Breakfast of champions
Breakfast is more than just the meal that breaks your overnight fast; it’s the opportunity to prime your body with nutrients to carry you through the day. The foods you choose will affect your daily energy, alertness and overall health. So it’s important to make your breakfast as nutritious as possible. And there are lots of flavorful, filling foods to do the job, especially those in a Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and some dairy foods, poultry and fish.
Think about these food categories as you figure out what to put on your breakfast plate or in your bowl. And consider the following 10 foods that are packed with the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, healthy fats or carbohydrates that are good for your cells and body processes.
Avocados provide heart-healthy unsaturated fat that’s often missing from Western diets. The fruits have lots of folate and vitamins C, A, E and K. And there’s more: “Avocados have high amounts of fiber, about 5 grams in half a cup of avocado cubes, which helps keep food moving in the gut,” says Gabrielle Gambino, a registered dietitian with Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Avocados also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help to absorb light waves that harm your vision. In other words, eating avocados in the morning may support your eye health and prepare your eyes for morning Zoom meetings.”
Gambino recommends adding avocado chunks to a morning omelet, mashing avocado and spreading it on toast, blending avocado in a green smoothie with kale, bananas, milk and a touch of honey or enjoying avocado as a side dish with a sprinkle of savory seasoning.
Blueberries pack a powerful antioxidant punch that supports your body’s overall functioning at a cellular level. “Blueberries are associated with possible improvements in cognitive function, possibly due to an anti-aging compound called resveratrol. And who doesn’t need a brain boost in the early morning? Blueberries are also a good source of prebiotics — nutrients that fuel the helpful bacteria in your GI tract,” Gambino says.
A half a cup of blueberries contains:
— 2.5 grams of fiber.
— Vitamins A, C and K.
— Lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene (good for eye health).
— Calcium (important for bone and heart health).
— 15 grams of carbohydrates.
— 57 calories.
— 10 grams of natural sugar.
Enjoy blueberries in hot or cold cereal, in a morning smoothie or in whole-grain pancakes or muffins.
If you’re looking for a whole-grain carb to fuel your brain for the morning, buckwheat is a good option. It’s a type of whole grain, although it’s not wheat; it’s a seed that comes from a flowering plant. Buckwheat seeds are ground into small pieces for hot cereal or into a powder for baking flour. “Buckwheat is a high-fiber, gluten-free alternative to (white) flour pancakes. Buckwheat is also a good source of magnesium and B vitamins like thiamine, folate and niacin,” says Kristin Gustashaw, an advanced clinical dietitian with Rush Medical Center.
Buckwheat has a nutty, sometimes bitter taste that’s easily tamped down when you combine the grain with other foods. For example:
— Mix buckwheat with other whole-grain flours (such as whole wheat or brown rice) to make flavorful pancakes or muffins.
— Cook a mixture of buckwheat cereal with brown rice or quinoa for a hot porridge.
Crown buckwheat dishes with sweet or savory toppings such as chopped nuts, fresh or dried fruit and a little honey; or top with shredded cheese, chicken chunks and balsamic vinegar or a drizzle of olive oil.
Eggs are nutrient-dense foods that are high in all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein) that keep your hunger at bay and provide fuel for your muscles and organs early in the day. “Amino acids also support optimal brain signaling and hormone regulation. In general, high protein foods maximize blood sugar control, particularly if we pair them with carbohydrate-rich items in our first meal of the day, such as eggs and whole wheat toast,” Gambino says.
Enjoy eggs as a main dish or as a savory topping on an avocado half or oatmeal. Hard-boiled or poached are healthier preparation styles to avoid frying and unnecessary inflammation that comes with that style of cooking. “For a particularly filling breakfast, sometimes I recommend including an additional one or two servings of egg whites in addition to the two whole eggs. Or simply add vegetables to your omelet to create more volume — this improves feelings of fullness, which will help get you through your morning,” Gambino says.
One of the best foods to eat in the morning is ground seeds, particularly ground hemp, chia or flaxseeds. “Seeds are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, calcium and potassium,” Gustashaw says.
For example, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains:
— 3 grams of healthy unsaturated fat.
— 37 calories.
— 2 grams of fiber.
— 27 micrograms of magnesium.
— 2 grams of carbohydrates
— 18 milligrams of calcium.
— 45 micrograms of lutein and zeaxanthin.
