Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? You’ve probably heard the adage, popularized in the 1960s by nutritionist Adelle Davis who coined the phrase “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”
A survey by The Harris Poll and General Mills Foodservice found that 24% of Americans ate more breakfast foods during the COVID-19 pandemic than they did before, marking eggs as a fan-favorite breakfast item.
Here’s your guide to all things breakfast, including nutrient-dense options and whether it really is the most important meal.
What is the healthiest breakfast?
The healthiest breakfast is a three-ingredient recipe: protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
“These together are going to help keep you full and give you sustained energy throughout the course of the day,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Danielle Crumble Smith.
Check out these healthy and popular pairings that will get you all three sources of nutrition:
- Eggs, avocado and toast
- Greek yogurt, cereal and fruit
- Oatmeal, protein powder and nuts (you could also cook your oatmeal with egg whites, which will make the oats fluffy and add some protein)
Eggs are a classic source of protein in the morning, but you could also try out a tofu scramble for a vegan option. There are about 6 grams of protein in a single large egg and almost 22 grams of protein in a ½ cup of tofu. Crumble Smith recommends shooting for 20-30 grams of protein for your breakfast meal.
Avocados and nuts are Crumble Smith’s recommendation for healthy fats, but salmon is another breakfast addition that makes for a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish contain anti-inflammatory benefits from their fat content, and avocados are rich in potassium and fiber. Nuts are also a good source of fiber and protein.
Complex carbs are the third piece of the puzzle. While simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and give you a short burst of energy, complex carbs provide a slow and steady release of glucose, according to the American Heart Association. Our bodies need carbs because we turn it into glucose, or blood sugar, which we use for energy. Simple carbs, found in candy, soda, syrups and added sugar, provide little nutritional value. However, there are naturally occurring simple sugars in beneficial foods like fruit and milk that we do need.
Instead, Crumble Smith recommends looking to complex carbs, found in starchy vegetables, whole grains and fiber. When it comes to carbohydrates, the AHA recommends limiting processed food with refined simple syrups, eating more fruits and vegetables and focusing on whole-grain breads and cereals as well as legumes.
“It converts to sugar very quickly and our body doesn’t really have to work very hard to digest it,” she says. “We eat it and then we’re hungry in like 30 minutes.”
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Is fruit for breakfast healthy?
Fruit is certainly a healthy addition to your breakfast, but opting for a bowl of fruit or a banana on its own isn’t a healthy habit to get into, Crumble Smith says.
“I would avoid having carbohydrates by themselves as a breakfast option,” Crumble Smith says. “For somebody who might have diabetes or any kind of blood sugar issues, that can cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop.”
If you want to add more fruit, try incorporating them in a smoothie with protein powder or nut butter or have them alongside other proteins and healthy fats.
In reality, a variety of nutrients in one meal – and even over the course of the week when you’re eating breakfast – is the healthiest option.
Why is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
Is the first meal we eat in the morning actually the most crucial? Yes, Crumble Smith says, breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day.
“Starting out with having something in the morning with a combination of protein, healthy fat, a complex carb that provides some fiber, really can support cognitive functions and energy,” Crumble Smith says.
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Is it okay to skip breakfast?
A 2021 study found that approximately 15% of adults skip breakfast regularly.
Eating at regular intervals is especially important when it comes to weight loss goals. You may fall into the trap of cutting or restricting calories, which causes your body to go into storage mode rather than utilizing that fuel because it recognizes it’s not getting adequate nourishment.
Struggling to eat breakfast because you’re not hungry in the mornings? That’s likely because our bodies adapt to habit.
“If grabbing a premade protein drink from the gas station on the way to work feels like the only thing that you can do right now, start there and then maybe start scoping out, maybe this gas station also has an apple (you) could grab and some nuts,” Crumble Smith says. “Think about those things in terms of how it’s going to benefit your energy and overall health as opposed to one more task you have to do.”
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, Crumble Smith recommends meal-prepping breakfast sandwiches or overnight oats, either in bulk or the night before.
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