Posted on Oct 17, 2011 | Comments 0
People have a lot of different opinions about breakfast. Some call it the most important meal of the day while others decide to skip it outright. And then for those that even decide breakfast is important enough to eat, there are plenty of differing habits and opinions on the matter.
The problem usually boils down to a number of breakfast ingredients that are generally good for you; however, generally good for you ingredients are no longer good for you once lathered in oil, salt, grease, or whatever unhealthy cooking methods you can concoct.
Where to Start?
I suppose the most important step to take to start leading a healthier life in regards to breakfast is to actually start eating breakfast. Skipping breakfast is arguably worse than eating donuts for breakfast (although donuts are probably worse on your coronary arteries).
This is because your body slows its metabolism when you’re sleeping to preserve energy. Not eating a meal when you wake up is essentially taking away the trigger that would boost your metabolism to start your day.
Obviously, your quality of breakfast depends on two factors:
- How much time you have to prepare breakfast.
- How much money you’re willing to invest in breakfast.
I intend to cover creating a good, balanced breakfast under both constraints, but first let’s take a look at putting together the ideal breakfast, regardless of time or budget.
The Perfect Breakfast
Imagine the perfect breakfast. Don’t even think about how to prepare it or price. Ok, now imagine something that’s actually healthy for you. It probably has less carbohydrates, sugar, and/or fat. Beyond that, a nutritious breakfast can still taste amazing and (the best plus of all) won’t give you a massive coronary bypass before you hit age 30. The ideal components of a perfect breakfast consist of a lean protein source, whole grains, fruits and/or vegetables, and fat-free dairy.
An important part of any meal that is often overlooked in the morning, protein is what will help fight off that mid-morning hunger (not to mention help build a little muscle). Unfortunately, protein is one of the easiest elements of a meal (particularly for breakfast) to become overly fatty and greasy. Great sources of protein include eggs, salmon, peanut butter, soy, nuts, and lean meat (which is roughly 3 grams of fat for every ounce). And yes, milk and yogurt are also sources of protein.
Fruits and/or Vegetables
Frankly, it’s hard to ignore the many benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. They are a great source of fiber, rich in vitamins and minerals, help hydrate you with water, provide phytochemicals and antioxidants, and essentially help reduce the risk of a good number of diseases including cancer and heart disease. Yet many people are still not getting the ideal amount of fruit and vegetable intake per day, and a lot of this intake is lost in the breakfast meal. Even something as simple as supplementing your breakfast with an apple or orange would help immensely in your overall long-term health.
Breakfast is a great source for whole grain foods. You can find a good amount of whole grain in granola bars, breads, cereals, oatmeal, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, and even baking ingredients. Unlike refined grain, whole grain leaves the endosperm, germ, and bran, resulting in a 25% increase in protein and an additional seventeen key nutrients. Look for the Whole Grain Stamp on food package to find out whether or not it has whole or refined grain.
Fat-free or Low-fat Dairy
Fat-free dairy products are excellent for a number of reasons. They provide you with protein, carbohydrates, and calcium while offering very little fat. By advised that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), among many other health institutions, urges consumers to switch to fat-free (preferably) or low-fat (1%) milk. This same principle also applies to yogurt; go for fat-free and make sure the product isn’t adding in sugar as well.
How to Spoil These Components
Now that we’ve seen the beauty of these healthy components of a perfect breakfast, let’s find out how we can ruin them and turn what would be a healthy meal into a future heart attack or setup for obesity.
Too Much Sugar!
Without a doubt, high sugar content is one of the largest health flaws to most people’s breakfasts. Even granola bars marketed as a “healthy breakfast” have way too much sugar than necessary. Try your best to seek out breakfast items that have reduced amounts of sugar. Rather than having sugar-loaded cereal, consider adding fruit (strawberries or blueberries work great in most cereal). This will not only give you some sugar to sweeten the cereal, but it also adds plenty of nutrients and other disease fighting molecules. How much sugar is appropriate for your diet depends on your calorie input.
Bacon and Sausage Are Not Lean Meats
On the whole, bacon and sausage – the traditional staple breakfast meats – are extremely rich in saturated fat. However, there are some lean alternatives to both these meats. For those who crave bacon, consider Canadian or turkey bacon, both of which have significantly less saturated fat and calories. Instead of pork sausage, consider lean deli ham.
Not Opting for Low-Fat Foods
Along the same vein of lean meats, try to also find low-fat alternatives for other elements of your breakfast. The obvious choice here is among dairy products, where the difference between skim (or soy or almond) milk and whole milk is huge. There are still more subtle choices; while granola can be a good source of whole grain, bran flakes and oatmeal have even less fat and just as much whole grain. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers even more low-fat alternatives to traditionally higher-fat foods. Remember that frying or cooking anything in any type of vegetable oil will increase the fat in the dish, so try not to overdo the oil.
