Healthy foods to have for breakfast

Breakfast – “the most important meal of the day”.

When I was in high school and university, the above phrase did not mean much to me. I usually skipped breakfast and if I did have it, it would usually be something like tea with biscuits or a bar of chocolate.

But as I got older and started working a full time job, I realised just how important it is to have a nutritious breakfast. Apparently, there are lots of people who can start their day off without having something to eat. I don’t fit into that category. I try and make sure that I do have breakfast, everyday, without fail.

I wrote this article to show you the different foods you should be eating for breakfast, and those you should be staying away from.

Why is breakfast so important?

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The word breakfast is self explanatory – you are  breaking a fast. You have just spent 7 – 9 hours without any food or water and your body is hungry! Breakfast is what gets your metabolism going.

If you don’ t eat anything, your body will end up using energy it has stored up, to fuel itself. People who are trying to lose weight may thing this is a good thing – your body is using fat stores as a source of energy, woohoo!

Not so fast. Skipping breakfast has been scientifically linked with higher rates of obesity, not to mention an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and suffering from coronary heart disease.

In addition to that, without breakfast, I tend to get moody and am much less productive. One of the sounds I really despise is that of my stomach grumbling, because I know from personal experience that it’s a precursor to moodiness and irritability.

I’m sure many of you have seen this famous Snickers commercial:

When I watch that, I see myself – if I’m hungry and don’t eat within an hour or so, I’m a temperamental mess. And more so if I skip breakfast! The main reason for this is because my blood sugar levels plummet, resulting in lightheadedness and mood swings.

On the flip side, having breakfast brings with it a whole load of advantages:

Weight loss and weight management

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When you are trying to lose weight, your diet plays an integral part in achieving success.

Skipping breakfast means your body will be craving many more calories later on in the day, and this might cause you to overeat (notice I stress the word might, as some people may not end up doing so).

Due to low blood sugar levels you are also more likely to reach out for something unhealthy such as candy, to satisfy your sugar craving, as it provides a quick fix.

This study, carried out by Tel Aviv University in Israel found that consuming more calories earlier on in the day resulted in greater weight lost than consuming more calories later on.

93 obese women were split into 2 different groups, each of whom consumed 1400 calories per day. The “Big breakfast group” had 700 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 at dinner. The “Big dinner group” did the opposite, consuming 200 calories for breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner.

The results found that even though both groups of women did lose weight (largely in part due to the restricted number of calories), the big breakfast group lost, on average, 10.5 pounds more weight than those in the “big dinner group”. They also lost 1.6 inches more from their waist.

Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes

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According to this study, the eating habits of 46,289 US women who were free of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer were analysed for 6 years.

The results showed that those women who consumed breakfast 6 times or fewer a week were much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate breakfast everyday.

Lower body mass index (BMI)

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Your BMI is the ratio of your weight to your height. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. It is used to provide an estimate of whether a person is underweight, normal weight or overweight.

For example a woman who is 1.8 meters tall and weighs 70kg has a BMI of 21.6 (which is considered normal weight). If that same person weighed 100kg, their BMI would be 30.9 and they would be considered obese.

The results from this study, found that people who ate breakfast had lower BMI’s than those who didn’t.

Better concentration and improved memory

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Yet another study carried out on 20 healthy adult males found that those who ate breakfast were able to increase and maintain concentration levels from 8 am to 12 pm. Conversely, those who did not eat breakfast showed a decline in concentration immediately after 8 am.

Eating breakfast has also been shown to improve memory in children.

What you eat for breakfast matters!

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Yes, eating breakfast brings with it a lot of benefits, but what you eat for breakfast is equally important.

Having some biscuits with a cup of tea is not going to do your body any good. All that will do is spike your blood sugar and have you crashing within an hour or so. An ideal breakfast should contain adequate amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

If you don’t have time to prepare breakfast in the morning then make it a habit of doing so the night before. Ideally you would want to wake up 15 – 30 minutes earlier so you can peacefully prepare and enjoy your breakfast.

