You’ve probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s actually true that not all breakfasts are created equal. One of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful day is by getting a strong start in the morning— protein, fruits, and whole grains are important to keep you full and focused. Keeping calories in balance and minimizing added sugars are also essential for your short-term focus and long-term health.
If your breakfast is lacking in the nutrition department, consider making one of these simple swaps:
1.) Sip regular coffee instead of an energy drink
Most of us need a little boost in the morning to get the day started, but not all caffeine drinks are created equally. It may be the case that coffee itself— not just caffeine— is a better choice when it comes to improving your cognitive function during the day. A study on rats showed that animals supplemented with coffee performed better than those supplemented with caffeine alone. The researches speculate that the difference may be due to the beneficial plant-based compounds (or phytochemicals) present in coffee beans. To get the most from your morning joe, stick to regular coffee rather than an energy drink or “coffee drink.” While a regular black coffee is low-calorie and contains no sugar, an energy drink has 110 calories and 29 grams of sugar per serving, and a medium Caramel Frappuccino has 420 calories and 66 grams of sugar.
2.) Indulge in Greek yogurt with real fruit instead of the flavored kind
Yogurt can be a quick and easy breakfast, but many yogurts on the market today are packed with added sugars and artificial sweeteners. By starting with plain Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt) and adding your favorite fresh fruit, you get a more nutritious option compared to a flavored yogurt. The other benefit of adding fresh fruit to your plain Greek yogurt is that you’ll reduce the amount of added sugars and boost its nutritional content. One study found that after increasing the energy density of meals by adding fruits and vegetables, people reduced their intake by and average 308 calories over the course of a day.
3.) Fill your bowl with fiber-packed oatmeal instead of cereal
If you want your breakfast to set you up for success at meals later in the day, consider swapping your ready-to-eat cereal for oatmeal. In one study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants who were fed oatmeal for breakfast wound up eating less at lunch than those who had eaten the same number of calories from ready-to-eat cereal. Not only is oatmeal a filling, high-fiber breakfast, research shows it can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and help strengthen our immune system. If you don’t have time to prepare oatmeal in the morning, make a batch in advance and simply reheat it, or try an overnight oats recipe (oats soaked overnight in a liquid) for a healthy grab-and-go breakfast.
4.) For your bagel spread, opt for peanut butter instead of cream cheese
One way to have more successful days well into the future might be as close as the spread on your bagel. A study of older adults found that a higher intake of saturated fats was associated with lower scores on verbal memory assessments. Cream cheese contains nearly 15 percent of the daily recommendation of saturated fat in just one tablespoon— and who really uses just one tablespoon? Consider swapping out your cream cheese for a natural peanut butter or natural almond butter, which is packed with heart-healthy unsaturated fats and offers some protein for staying power.
5.) Choose whole-grain biscuits instead of sugar-laden pastries
If you love a quick, carb-rich breakfast like a donut or pastry in the morning, try swapping it out for whole-grain biscuits that offer a similar taste profile, but won’t cause your energy to rise then fall. Research shows belVita Breakfast Biscuits provide four hours of nutritious steady energy, providing 20 grams of whole grains per serving, along with fiber and iron to keep you focused on the task at hand to make your day an early success. Try pairing them with a serving of low-fat dairy and fruit for a balanced meal to kick-start your day.
6.) Smash berries with cinnamon instead of using prepackaged jelly
Jelly is a quick way to add some sweetness to your morning meal, but swapping in some mashed berries with cinnamon might help to improve your performance at work. One study of over 300,000 students ages 12-18 found that eating breakfast and fruit were both associated with improved performance at school. Plus, antioxidant-rich cinnamon has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels, which can help you feel calmer and more focused. If you are aiming to get your "five a day" serving of fruits and vegetables, this swap can put you on the right track before you are even out of your pajamas.
7.) Munch on whole-grain sandwich thins instead of bagels
A bagel at your Sunday brunch is definitely a treat, but when you have a busy day ahead consider swapping it for a whole grain sandwich thin. While a large plain bagel has about 350 calories and 2 grams of fiber, in comparison an Oroweat 100 percent whole wheat sandwich thin has 100 calories and 5 grams of fiber. Plus, the sandwich thin provides 20 grams of whole grains as compared to most bagels made with processed white flour, which is devoid in whole grains. Research shows whole grains might help make your day a success by keeping you sharp: A study of more than 3,000 adults found that people who consumed whole grains showed higher levels of cognitive function compared with those who consumed lower levels of whole grains. Try topping your sandwich thin with half a cup of low-fat cottage cheese for a breakfast with 16 grams of protein and only 210 calories.
8.) Pour pomegranate juice instead of OJ into your cup
Orange juice may be a classic breakfast staple, but consider switching things up with some pomegranate juice for a possible memory boost. A study using POM Wonderful 100 percent pomegranate juice found that drinking 8 ounces of the beverage daily was associated with improved verbal memory performance in older adults who had age-related memory complaints. For a powerful start to your day, try adding 100 percent pomegranate juice to a breakfast smoothie made with kale, berries, and frozen bananas.
9.) Spread your toast with smashed avocado instead of butter
Even if you are a dedicated breakfast eater, you might find yourself hitting a pre-lunch fog if your choices aren’t giving you a stable source of energy. To avoid feeling hungry a few hours after you eat, including quality fats in your morning meal is key. One study suggested that people who ate a high fat breakfast reported a reduced appetite three to four hours after breakfast. The subjects also had their blood sugar tested: The low fat group showed relatively lower blood sugar three to four hours out, and the researchers believe this is why they also showed relatively high levels of hunger. Get the most nutritional value out of the fat at your breakfast by swapping butter for smashed avocado. Along with heart-healthy unsaturated fats, avocado is also a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals— all things lacking from a pat of butter.
Relationship disclosure: Patricia Bannan works with Oroweat bread to help people make healthy, whole-grain food choices.
Patricia Bannan is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. She is the author of "Eat Right When Time Is Tight: 150 Slim-Down Strategies and No-Cook Food Fixes." Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.