Too Much Salt
While it is fairly easy to avoid high sodium meals when you’re cooking your own breakfast, do be mindful that many fast food breakfast places tend to add on large amounts of salt (and sugar) wherever they can. Too much sodium in your diet can result in hypertension (higher blood pressure), heart failure, difficulty breathing, and heart attack.
What About Egg Whites Vs Whole Eggs?
I personally don’t consider eating whole eggs to be a dietary health concern. In fact, egg yolks contain a good amount of vitamins and nutrients and provide more protein than just egg whites. The only bad side is that egg yolks also contain lots of fat and cholesterol while egg whites contain virtually none. Personally I think it’s worth the other nutrients to eat eggs whole (and just try to cut back on fat and cholesterol in other parts of your diet), but if you’re really looking to lose weight or lower cholesterol, eat egg whites only. Another great compromise is taking out one egg yolk for every two eggs.
Stay Away From Fried Eggs
Eggs can be prepared in a number of ways: poached, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, omelette, or scrambled. All of these options are immensely better than simply frying an egg. For omelettes or scrambled eggs, I recommend cooking in oil rather than butter as some recipes suggest. Obviously, the omelette and scrambled eggs are not as healthy as poached or boiled eggs due to cooking them in oil or butter. However, they’re still generally better for you than frying eggs.
Healthy Breakfast Dishes With Quality Time and Ingredients
Now that we’ve gone over the essential components of (and pitfalls against) a healthy breakfast, let’s look at some of our options for a big, hearty breakfast. Remember that these options are for when you have a good amount of time to prepare the meal and good quality ingredients. You can cut your cooking time in the morning by preparing fruits and vegetables the night before.
Breakfast tacos are one of those fringe-healthy foods because they can turn from healthy to horribly bad for you with only the slightest difference in preparation. The ideal healthy breakfast taco starts with whole wheat tortilla or pita, scrambled eggs also cooked with your choice of assorted vegetables (bell peppers, green chilies, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, potatoes all work great), and low-fat cheese or sour cream to top it off (though you can definitely omit cheese if you decide the fat and cholesterol is not worth the calcium and flavor). You can also substitute scrambled tofu for eggs for a healthy vegan alternative. Remember not to cook in too much oil, and avoid bacon and sausage no matter how appetizing they sound.
Eggs Benedict is a great poached egg recipe with plenty of protein that offers plenty of room to add whole grain and vegetables to your diet as well. While it’s traditionally a poached egg stacked on bacon stacked on an English muffin half (which is not so healthy), keep in mind that you can choose a lean bacon like turkey bacon or even use deli ham or salmon (if you want to come off as an all-star chef). You can even substitute spinach for the ham, but then it’s no longer called Eggs Benedict but Eggs Florentine rather. Remember that you can also substitute any other whole wheat bread (even simple toast) for the English muffin. As always, you can add as many vegetables as you’d like; tomatoes and green onions are extremely common in this recipe.
That’s right. You can have healthy pancakes and eat them too. And there are a variety of different kinds of healthy pancakes too. Here are two great tasting and healthy pancake recipes, one has a whole wheat flour recipe while the other offers added protein with an egg-heavy recipe using oats. Remember that using low-fat buttermilk and oil instead of butter really goes a long way.
The Quick and Healthy Breakfast
Not everyone has time to cook an excellent and healthy meal in the morning. That’s why it’s important to have some go-to breakfast ideas that you can whip up in a matter of a minute or two. Since most of these recipes aren’t as ingredient-heavy, they are generally a bit cheaper, but keep in mind that you may not be getting the optimal nutritional value of breakfast. Still, the options below are all considerably healthier and tastier than any fast food breakfast available.
Oatmeal with Flaxseed, Fruit, and Almonds
With this option, you can go for the steel-cut oats cooked in a pan method or use the instant mix, whichever you have more time for (remember that you can also use steel-cut oats in a microwave). You can add low-fat milk or water; obviously water will have less fat even than skim. Once the oatmeal is heated, add in ground flaxseed, fresh or frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries, apple slices, and others all work well), and sliced almonds. Add in just a little cinnamon and honey for some extra flavor. This is incredibly good for you and tasty.
Granola and Low-fat Yogurt with Berries
When really pressed for time, a great and extremely quick meal you can put together is granola and low-fat yogurt. If you can, try to seek out reduced-fat granola, bran flakes, or crispy rice. Add in any combination of berries, and you are set for one of the quickest and healthiest breakfasts possible. The only thing missing from this breakfast is a strong source of protein, so it may also be a good idea to add peanuts.
Whole Grain Cereal with Fruit
The classic, essential breakfast for many, do not ever underestimate the nutritional value of a low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk and fruit. Again, this breakfast option is also a little low on protein, so consider adding more milk or choosing a high-protein breakfast cereal.
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Posted in: General Health