Start your day off right
The next time you rush out the door in the morning without something to eat, consider this: Skipping breakfast can set you up for overeating later in the day. A healthy a.m. meal, on the other hand, can give you energy, satisfy your appetite, and set the stage for smart decisions all day long.
"You want to aim for a breakfast that combines good carbs and fiber with some protein," says Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, a nutritionist at Clay Health Club and Spa, in New York City. Luckily, your options are plenty. Here's a look at some of our favorite breakfast foods, along with expert tips for making them even healthier.
You may have noticed a heart-shaped seal on your box of oatmeal recently. The seal's there because oats contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber that's been shown to help lower cholesterol when eaten regularly. Need another reason to dig in? Oats are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium.
Steel-cut oats, which take about 15 minutes to cook, contain more fiber than rolled oats or instant varieties, but any type of oatmeal is a healthy choice. Just avoid the flavored kinds, which can be packed with sugar. Instead, sweeten your bowl with milk and a bit of honey, and top with fruit and nuts.
This tangy, creamy yogurt is loaded with calcium and boasts plenty of protein—nearly twice as much as regular yogurt—to keep you feeling full throughout the morning. Your best bet: Choose a plain, nonfat variety, and add some fruit to give it some sweetness and flavor (and a dose of added nutrition).
"I love Greek yogurt because it's really quick and easy," Giovinazzo says. "You can always take it with you on your way out the door."
Trying to lose weight? According to one study, eating half a grapefruit before each meal may help you slim down faster, thanks to the fruit's fat-burning properties and its beneficial effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Grapefruit is also hydrating, filling, and packed with immunity-boosting antioxidants.
For a well-rounded breakfast, pair it with protein—such as yogurt or an egg, Giovinazzo suggests. But check with your doctor first if you take any medications, as grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with some prescription drugs.
There's nothing like a banana at breakfast to keep those mid-morning cravings at bay. The yellow fruit—especially when they're still a touch green—are one of the best sources of resistant starch, a healthy carbohydrate that keeps you feeling fuller longer.
"Slice it up and add it to cereal or oatmeal," Giovinazzo suggests. "It will add natural sweetness, so you may not need additional sugar."
Thanks to a healthy dose of potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure naturally, bananas are a particularly good choice for people with hypertension.
These incredible edibles have made quite a comeback in recent years. Once shunned for being high in dietary cholesterol (one yolk contains about 60% of your daily allotment), eggs are now embraced as a healthy source of protein and nutrients like vitamin D. Why the turnabout? Research has shown that the cholesterol in our food has less of an impact on blood cholesterol than previously thought.
"If, overall, you're choosing lean proteins and not eating a ton of fat and cholesterol, then eggs are a great thing to have in your diet," says Giovinazzo. The American Heart Association recommends that people with normal cholesterol limit their cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day.
Don't eat eggs or dairy? Almond butter is an excellent alternate source of protein, and it's filled with monounsaturated fat (one of the good fats). Plus, as Giovinazzo points out, "it's really delicious spread on whole grain bread or paired with a banana or an apple."
Nutritionally, almond butter is comparable to peanut butter, and they each have about 100 calories per tablespoon. Almond butter contains slightly less saturated fat, though—a definite point in its favor, even for people who aren't allergic to peanuts.
Fresh or frozen, these tiny superfruits pack a big antioxidant punch. Or better yet, a flurry of punches: Studies suggest that eating blueberries regularly can help improve everything from memory and motor skills to blood pressure and metabolism. (Wild blueberries, in particular, have one of the highest concentrations of the powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins.)
Blueberries are also lower in calories than a lot of other fruits (they contain just 80 per cup), so you can pile them onto your cereal without worrying about your waistline.
That espresso doesn't just wake you up. Coffee drinking has been linked to a lower risk of several diseases (such as diabetes and prostate cancer), and it may even help you live longer. Researchers suspect the combination of caffeine and antioxidants are responsible for many of the observed health benefits. (A 2005 study found that coffee is the number-one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, believe it or not.)
Of course, loading coffee up with cream and sugar may erase any potential benefits. So skip the fancy flavored drinks, and stick with skim milk.
"Cereal can be tricky, because there are so many different kinds out there," Giovinazzo says. "Something with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar is probably your best bet."
You'll find this winning combo in many whole-grain or bran cereals (such as shredded wheat), which as an added bonus are often fortified with riboflavin, folic acid, and other essential nutrients.
Top off your bowl with skim milk and fruit for the complete package: whole grains to fill you up, protein to supply all-day energy, and antioxidants to keep your immune system humming.
Carbohydrates are a breakfast mainstay, but the type of carbs you choose can make a big difference in the overall health of your meal. The simple rule to remember is that whole wheat and other whole grains—whether they're found in bread, toast, or English muffins—contain more fiber and nutrients than their white, refined counterparts.
What you put on it matters, as well. "Slathering your toast with butter or jelly just adds empty fat and calories," says Giovinazzo. "Instead, get some protein by adding an egg or some almond butter."