When I look at the typical breakfast food offerings at many restaurants, supermarkets, and food trucks, and I think about the health of our nation, I want to cry. Muffins, bagels, donuts, pancakes, waffles, French toast sticks… Want some bacon, sausage, or fried potatoes with that, ma’am?
Then there’s what marketing tells you is a “well-balanced breakfast”: the image of a big bowl of cereal and a few decorative strawberries on top, with a tall glass of orange juice. You get the idea that you need the calcium in that milk, that vitamin C in that orange juice, and the carbs in that cereal for energy. But do you?
Eating like this may be okay once in a while, but if you do so often, I guarantee these foods will make you sick, one way or another.
Why are familiar breakfast foods not great for you?
Simply put, to the cells in your body, a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, or a piece of toast, or a muffin are all no different than a dessert. Processed carbohydrates and sugars cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise. The insulin easily ushers all that sugar into your fat cells, where it becomes stored energy, also known as body fat.
The animal fats in bacon, sausage, and butter can glom up arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes. The salt in cured meats and other processed foods causes us to retain water and pushes the blood pressure up. This is all a recipe for weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol… and eventually, heart disease.
So… what should we eat for breakfast?
The answer is basic healthy eating advice: fruits and vegetables, whole (unprocessed) grains, and healthy proteins and fats. This is not a trend, this is not a hippie opinion. The evidence is overwhelming. And I love bacon. But, I treat it with respect because it can (and does) cause great harm to the human body if eaten often.
But many people need more guidance than just a list of food groups, including how to do so when you have a busy life.
So here’s what I eat
I’m a working mom. I take the train into work. I need something quick, easy, and transportable. Plus, it needs to be budget-friendly, and must hold me over for a number of hours. So, I put together a quick, easy fruit/yogurt/grain/nut bowl every single day. Here’s my three-ingredient recipe:
Frozen fruit: berries, mixed fruit, fruit with kale bits, whatever. Fruit is frozen at the peak of freshness, so the quality and vitamin content can be better than what’s in the produce aisle. We buy large bags of frozen mixed berries at the wholesale club or discount grocery, as they are much more economical than fresh and don’t go bad.
Nuts and/or seeds and/or grains of your preference: for example, unsalted nuts, toasted seeds or grains, or a combination such as a low-sugar granola. You can find my recipe for no-added-sugars granola here.
Your favorite yogurt, ideally plain or low-sugar.
Either the night before or the day of work, grab a plastic container that can hold at least a few cups, and fill with the frozen fruit, heaped up at the top (mine holds 3.5 cups). Defrost it in the microwave (mine takes about 3 minutes). Put a top on it. Throw that in your lunch box alongside a snack-sized baggie of nuts and/or seeds and/or grains (I like cashews), and the yogurt. Don’t forget your spoon.
Eat at your desk and be the envy of your colleagues.
This is literally my breakfast sitting on my desk.
Why is this a healthy breakfast?
The fruit is not a token sprinkle, nor a decorative touch. The fruit makes up the bulk of this meal. There’s fiber in the fruit, and plant sugars in their natural form, not to mention healthy fat in the nuts, and protein in the yogurt. A low-sugar yogurt will leave us feeling more satisfied, for longer. We won’t get the insulin spike that triggers hunger pangs (unlike when we eat processed carbs).
If you want to step it up a notch, ditch the dairy. We can get plenty of calcium and other vitamins from leafy greens and other veggies. Personally, I’m not there yet, as I love yogurt, and have weighed the added benefits of my beloved creamy protein and probiotics against the recognized risks of regular consumption of animal products. So, I limit my intake of animal products as much as I can, and enjoy my daily morning yogurt.
Dr. Monique Tello is a practicing physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, director of research and academic affairs for the MGH DGM Healthy Lifestyle Program, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, and author of the evidence-based lifestyle …
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