You've heard the old saying, "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day." But if you've been paying attention to some recent headlines, that age-old diet advice may now seem debatable. For example, a brand new UK study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at obese adults who ate the a.m. meal and those who skipped it, and found no differences between the two groups in weight change, or most health outcomes.
But despite this latest research, I’m still a breakfast believer. In my practice, I find that clients who skip their morning meal tend to overeat in the evening, when they’re less active and less likely to burn off the extra food. In fact, that recent UK study backed up my observations: It found that breakfast skippers had higher calorie intakes later in the day, while breakfast eaters were more physically active in the morning. That research didn't observe any weight loss, but it was only a six-week trial. Over longer periods of time, these habit shifts could have a major impact on weight and body composition.
Also among my clients, I've noticed that breakfast skippers tend to fall short of their recommended servings of important foods like veggies, fruit, lean protein, and healthy fat. That's because a quality breakfast is a prime opportunity to fit in key nutrients. To make the most of your first meal, check out my three fundamental breakfast rules.
Quality is king
While “breaking the fast” is a good way to support your metabolism, you won’t feel energized and nourished if your breakfast is a white flour-laden muffin, a processed bagel with cream cheese, or a bowl of sugary cereal. In fact, some experts argue that regularly starting your day with these foods does more harm than good. So from now on, commit to eating whole foods for breakfast at least six days a week. Choose meals that are rich in protein, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Some quick options include a veggie, herb, and avocado omelet with a side of fruit; muesli made with fruit, nuts, rolled oats, and cinnamon mixed with Greek yogurt; or a smoothie made with fresh greens, other veggies, fruit, protein powder, almond milk, and fresh ginger root.
If you don’t have time to make even a simple meal, toss a “clean” protein bar in your bag. I recommend looking for brands with simple ingredient lists that read like a recipe you could make yourself. A few of my favorites: Amrita’s Chocolate Maca vegan bars (15 grams of protein), Rise’s Lemon Cashew vegan bars (15 grams of protein), or RxBar’s egg white-based bars (12 grams of protein).
You can break up the meal
While I do think it’s best to eat something within about an hour of waking up, you don’t have to eat a full breakfast in one sitting to reap the benefits. For example, if you work out in the morning, try “splitting” your breakfast. Have a medium banana or small bowl of oatmeal pre-exercise to fuel your muscles; then eat a combo of veggies, lean protein, and healthy fat for post-workout recovery. Or if you’re more of a grazer, it’s a-okay to start your day with just a cup of coffee and nibble on snacks (like a handful of almonds, Greek yogurt, and fresh fruit) throughout the morning.
RELATED: 10 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast
Unconventional is okay
If you can eat breakfast for dinner, why not try dinner for breakfast? Plenty of my clients enjoy eating a savory dish in the morning, which can be a great way to jumpstart your veggie intake for the day. One way to do this is to make a double portion of your dinner the night before, and eating the second half in the morning for a quick breakfast. You could try a toasted slice of gluten-free bread topped with mashed avocado or pesto, chilled sliced chicken or turkey breast, and a layer of veggies; or herbed cottage cheese mixed with chopped veggies and tahini. For a plant-based meal, try a pulse—like white beans, lentils, or chickpeas—tossed with chopped veggies, Italian herb seasoning, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Each of these unique breakfasts is easy, delicious, and oh-so-energizing.
Do you have a question about nutrition? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her newest book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.