However, if you are strapped for time, preparing breakfast the night before means you can grab it and eat it on the way to work / school.

Healthy breakfast options

Homemade smoothies

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All that a smoothie is, is various ingredients blended up together, to form a tasty and nutritious drink. This makes them very easy to transport and consume. There are hundreds of smoothie recipes out there, and you can also make up your own.

You need to make the smoothies at home though, so that you have full control of what goes in them. Many store bought smoothies do contain healthy ingredients but also contain preservatives and added sugar, which makes them much less healthy.

You can make a smoothie at home very quickly – it takes me between 5 and 10 minutes, including washing up the blender. There are a lot of blenders out there (including the famous NutriBullet, see our review here) – you should be able to get a good quality one without having to part with too much money.

Try and include a variety of healthy ingredients in your smoothies to make them both tasty and nutritious. Ideally, you want them to contain a source of protein, complex carbohydrate and fat.

For example for:

  • protein you can add in some chia seeds, hemp seeds, almonds and Greek yogurt.
  • carbohydrate you can add your favourite fruit, oatmeal (it also contains protein!) and various nuts
  • fat you can add avocados, nuts and seeds

Combine all the ingredients with almond milk and blend for 1 – 2 minutes on high power. Depending on the ingredients you use, you will need to adjust the amount of almond milk you add, to get a consistency you are happy with.

The smoothie I drink 2 – 3 times a week contains one scoop of vanilla whey protein powder, two scoops of oats, a mixture of fruit (bananas, strawberries, grapes, mango and papaya), hemp seeds, flax seeds, cinnamon and almond milk. It is extremely filling and absolutely delicious!

Eggs

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Eggs are considered to be one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. That is probably the reason why they have been eaten for breakfast for a really long time. They are also very versatile and can be cooked in a different number of ways.

If possible, you want to try and get fresh organic & free range eggs as these provide the most nutrition. To tell if an egg is fresh, simply fill a bowl with cold water and gently drop your egg in.

If it sinks to the bottom and lays horizontally on its side, its fresh. If the egg is still good to eat but a few weeks old, it will stand vertically. If it floats to the surface, throw that egg away!

Here are a few different ways to enjoy your eggs:

1. Avocado and eggs on toast

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This breakfast recipe is incredibly easy and quick to prepare. It also provides you with generous portions of all 3 macro nutrients that your body needs; the eggs provide protein, avocado provides healthy fat and toast the carbohydrate.

For the toast, you want to use brown or wholemeal bread, instead of white bread as these two are much healthier. You can cook the egg any way you want (fried, scrambled, boiled). I personally prefer poached as I can cook the eggs in water and also love the taste of runny yolk.

Whilst the eggs are cooking, scoop out the inside of an avocado into a bowl and mush it up. Then simply place the avocado paste onto your toast and add the eggs on top.

You can season with salt, pepper, fresh herbs and even cheese. I have this on Monday mornings as it’s very easy to prepare. For a more detailed recipe, check out this link.

2. Omelettes

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Omelettes are also very straightforward to make and filling at the same time. You can make an omelette from eggs and mushrooms alone or add a whole host of other ingredients. I prefer the latter option as it adds more taste and nutrients to your breakfast, whilst making it more filling at the same time.

To make my omelettes, I crack two large eggs into a bowl and mix them up with a fork until they are a smooth yellow consistency.

Next I chop up some shiitake mushrooms, red onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, spinach and red bell peppers. I add these to the eggs, together with a pinch of salt and pepper and mix everything up until all the ingredients are spread out evenly.

As an additional protein source, you can add some ham or feta cheese.

To a frying pan, add a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and heat on a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the egg mixture to it. This will start to cook immediately and the eggs will begin to bind with the other ingredients. The base of the omelette should be cooked in anywhere from 2 – 4 minutes, depending on how much heat you are using.

Gently check the underside of the omelette to see whether it is cooked; if it is, the base will look brown and firm. Now comes the fun part – cooking the top. You can try flip the omelette over but unless you are a professional chef, chances are you’re going to end up having scrambled eggs and vegetables, for breakfast!