Gustashaw recommends adding ground seeds to:
— Hot cereals.
— Avocado toast.
— Whole-grain pancake or muffin batter.
Leftovers from a nutritious dinner the night before make a healthy breakfast, whether it’s baked salmon with quinoa and broccoli, a vegetable stir-fry and brown rice or roast chicken and sautéed spinach and roasted sweet potatoes. “There is no wrong time to eat certain foods. If a food is packed full of nutrition, breakfast is a good time to eat it and it will give you a powerful start to your day,” Gustashaw says.
She also advises repurposing leftovers to make interesting new breakfast dishes. For example: “Turn last night’s roasted veggies into a two-minute gourmet omelet, or go a step further and toss it into a whole-grain tortilla for a meal on the go. Maybe even turn yesterday’s savory soup into an oat bran mash,” Gustashaw suggests. “Just remember that eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard.”
You don’t have to wait until dinner to eat mushrooms. “Mushrooms are high in fiber, they’re a rich source of plant-based protein, and they have the potential ability to act as prebiotics that fuel good bacteria in the GI tract, which helps our guts function at their best and improves blood sugar control,” Gambino says.
Add raw mushrooms to a smoothie for an extra nutrition boost and a taste you’ll hardly notice. Or sauté mushrooms to add a savory flavor and texture to eggs. “If I’m making an omelet, I will almost always include mushrooms, and usually portabella,” Gambino says.
A cup of chopped portabella mushrooms contains lots of phosphorous, potassium, folate and calcium as well as:
— 80 calories.
— 2 grams of protein.
— 3 grams of carbohydrates.
— 1 gram of fiber.
— 2 grams of natural sugar.
Plain Greek yogurt
Yogurt is heated milk that gets combined with two types of “good” bacteria and then is left to ferment for a few hours. During that time, milk sugars change into lactic acid, which is thicker than milk and has a sharp flavor. This dairy product is a creamy, protein-rich breakfast staple for many people.
But try to avoid yogurt with added sugars. Instead, go for plain Greek yogurt — a strained, thicker type of yogurt. “It’s packed full of nutrients and a rich source of protein, calcium and probiotics,” Gustashaw says. “It promotes good GI function and helps keep you feeling full longer.”
Enjoy yogurt with fruit, nuts, honey or ground seeds mixed into it. Or add a dollop of yogurt as you scramble eggs or make whole-grain pancakes or muffins.
Steel-cut oats or oat bran
Steel-cut oats are whole oat kernels (oat groats) that have been chopped into smaller pieces. They’re packed with beneficial fiber (about 5 grams in a quarter cup of dry oats), namely beta-glucan. “It provides sustained, stable energy from complex carbs. That’s important in the morning, so you’ll feel fuller longer and you won’t get an energy crash an hour after eating,” Gambino says. “Beta-glucan also improves cholesterol levels, helping to clear the arteries of potential plaques that could otherwise lead to complications down the road.”
Another oat choice: oat bran, the oat groat’s outer shell. “Oat bran is awesome for people who don’t like the texture of oatmeal (flattened, steamed oat groats) or steel-cut oats. And for the same amount of calories, you get double the potassium, phosphorous and magnesium; a third more calcium and thiamin; and about 40% more iron than you would in steel-cut oatmeal,” Gustashaw says.
Both oat bran and steel-cut oats are a good base for all kinds of flavors. “You can create a new taste each day depending on what you top oatmeal with, whether it’s sweet or savory,” Gambino says. “Where I live in New York City, there are oatmeal ‘bars’ that enable you to choose your oatmeal base and add many different toppings to create your own flair.”
A large review of randomized, controlled trials suggests that diets rich in walnuts are linked to reduced levels of total cholesterol and also LDL “bad” cholesterol — the kind involved in plaque buildup in the arteries. Walnuts are also loaded with vitamin E, folate and magnesium.
Walnuts are convenient in the morning if you’re on the go — just grab a handful and stash them in a small container on your way out the door. If you have more time, Gambino recommends baking walnuts with a little honey in the oven for a sweet and crunchy topping to your cereal or yogurt. “Or you can include walnuts in a muffin for an additional source of protein and a satisfying crunch.”
These are the 10 best foods to eat in the morning:
— Ground hemp, chia or flax seeds.
— Healthy leftovers.
— Oat bran.
— Plain Greek yogurt.
— Steel-cut oatmeal or oat bran.
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