In January, many of us try to make good on our New Year’s resolution to lose weight. If you’re thinking that you can kick start your weight loss program by skipping breakfast, consider this: 78 percent of successful dieters from the National Weight Control Registry regularly ate breakfast.
Breakfast provides nourishment after a fasting period. By skipping, you increase the odds of overeating at your next meal or making poor choices because you’re so ravished. Bottomline? Eating breakfast is part of a healthy weight loss plan.
Not Just any Breakfast
Just because you’re cleared to eat breakfast doesn’t mean you should grab an OJ and a Pop-Tart and head out the door. That’s because the breakfast choices you make determine how well your hunger and energy levels are satisfied until lunchtime. In other words, if you’re starving by ten and need four cups of coffee to make through the morning, then you should rethink your food choices.
An ideal breakfast consists of complex carbs to provide sustained energy, some lean protein and a little fat to keep you feeling full until lunchtime. Great choices are non-fat Greek yogurt mixed with fresh fruit; scrambled eggs with tomato slices; and steel cut oats naturally sweetened with berries.
Not sure if you should select a bran muffin or a bagel? Below find a list of foods to help you make healthier choices for each of three major food categories.
Quality Carbs Maintain Energy Levels
Carbohydrates include everything from table sugar to honey; bagels to oatmeal and orange juice to fresh fruit. While a carb contributes 4 calories per gram, complex carbs are better because the addition of fiber (think fruits and vegetables) slows the rate at which the sugars are digested. This in turns slows the rate of glucose released into the blood stream and the insulin response that follows. Stable blood sugar levels help to maintain your energy level.
In terms of carb quality, fruits and vegetables are the best because they have more vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients than packaged, processed foods like muffins, bagels, breads, croissants, etc. Importantly, fruits & vegetables have fiber which helps to keep you feeling full longer. Unlike their processed counterparts, these natural foods are lower in calories and contain virtually no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
When choosing what carbs to include on your breakfast plate, here’s a few tips:
Select Fresh Fruit Instead of Juice. Whenever possible, select fresh, whole fruit instead of juice. In doing so, you’ll save calories and better manage your blood sugar and energy levels (you won’t crash and burn by mid-morning). While nutritionally superior to soft drinks, juices are a very concentrated source of sugar. For example, an 8-ounce glass of orange juice has 110 calories and 25 grams of carbohydrates. In comparison, a medium-sized orange, contributes just 69 calories and 18 grams of carbohydrates of which 3 grams are from fiber.
Make Your Own Fruit Smoothies. Most store bought smoothies are not very healthy because ingredients used like sherbet, yogurt or juice add extra sugars. Plus, the portion sizes can be way too large. You can easily make smoothies at home. Buy fresh fruit and freeze or purchase bags of frozen berries, mango, peaches and strawberries. If you pre-pack into small plastic bags, the smoothie can be whipped up quickly. Add a scoop of whey protein powder and a bit of soy milk and juice to obtain a smooth, creamy-like consistency.
Incorporate Veggies into Breakfast. We don’t often associate vegetables with breakfast. But, plenty of opportunity exists to incorporate veggies into breakfast especially if you’re making eggs. Add bell pepper, mushroom, spinach, and red onion. Spice with red pepper and garnish with tomato slices (technically a fruit), Italian parsley or cilantro.
Make Your Own Oatmeal. Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber, which can help to lower your cholesterol levels. When cooked with water, oatmeal is healthy. But, what is added to make it more palatable – butter, brown sugar, raisins and other dried fruit – can quickly add calories and sugar. Pre-packaged oatmeals, like Quaker Instant Oatmeal with Baked Apple, contain more sodium and sugars than if you prepare oatmeal yourself. Naturally sweeten homemade oatmeal with a dash of honey, apple, pear or berries.
Beware of Granola. Granola, whether packaged in bulk or in bars, is positioned as a health food. Unless you read labels carefully, most granola is loaded with calories, fat, sodium and sugars. A serving (2 bars) of Nature Valley’s Oats ‘N Honey granola bar contains 190 calories of which 60 (30%) are from fat. Each serving has 4 grams of protein and 29 grams of carbs of which 2 are from fiber. The two bars contain 160 mg of sodium. Compare to a medium sized apple which has 95 calories, zero fat and sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber plus 195 mg of potassium. If you’re looking to add “crunch” to your oatmeal or yogurt add ground flax seeds instead of granola. Flax seeds can be purchased ground or you can grind them in a coffee grinder. Just two tablespoons provides 4 grams of fiber (soluble and insoluble) or about 10% of the daily recommended intake.
Select Whole Grains. If you have a hankering for cereal, toast, pancakes or muffins, where possible, select a whole grain version. Whole grain products include the entire seed of a plant including the bran, endosperm and germ, providing fiber, vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients. Many studies demonstrate that whole grains lower the risk of many chronic diseases. The government recommends that Americans obtain 3 to 5 servings of whole grains daily (a serving constitutes 16 grams of whole grains or 48 to 80 grams daily). A serving is a slice of 100% whole grain bread; a one-ounce 100% whole grain muffin; or one cup of 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal. To find whole grain products, look for the Whole Grain stamp on packaging. The basic stamp means that the product contains at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving. The 100% stamp means that the product contains at least 16 grams (1 serving) of whole grains per serving. Good brands include Kashi, Arrowhead Mills and Galaxy Granola. For more information or to find a list of whole grain products, visit the Whole Grains Council website.