A better option I have found is to place the frying pan under an oven grill for roughly 5 minutes or so. This will cook the top part evenly, without making a mess.

3. Breakfast quiche

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My breakfast quiche uses similar ingredients to the omelette above, however I also add some almond milk. Once you have prepared the egg, vegetable and almond milk mix, pour it into a baking try or non stick skillet.

Place under an oven preheated to 220 degrees C and let it bake for 15 – 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 175 degrees C and bake for a further 20 – 25 minutes.

If you are pressed for time in the mornings, this is definitely a dish you want to prepare the night before and then reheat.

4. Breakfast burrito / taco

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The great thing about this recipe is that once I have made it, if I am getting late for work, I can carry it with me and eat it on the way. To make it, you will need some whole wheat tortillas or taco shells, two or three eggs, onions, mushrooms, salsa and some hot peppers (if you are able to handle the heat, señor / señorita!).

Mix up the eggs in a bowl and scramble them over low heat. Whilst the eggs are cooking, gently warm up the tortillas in a frying pan, but make sure not to overheat them or they will become hard and difficult to fold.

When the eggs are ready, place them on the tortillas, add the vegetables and a tablespoon or so of salsa. Roll up and enjoy!

Yogurt Parfait

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Yogurt parfaits are so easy to make, you really have no excuse to skip breakfast. It’s a wonder that people buy these at the supermarket when they can make a much healthier and cheaper version of the same thing at home.

You will want to use Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt as it has a thicker consistency and double the amount of protein. You can easily make your own plain yogurt at home instead of having it to buy it. Then, to make Greek yogurt, all you need to do is strain the plain yogurt through a cheese cloth, to get rid of most of the liquid.

To make a parfait, layer around a cup of Greek yogurt in a tall bowl or glass, together with various berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries go great together) and granola. You can also add raisins and various nuts and seeds to give it more crunch. And that’s it… you have a yogurt parfait!

A word of caution – don’t go overboard with the raisins and granola as they are high in sugar and calories. You can make your own granola at home, and decide exactly what goes into it, for a healthier option.

Oats

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Ahhh, good ol’ oats. They contain adequate amounts of protein and complex carbohydrates, making them a great choice for breakfast. I’m talking about steel-cut oats over hear, of course.

The only problem is that a lot of people find them too bland to eat and so end up buying instant oatmeal. I admit, instant oatmeal does taste great, but most of the time it is loaded with sugar and artificial flavourings. I much rather prefer the natural stuff.

Some people enjoy eating uncooked oats, but I am not one of them. Instead, I soak my oats in milk for half an hour or so, before heating the mixture on low heat. I then let them cook for 4 – 7 minutes, tasting at regular intervals until they are just right.

To get rid of the bland taste of plain oats, I add a lot of different toppings, including: bananas, cinnamon powder, dried apricots, dried mango, raisins, hemp seeds and a little bit of honey. I find that oats are able to fill me up and keep me going without food for at least 3 to 4 hours.

Chia Pudding

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I admit that I have only recently come across chia seeds very recently and am amazed at the powerhouse of nutrition they bring with them. They have 16.5 g of protein per every 100 g, are packed with fiber and also contain vital nutrients such as manganese and phosphorus.

When chia seeds are added to liquid, they swell up and form a viscous gel like consistency. This means that chia pudding is very filling and at the same time very nutritious.

Making it, like making a yogurt parfait, is incredibly easy. All you have to do is add 1/4 cup of chia seeds to 1 cup of coconut milk in a bowl. To add some sweetness, mix in 1 teaspoon of honey. You can also throw in some fruits to add extra flavour. Check out this link for some amazing chia seed pudding recipes.

Quinoa

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Similar to oats, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain, rich in protein and slow digesting carbohydrates. Well actually, its the seed of a grain. It is mainly eaten with salads or as a side dish, but what a lot of my friends don’t realise is that they can eat it for breakfast too!

