No matter how much whining you might have done as a teenager, you just can’t argue with Mom on this one: Breakfast is not to be taken lightly. After all, a raft of research shows that partaking in a morning feeding ritual may pay off with huge benefits for your health and waistline. Pass on breakfast and you may stall your metabolism and pig out later, the theory goes.
There are other reasons to stop hitting the snooze button: A 2013 Harvard study discovered that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a whopping 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from cardiovascular disease than those who took the time to nosh on a morning meal. Breakfast skippers reported being hungrier later in the day and ate more food at night, which the researchers surmise may lead to metabolic changes such as higher blood pressure or cholesterol numbers that set the stage for heart disease.
But a smart breakfast doesn’t involve insulin-spiking white toast slathered in jam with a side of cereal hailing from a cartoon-adorned box. All a blood-sugar bomb like that serves to do is cover your six-pack with flab and leave you with a case of brain fog come your 10 a.m. powwow with the boss. Upon waking, your body needs nourishment from a better-thought-out selection of foods that doesn’t involve an avalanche of nutritionally poor calories. Follow these science-based guidelines and get ready to revel in your morning glory.
Clearly, for most people, time (or the lack thereof) is a big obstacle to sitting down to a well-balanced breakfast. That’s why it’s a good idea to eliminate the morning time-crunch excuse by gravitating toward breakfast items that can be prepared ahead of time and require little more than a quick reheat. This will help you bolt out the door with a stomach full of nutrition and the strength needed to conquer the day.
Your move: To speed up your breakfast routine, keep several hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator for a morning shot of protein or whip up a large batch of scrambled eggs at once. Whole-wheat pancake batter can be mixed ahead of time so it’s ready to be dropped onto a sizzling skillet. A stealth move for enjoying hearty steel-cut oats in the morning without the need for a lengthy simmer is to soak them overnight. Simply bring 1 cup steel-cut oats and 3 cups water to a boil in a saucepan, turn off the heat, cover and soak overnight. In the morning, just stir in any add-ins you like (think: spices or nuts) and then reheat.
The results of a 2013 study in the journal Obesity show that there may be something to the old adage “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” For the three-month study, 74 subjects consumed a 1,400-calorie daily diet containing identical amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. One group took in 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch and 200 calories at dinner. The other group ate 200 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch and 700 calories at dinner. By study’s end, the breakfast group lost twice as many inches around their waists as the large-dinner eaters.
The body’s metabolism works most efficiently in the morning, so the researchers believe that we’re less likely to store food as fat when it’s eaten at breakfast. What’s more, those who took in more calories earlier in the day experienced improvements in blood cholesterol numbers and blood-sugar control. They also reported feeling less hungry throughout the day, likely because ghrelin, a hormone that increases appetite, was lower during the day in the big-breakfast group. This may help stymie gut-busting overeating when you’re presented with leftover birthday cake at the office.
Your move: Aim to consume nearly as many calories at breakfast as you do at lunch and dinner. Ideally, 25 to 30 percent of your total daily calories should come from breakfast. Participants in an American Journal of Epidemiology study who got 22 to 50 percent of their total daily calories from their morning meal gained half as much weight over four years as those who ate zero to 11 percent of their calories during their breakfast.
So if you’re taking in 2,200 calories daily as part of a muscle-building program, about 550 to 660 of them should be accounted for by the morning repast.
Seek Out Protein
Most often ruled by sugary boxed cereals, elephantine bagels and gallons of OJ, breakfast for many people is notoriously carb centric. Yet there is no better time to load up on protein than after you roll out of bed. For starters, a dose of morning protein can help put the brakes on muscle catabolism that occurs as a result of that overnight fast. It also may keep your fingers out of the cookie jar. A recent University of Missouri study found that subjects who consumed a breakfast containing 35 grams of protein experienced reduced feelings of hunger and brain activity responsible for controlling food cravings compared to their counterparts who took in the same number of calories at breakfast but with fewer of them coming from protein. The upshot is that noshing on eggs in the morning can halt unnecessary overeating. The protein-rich breakfast also reduced evening snacking on sugar and fat bombs, which also could help fend off the flab monster.
Your move:You already know about eggs, but smoked salmon, prosciutto, beans, Canadian bacon, whey protein powder, lean ground poultry, cottage cheese, low-fat plain Greek yogurt, seeds, nuts and nut butters are other ways to get your fill of muscle-building morning protein.
Most Americans still aren’t getting the message when it comes to eating their broccoli and carrots. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 27 percent of American adults are taking in the mere three servings of vegetables recommended each day. And research shows that’s bad news for health and beach-body potential. While you may try to load up on veggies at lunch and dinner, blocking them out of one of your main meals of the day — breakfast — is a lost opportunity to better nail your quota of these fiber, vitamin and antioxidant heavy hitters.