Moderate Sugar Consumption. Don’t kid yourself. Whether you sweeten your coffee with table sugar, raw sugar, agave syrup or honey, all are essentially the same – simple sugars. Whatever you prefer, use sparingly. If you’d rather sweeten with a sugar substitute, opt for new stevia alternatives like Truvia or SweetLeaf instead of Sweet ‘n Low or other chemical derivatives.
Protein Keeps You Feeling Full Longer
Numerous studies have demonstrated that protein suppresses the appetite. In one study, participants ate fewer calories per day when their protein content was increased from 15% to 30%, while keeping their carbs constant.
A higher protein diet also helps to maintain weight loss. A recent large European study found that those who followed a diet high in protein, moderate in fat and limited in simple carbs continued to lose weight six months after an initial two month weight loss program.
By adding lean protein to breakfast, you will feel fuller longer, and be less inclined to overeat at lunchtime. The key is to select protein options that are not loaded with saturated fat, sodium and artificial ingredients.
Below is a list of high quality protein sources that can boost the nutritional content of any breakfast meal:
Non-Fat, Plain Greek Yogurt. Greek yogurt is no longer a specialty item but widely available in grocery stores. Regular and Greek yogurt are good sources of calcium (provide about 200 mg per servings) but Greek yogurt is higher in protein. For example, a six-ounce serving of Greek yogurt has 15 grams of protein compared with 9 grams for traditional yogurt. Keep the fat, calories and sugars in check by selecting a non-fat, plain brand, and then add your own fresh fruit for flavor.
Eggs in Moderation. If you’re looking for a quick fix in the morning, a hard boiled egg is ideal. Aside from the convenience factor, an egg is nutritious with just 77 calories and 6 grams of protein. DHA enhanced eggs like Golden Circle Farms provide the additional health benefit of 150 mg of DHA, the polyunsaturated fat associated with brain health. While an egg contains about 200 mg of cholesterol (found in yolk), most experts agree that having a few eggs a week is fine provided your cholesterol levels are normal and you limit total cholesterol intake to 300 mg a day. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, use just the egg whites or an egg substitute like EggBeaters.
Low Sodium Turkey Breast. Instead of sausage or bacon, why not complement eggs or fruit with turkey breast? A two-ounce serving provides 8-10 grams of protein. Whole Foods, along with most conventional supermarkets, now offer low or no-sodium deli meats. While Sara Lee, Dietz & Watson and Boar’s Head offer turkey deli meat with 30% less sodium than other brands, one serving still has 300-450 mg of sodium. The best option is no-sodium products like Dietz & Watson’s Gourmet Lite Turkey Breast which has just 50 mg of sodium per two-ounce serving.
Whey Protein is Versatile. The protein content of yogurt and smoothies can easily be boosted by adding whey protein powder. One scoop provides 20 grams of high-quality protein, just 80 calories and no fat. If you’re already taking a Multi-Vitamin & Mineral, then select a brand which doesn’t fortify their powders with vitamins and minerals. We like Bio-Chem which offers a high-quality whey protein line in a variety of flavors.
Beans are for Breakfast. You might associate beans with lunchtime or dinner, but you can boost the protein content of breakfast by adding beans as a side dish instead of home fries or buttered toast. A half cup serving of black beans (no salt), provides almost 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber.
Low-Fat Cottage Cheese. At 28 grams of protein per cup, cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein. Mix with fresh fruit, and you’ve got a great start to your day. The only caveat is to choose a non-sodium brand, as just one cup packs almost a gram of sodium! Picking a 1% or 2% fat product will also save you 10 grams of fat, almost half which is saturated.
Quality Fats Promote Health
We often associate breakfast with dairy products. These products help many women meet their daily requirements for protein, vitamin A, vitamin D and calcium. But, they can also be a significant source of fats, especially the unhealthy saturated kind.
To ensure that you limit the amount of unhealthy fats and increase your consumption of the health-promoting unsaturated fats, here are a couple of tips:
Choose Low-Fat or Non-Fat Dairy. Opt for low-fat or non-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products. But, keep in mind that low fat milk (1% or 2%) is a bit of a misnomer. The low fat is determined by weight and not by calories. A one cup serving of 1% low fat milk has 100 calories of which 20 or 20% is from fat. More than half this fat is saturated (1.5 grams). Similarly, 2% low fat milk has 120 calories of which 45 or 37.5% is from fat. Both low fat versions are still better than whole milk which has 150 calories of which 70 or 47% is from fat.
Go “Dry” or Replace Butter with Olive Oil. If you’re eating toast with breakfast, try to have it dry or when dining out, ask for butter on the side. While cooking eggs, add a little olive oil to the pan instead of butter. A tablespoon of butter has 11 grams of fat of which 7 grams are from saturated fat. Saturated fat is associated with elevating LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. While a tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams of fat, only 2 grams are saturated. As a monounsaturated fat, olive oil is associated with elevating HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
Decorate with Flax Seed Oil. To increase your intake of the health-promoting Omega-3 fats, add a little flax seed oil to smoothies or oatmeal. This delicate oil is an excellent source alpha-linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid required for overall health. Plus, flax seed oil promotes a healthy complexion.
Breakfast: Start Your Engines
Eating a health promoting breakfast is not difficult but requires a bit of pre-planning to make sure that you have healthy foods in your fridge and cupboards.
Now, that we’ve convinced you to eat breakfast and to make healthy choices, keep in mind the old adage, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper”.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.