I always tell my clients about the importance of breakfast for weight management and overall health. Until they see me, most clients have not been in the habit of eating breakfast. After even just a week of eating a morning meal they come back reporting they feel better --more alert, less hungry. And at that point their question is no longer whether to eat breakfast, it's: What is the best breakfast?
I'll give you an answer to that in a moment. But first let's go over the benefits of eating breakfast (that is, a meal within an hour of waking up in the morning). Breakfast speeds up your metabolic rate. After the low-energy night of sleep, breakfast signals to your metabolism that it's time to wake up and start expending energy. It also stabilizes your blood sugar, which is low in the morning because you've not eaten in hours.
Breakfast improves your mood; stress hormones begin being released right when you wake up, whether the trigger is alarms or children or an early-morning email check. Eating breakfast helps produce dopamine and serotonin that help regulate mood, and it also improves memory and cognitive ability. Repeated studies show that those who eat breakfast are slimmer than those who don't, and people who lose weight are more likely to keep it off if they eat breakfast.
That's a lot of reasons to eat a meal. But the question of which breakfast is best remains. The egg people, the cereal people, the yogurt people, all do research to say that their breakfasts are the best. But the reality is, there is no magic breakfast food.
There are five principles that should guide choices:
1. Any breakfast is better than no breakfast. Eat something, even if it's little.
2. Eat what you like. This is a corollary to #1. If you don't like it you won't eat it, no matter how much you think you should.
3. Be guided by moderation. A bagel is not a great breakfast because it is all refined carbohydrates, but it isn't going to kill you if you eat it once a month. Try to create balance across a week, rather than be perfect every day.
4. Diversify your food types. What makes a good dinner makes a good breakfast -- that is, a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Just eggs? Not great. Eggs with tomatoes and some fruit? Not bad.
5. Did I mention moderation? One pancake is ok (especially with fruit on top instead of syrup!). Four pancakes are excessive for your average morning.
Manuel Villacorta is a nationally recognized, award-winning registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, in San Francisco, California. He is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good!