To cook quinoa, you first need to thoroughly rinse it, to get rid of the bitter tasting coating. The seeds are very small so strain them carefully after they are washed.

To cook the quinoa, add 1 cup of the seeds to 2 cups of boiling water. Place over low heat and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until they are tender. Once cooked, drain them thoroughly, to get rid of as much excess water as possible.

Quinoa can be used in many different ways and there are lots of breakfast recipes, one that I particularly like is this one – its filling and very tasty.

Toast

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One of the most common choices for breakfast is toast. I don’t eat a lot of it, but nonetheless, it can still be a healthy option. What makes it a healthy or unhealthy option depends on the type of bread you use and what you put on it.

For example, our avocado and eggs on toast option mentioned above, is a healthy choice as it uses brown or wholemeal bread, instead of white bread.

You want to stay away from butter, store bought jam and margarine as spreads, and use almond or peanut butter instead. You can make your own healthy peanut or almond butter at home. All it involves is grinding the nuts down to a smooth consistency in a food processor. Add some sliced banana on to the nut butter for added taste.

Another great topping to have as a treat once in a while is salmon.

Cottage cheese with fruit

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I really don’t like cottage cheese. On it’s own, that is.

It tastes pretty awful and smells funny. But cottage cheese is rich in casein, a slow digesting protein and contains only 98 calories / 100 g, which is great. It also has various other health benefits.

Once you add fruit to cottage cheese, it tastes much better. I use many of my favourite fruits mentioned above, as well as pineapple, cranberries and apricots.

Cottage cheese does have 17 mg of cholesterol per 100 g, however this should not be an issue as long as you don’t over indulge. If you do have blood cholesterol or heart related issues, speak to your doctor before adding it to your diet.

Unhealthy breakfast options

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Now that I have gone through healthy breakfast options, I want to briefly list out some common foods that you should avoid as best you can.

A common disadvantage with these foods is that they are loaded with sugar (a fast digesting carbohydrate), have very little protein and lack vitamins and minerals.

They may fill you up initially, but within two hours or so, you will be craving more food and not feel as energetic as you would, if you ate one of the healthier alternatives mentioned above.

Another thing I would like to point out is that by having breakfast which you prepare yourself at home, rather than one that you buy at a shop or restaurant, means you have full control and know exactly what went into the preparation of the food, how much sugar & fat it contains and so forth.

Sugar based, supermarket boxed cereal

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Many of the cereals you buy in supermarkets are marketed as being healthy, but they really aren’t. All they do is satisfy a craving for sugar that you have in the morning and then have you crashing soon after. If you are a cereal person, always check the nutrition label on the box – this will tell you how much sugar is added.

For example, take Weetabix Classic, the breakfast cereal that has been around for years. For every 100 g, you get 11 g of protein, 11 g of dietary fiber and only 2 g of sugar. Compare that to Cocoa Puffs, which has 3 g of protein, 5g of fiber and 47 g of sugar. You can tell straight away which one the obvious winner is!

Doughnuts, muffins and pastries

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Doughnuts, muffins and pastries are full of fat and sugar, which is probably why Homer Simpson is a wee bit overweight. Doughnuts are made out of cake batter and are deep fried, so they provide no nutritional value whatsoever.

A large doughnut has roughly 300 calories, 9 g of saturated fat and 18 g of sugar. Eat two of those in the morning and you have consumed almost 90% of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of saturated fat and around 60% of your RDA of sugar.

Pancakes

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Pancakes made out of refined white flour, fried in butter and then drizzled with corn syrup and chocolate sauce are full of sugar, fat and empty calories, making them a very unhealthy option.

If you love pancakes, you can still enjoy them once in a while, provided you make them from whole grain, multi grain or quinoa flour and add fruits & a little bit of honey as a topping instead.

So there you have it, a whole load of ideas (some that are new, I hope) for a healthy breakfast.

Personally, as I have mentioned above, I think breakfast is incredibly important. But if you are like me and don’t feel like eating immediately after you wake up, drink a warm glass of water with a slice of lemon in it and do some gentle exercise. This will leave you famished in no time!