Your move: Think of ways to effortlessly work some vegetables into your breakfast fare. Try mixing canned pumpkin or frozen puréed winter squash into your oatmeal and whole-wheat pancake batter. Blend creamy avocado into breakfast smoothies. Work jarred roasted red peppers and frozen pre-chopped vegetables like spinach and broccoli into scrambled eggs, omelets and frittatas. Top them off with a few dollops of salsa. Build a breakfast sandwich with whole-grain English muffins, Canadian bacon and a generous handful of baby spinach. And who says sneaking vegetables into meals is just for kids? In a recent Pennsylvania State University study, adults who consumed meals that had been cleverly altered to include more veggies almost doubled their daily intake of vegetables. What’s more, they said the altered meals were just as satisfying as the originals.
Here’s good reason to go EZ on the OJ. Guzzling down juice at breakfast can slow down fat burning, according to a study in the journal Advances in Nutrition. On two separate days, healthy subjects consumed the same breakfast, except one group was provided orange juice and other was served water. Scientists found that the orange juice meal resulted in significantly less fat burning over a two-and-a-half-hour post-breakfast period. It appears that the high amounts of sugar found in fruit juice can cause the body to prioritize carb burning over fat burning, making it less likely to oxidize any fat consumed in the meal. A separate British Journal of Nutrition study suggests that solid food at breakfast does a better job at quelling appetite than calories consumed in liquid form.
Your move:Don’t wash down your scrambled eggs with fruit juice. Instead, opt for whole fruit at breakfast. The extra fiber in fruits like berries and apples will slow down the spike in blood sugar to help dampen any reduction in fat burning. Plus, you’ll inevitably take in fewer sugary calories by biting into your fruit instead of drinking it. A mere cup of orange juice provides about 25 grams of sugar. On the flip side, a whole orange delivers only half that amount. If you can’t go without your morning juice fix, offset the damage by cutting back on other carbs like waffles, cereal or toast.
Expand Your Carbs
Providing disease-fighting vitamins, minerals and fiber, whole grains can certainly be part of a well-balanced morning meal. But for a wider assortment of nutrients and to break out of the breakfast doldrums, think beyond oats and whole-wheat toast for your breakfast carbs. A good place to start is to take a cue from Scandinavians and begin your day with rye. In a 2012 study comparing breakfasts that were identical in calories but with one including rye cereal and the other wheat bread, Swedish researchers found that rye eaters had fewer hunger pangs and less desire to eat four hours post-meal than wheat eaters did. Why? The researchers speculate that compounds created when rye’s fiber ferments in the digestive tract may help you feel fuller.
Alternatively, consider popping the top on a can of beans. A 2012 Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism investigation reported that including legumes at breakfast could reduce blood-sugar numbers come lunch and dinner. This not only can reduce fat storage on your midriff but also can help you slash the risk for diabetes.
Your move: Try making a bowl of hot cereal with rye flakes or even protein-packed quinoa. Spread some almond butter, mashed avocado or smoked salmon on a slice of whole-rye toast or rye crisps. Use corn tortillas, scrambled eggs and pinto beans to assemble a breakfast burrito. Experiment with some new whole-grain flours, like quinoa, buckwheat, spelt or millet, for your pancakes. Grated sweet potato will cook in a flash in a skillet. Try mixing it with some cooked Canadian bacon and a handful of spinach.
Go Ahead and Indulge
Here’s some sweet news: If you’re prone to dessert cravings, researchers from the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Israel suggests you may want to start your day with a decadent treat to trim the fat. Over the course of a 32-week study, participants who added a dessert item like a cookie, piece of chocolate or slice of cake to their high-protein 600-calorie breakfast lost 77 percent more weight overall and had fewer cravings for junk food than the group that avoided such edibles. Even better, they kept the pounds off longer. Giving in to a sweet tooth early can take advantage of your body’s metabolism when it’s at its most active and gives you a better opportunity to work off the extra calories throughout the day. What’s more, having that tempting naughty food first thing in the day may make you less likely to crave it later on when your metabolism starts to wind down.
Your move:If you’re including plenty of healthy items like eggs, whole grains and berries in your breakfast, this research shows that you won’t derail your diet by also including a treat like a chunk of dark chocolate or scoop of ice cream. The key is to keep portions under control (read: the dessert item shouldn’t make up more than 20 percent of your breakfast calories) and be sure to steer clear of them later in the day to avoid double-downing on nutritionally lackluster calories.