Breaking Down Breakfast: What Makes a Healthy Meal?

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The literature on the importance of breakfast is immense. Recent studies have even shown that the sooner in life people begin to make healthy choices, the better it is for their long-term health. Even though people are aware of the benefits a hearty breakfast offers, like promoting weight loss, many report skipping the meal. But when people do opt-in for a morning meal, they still may be missing the healthy opportunity by making non-nutritious choices.

A “best breakfast” isn’t something that can be generalized; everyone has their own dietary needs and food preferences. That said, there are a few boxes a healthy breakfast ought to tick. Most people will want to have protein, fiber, and fresh fruits or vegetables to start the day off on the healthy track. Unwanted from a day-to-day health standpoint are foods high in sugar and saturated fats. Carbohydrates fall into a gray area. How many a person needs at breakfast and throughout the day is dependent on their lifestyle. For the fuel to make it through a long, active day, a high carbohydrate breakfast can be beneficial. For health reasons though, others will find it necessary to have a low-carb breakfast, especially those who are more sedentary.

More of a consensus exists on what to cut out from breakfast: loads of sugar and fat. Neither are part of a healthy overall diet, or a healthy breakfast. ”The harmful effects of sugar are primarily due to the weight gain from added sugar in the foods we eat and sugar-sweetened beverages,” Dr. Michelle Hauser, certified chef and nutrition educator and clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School told the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. “Most of the deaths are related to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.”

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD explained to the Cleveland Clinic that when people go for a sugar high with breakfast – say, from a pastry — they meet an energy crash a few hours later. “A huge blood sugar peak leads to an even bigger sugar crash. This extreme up-and-down leaves you hungry soon after your breakfast — and you’ll crave more refined carbs. It’s a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating that starts with the first doughnut,” Kirkpatrick said.

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