Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? In spite of what your mother told you, it might not be.* But for many of us who do eat breakfast, it can certainly be the most unhealthy meal of the day. The type of breakfast we eat can affect our hunger, our mood, our energy levels—even our ability to focus at work.
Boxed breakfast cereals are convenient, but they are often high in simple carbohydrates and loaded with added sugar. A single serving of the average cereal marketed to children contains 2.5 teaspoons of added sugar. That means a quick burst of energy associated with a spike in blood sugar, followed by a foggy, groggy feeling and renewed hunger. All before your child has even reached his classroom!
Research has shown that eating a breakfast made of high-fat, high-calorie foods that are rich in protein and dietary fiber prevents spikes in blood sugar and helps you feel fuller longer. The result is more steady energy levels, more stable mood and a better ability to focus. A caution about bacon and sausage, though—while they are high in protein, they carry their own health risks.
We asked our readers for their out-of-the-box breakfast ideas and this one was a standout. Called the “Bowl of Awesome,” it contains healthy fats and plenty of protein as well as rich flavors and natural sweetness with no refined sugar added.
Bowl of Awesome
½ cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup uncooked rolled oats
¼ cup walnut pieces
½ cup blueberries
Blend the yogurt and oats together and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, top with walnuts and blueberries.
At about 430 calories, this recipe is a great way to start your day, with 12 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, 23 grams of fat and 7 grams of sugar. Let’s look at the nutrients each ingredient provides.
Protein and Probiotics
Greek yogurt is a wonderful source of probiotic cultures, which contribute to a healthy gut environment. Greek yogurt is lower in lactose and has double the protein content of regular yogurt. Like other milk products, yogurt is also a good source of calcium.
Whole rolled oats are high in fiber, which nourishes those healthy bacteria. The fiber in oats can also help lower cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The walnuts in this recipe are another good source of fiber, as well as a rich source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. An important part of cell membranes, omega-3 fatty acids provide a source of energy and have roles in maintaining healthy immune and hormonal functions. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation, which may decrease the incidence of a variety of chronic diseases.
Blueberries are abundant in vitamin C and other antioxidants.
A breakfast like this is easy to make, and versatile too. You can use any frozen or fresh, seasonal fruit; spoon a dollop of yogurt on slow-cooker steel-cut oats; or top with a handful of whatever you have on hand—shredded coconut, almond slivers, even a few dark chocolate chips.
And don’t worry that your children won’t like the change: A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that children are equally happy when served low-sugar breakfasts as they are with the high-sugar products. So to improve everyone’s well-being, consider switching to a breakfast out of the box.
*Watch this column for a future look at the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., specializes in oncology nutrition at Carilion Clinic and is a regular contributor to Carilion Living.