Back when I was an OB-GYN resident in New York City, every morning I used to stop at a food cart on my way to work and get my favorite breakfast: a cinnamon bagel with cream cheese, and a diet coke. I didn’t think of my breakfast as being sugar laden. But in reality, every day I was giving my body a sugar rush.
Moments after eating a high-carb food, your blood sugar shoots up— and in as little as an hour, it crashes. I didn’t know it at the time, but my go-to meal was to blame for my unrelenting exhaustion by 11 a.m., as well as my mood swings and weight gain.
You might think that if you know well enough to avoid this carbohydrate and fat-bomb at breakfast, you’re doing a good job. But if you’re skipping protein at your morning meal, you might as well have a big, fat bagel.
I understand: Amidst the chaos of getting your day started, you’re probably lucky to scarf down a granola bar or a banana on the way to work. But these grain- and sugar-rich breakfasts (yes, fruit has natural sugars, but they’re still sugars!) can cause blood sugar highs and lows that contribute to weight gain. This sugary fare can even increase your risk of developing diabetes.
Your body recognizes every carbohydrate— even granola and fruit— as glucose, or sugar. If these carbs are not paired with a protein, which slows sugar absorption in the body, you set yourself up for a quick blood sugar spike and then a crash that leaves you ravenous soon after eating. And packaged cereals? Forget it. They contain tons of refined sugars, which bring on belly fat and inflammation in the body quicker than you can say Frosted Mini-Wheats!
Protein is the most critical nutrient you need at breakfast, and at every meal and snack thereafter. A protein-rich breakfast not only busts hunger and cravings for the rest of the day, but it also keeps your blood sugar and cortisol levels stable, encourages muscle growth and helps you burn fat. In a 2008 study published in the journal Nature, people who ate eggs for breakfast lost 65 percent more weight than those who ate bagels. Eggs can fill you up, helping you avoid the sugar traps of most American breakfast foods— thus reducing your risk of diabetes.
If you want the ability to burn fat first thing in the morning and energy that takes you through the day, my recommendation is that you aim to eat at least 20 grams of protein within an hour of waking and at every meal for the rest of the day. You should also aim to consume 5 to 10 grams of protein from every snack.
Try one of these protein-packed morning meals for a breakfast upgrade:
1. Protein shake
This is an ideal option for those who don’t like to eat first thing, or who get nauseated by the smell of food. You could add fruit, greens, and nuts or seeds to boost your nutrient intake. Drinking a protein shake within an hour of waking is a big part of my Three Weeks to Endless Energy program, and my patients have seen remarkable results from making this one change only.
2. A healthier hot cereal
Make quinoa and add almond milk, nuts and blueberries. Quinoa is packed with protein and has fewer carbs than oatmeal, nuts have protein and healthy fat, and blueberries are a huge source of antioxidants.
3. Breakfast wrap
Cook organic chicken sausage or turkey bacon, and wrap it in a gluten-free corn tortilla with diced tomato and avocado.
4. Quick eggs
Make an egg omelet with broccoli and tomatoes; cook two hard-boiled eggs and enjoy with sliced avocado; or make sliced turkey and roll it up with guacamole.
5. Almond flour-based muffin-in-a-minute mug
This is my kids’ favorite— and it’s packed with protein and healthy fats. Get the recipe here.