Avoid Dessert for Breakfast

April 19, 2017
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

You probably don’t need reminding that Americans, as a whole, consume way too much sugar. All our processed foods, our addictive restaurant meals, and our cloyingly sweet snacks have combined to give us a collective epidemic of blood sugar disorders and obesity. In fact, it’s gotten so bad, that some researchers think obesity and diabetes is responsible for the falling employment participation rate in the U.S. And our collective sugar addiction has gotten so bad, that most people are having their dessert first thing in the day. Breakfast has turned into an unhealthy sugarfest. But you don’t have to simply accept this as the way of the world. With just a little forethought, breakfast can be the healthiest part of your day.

A Very Important Meal

It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The truth is, the debate rages. There are studies that come down on both sides of the issue.

Some studies show that eating breakfast leads to weight loss, or greater energy. Other studies find just the opposite.

Some people believe that eating first thing in the morning kickstarts your metabolism for the day, getting your fires burning, while simultaneously taming future hunger.

Other research finds that skipping breakfast usually leads to reduced calories over the course of a day, and that’s all that matters.

I’m not going to weigh in on one side or the other. The science is simply too unsettled.

But I will tell you this: What you eat to start your day is more important than when you eat it.

Candy With A Health Halo

Think you’re being responsible by having a healthy banana muffin in the morning? Think again—a Dunkin Donuts muffin can have 46 grams of sugar and 510 calories. That’s more than double a Snickers bar: 20 grams of sugar and 215 calories.

Think you’re being healthy with some Quaker Oats granola? You might as well just grab a fistful of Oreos—the granola has more sugar, and about 50% more calories, than five of the black and white cookies.

Think your yogurt is safe? Better check the label. Eating a serving of Chobani blueberry yogurt is just about identical to eating half a cup of vanilla ice cream.

A bagel by itself has 6 grams of sugar and 245 calories. That’s before you add a slab of cream cheese or spoon out the jam. Oh, and don’t forget that bagels come with nearly 50 grams of carbohydrates. That’s nearly 20% of your daily allowance.

Carbs, of course, turn into sugar once they are processed by your body. Especially refined flour carbs, like you find in most bagels.

And I haven’t even started to talk about pastries, pancakes, sugary cereals, or highly processed meats like sausages.

Even orange juice—that staple of the continental breakfast—comes with 33 grams of sugar, and 165 calories. It’s like having a Coke (35 grams of sugar, and 145 calories).

The truth is, breakfast foods are horrible for you. It would be hard to design a worse start to your day if you tried. Whether they come sweet or not—and most come sweet—you’re taking in way too much sugar eating the common breakfast foods that are out there.

And having that much sugar first thing is particularly damaging. That’s because you spike your blood sugar levels first thing… which leads your body to flood your blood with insulin.

And all that insulin wipes out the sugar in your blood, leading to a sugar crash… and then cravings for food.

You start yourself out on a sugar roller coaster! And when you start your day that way, it’s much harder to break the cycle and get your blood sugar to an optimal, moderate level.

There is a better way.

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A Truly Nutritious Breakfast

The first key to eating a healthy breakfast is to get rid of anything in a box.

If it’s been manufactured for you, it’s almost certainly got way too much sugar, in order to keep you coming back.

Skip the sugar, and have foods rich in protein instead.

Protein—which takes longer to digest—is good to have early in the day. It helps you feel full sooner, and keeps you feeling full longer as it slowly digests.

And if you aren’t starving when lunch time comes around, it’s a lot easier to choose a right-sized, healthy meal for lunch.

One of my favorite types of morning protein is yogurt.

Not just any yogurt, obviously! Anything that comes flavored or with stir-from-the-bottom “fruit” comes with lots of added sugar.

Instead, get plain, full fat, yogurt. You don’t want low- or no-fat, as those yogurts usually come with lots of added sugars and artificial additives. Natural fat in yogurt, on the other hand, is an essential nutrient, that helps your body absorb all sorts of goodies like calcium and vitamin D. Plus, it helps you feel fuller, faster, and for longer.

If possible, get plain Greek yogurt—but any plain yogurt is better than the alternatives.

Now, most people don’t love the taste of plain yogurt—and that’s fine. Instead of disguising it with artificial sweeteners, cut up some real fruit and throw it in.

Berries are great—you just need to wash them and toss them in. But just about any fruit can work—from apples, to cherries, to oranges.

If you still don’t love the taste, head in the other direction and try a savory blend. Dice up carrots, peppers, cucumbers or whatever vegetables are in season. Shred your favorite greens. Add fresh, roasted, or dried onion and garlic. Toss in your favorite herbs and mix in a splash of lemon juice or vinegar, and you’ve got a simple, savory start to the day.

Another fabulous option is the simple egg. Take one or two, cook them up your favorite way (I like scrambled), and eat away.

Add some vegetables to really boost your nutrition game, with a host of additional vitamins and fiber. Or, do like the British do, and eat a few beans with your eggs.

I know it sounds strange, but black beans with eggs is actually delicious, and full of the protein and fiber that will keep you feeling satisfied for hours.

If you’ve grown attached to a ritual with cereal, consider putting something slightly more nutritious in your bowl. An all-natural, sugar-free muesli is a great option. Or an oatmeal made of steel-cut oats.

Even granola can be good, if you make sure to get the right kind—one without added sugar. And you make sure to watch your portions—a little granola goes a long way, and you’d be surprised how many people pour out two or three servings every morning without realizing it.

A proper serving of granola varies by brand, but it’s rarely larger than half a cup—that’s about enough to fill a small teacup—not a big breakfast bowl.

If you pay attention to your breakfast choices—hopefully before breakfast time, when all of us can be a bit groggy—you can make huge strides in ridding your diet of unnecessary, extra servings of sugar and calories. Start your day right, and it makes it much easier to keep it going the same way.

References

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