

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

To make a healthy breakfast, choose whole grains like oatmeal or 100% whole grain bread; fresh, dried, frozen or canned fruit (packed in its own juice); low fat or fat free dairy products such as yogurt or milk; and lean protein sources. Some suggestions for healthy breakfast meals include: a whole grain tortilla spread with a nutbutter and a banana and sliced into bite sized pieces; a toasted whole wheat waffle topped with cottage cheese, fruit and nuts; or a trail mix consisting of whole grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts.

Manuel Villacorta
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The benefits of breakfast are almost too numerous to list. Breakfast wakes up your metabolism after sleep and starts you burning calories. It reduces stress hormones and improves your mood.

A healthy breakfast is not made of processed foods and they are not all from one food-type (carbohydrates, or proteins). A healthy breakfast should have the same qualities that make up a good dinner: fresh ingredients and a blend of protein, fat and carbohydrate. In fact, in many countries a typical breakfast is composed out of the leftovers of what was used to make traditional dinners!

Here are my four principles regarding breakfast:

  • Any breakfast is better than no breakfast. Eat something, even if it's little.
  • Eat what you like. This is a corollary to #1. If you don't like it you won't eat it, no matter how much you think you should.
  • Be guided by moderation. A bagel is not a great breakfast because it is all refined carbohydrates, but it isn't going to kill you if you eat it once a month. Try to create balance across a week, rather than be perfect every day.
  • Diversify your food types. What makes a good dinner makes a good breakfast -- that is, a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Just eggs? Not great. Eggs with

Embrace breakfast; take the time to eat it. And there's much more about eating healthy by eating what you love in my new book, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good!

Breakfast is one of the best times to eat whole grains, fruits and milk. And a nutrient-packed start to your day can give you energy to perform better, both mentally and physically.

Following are some sample combinations that are packed with fiber, calcium and other vital nutrients your body and brain need to thrive. These combinations are great in the morning, and can be eaten at lunch or dinner, too:

  • Fresh pineapple chunks mixed with low-fat cottage cheese and a slice of whole-wheat toast with apple butter
  • A whole-wheat English muffin topped with soft margarine and a hard-boiled egg
  • Whole-grain or bran cereal with low-fat or fat-free milk and shaved almonds, served with a piece of fresh fruit
  • Oatmeal topped with a sprinkle of brown sugar and walnut halves
  • An egg-white omelet loaded with peppers and low-fat cheddar cheese in a toasted whole-wheat pita pocket and served with low-fat milk
  • Multigrain pancakes or waffles topped with banana slices
  • Nonfat yogurt topped with low-fat granola and dried apricots

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.