What Should I Eat for Breakfast?
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for good reason. It helps you regulate your appetite, helps prevent blood sugar swing and fills you up on all the essential nutrients to start your day off right.
If you’re looking for the best breakfast foods to enjoy for breakfast, experts say to watch out for sugary cereals at the grocery store, fresh pastries from the corner coffee shop and easy grab-n-go options at your favorite bodega. They may be luring you into a tasty trap laced with high amounts of added sugars, calories, refined (not whole) grains and unhealthy saturated fats.
Consuming these unhealthy ingredients regularly can lead to weight gain and increased risks for high cholesterol, diabetes, chronic inflammation and heart disease.
To make breakfast as healthy as possible, look for the same good foods to eat that you’d have for lunch or dinner. They can all be found 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 those categories as you figure out what to eat for breakfast. The following superstar foods can get you started.
Also known as “alligator pears,” avocados provide heart-healthy unsaturated fat that’s often missing from Western diets. The fruits are packed with lots of potassium, folate and vitamins E, C, A and K, as well as fiber, which promotes gut health and and helps control blood sugar. But that’s not all.
“Avocados also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help to protect our eyes from harmful light waves (i.e., the blue light from our computer screens) that can harm our vision,” says Gabrielle Gambino, a registered dietitian with Weill Cornell Medical Center. “In other words, eating avocados in the morning may support your eye health and prepare your eyes for those morning Zoom meetings.”
A whole medium avocado contains:
— Fat: 22 grams (15 grams of monounsaturated fat, 4 grams of polyunsaturated fat and 3 grams of saturated fat).
— Fiber:10 grams.
— Protein:3 grams.
Low in sodium and free of cholesterol, these superfoods are also versatile and widely available. Avocados are available year-round and can be purchased fresh in the produce section or frozen in the freezer aisle of the grocery store.
For breakfast ideas, 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.
Blackberries and blueberries
Not to be fooled by their size, these small but mighty fruits pack a powerful nutritional punch with their high fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and potassium content.
Blackberries and blueberries are also loaded with antioxidants that support body function at a cellular level. Some of these antioxidants include lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids, which can promote eye health, and resveratrol, which has been a growing research area of interest for its potential anti-aging and anti-cancer effects.
One cup (5.2 ounces) of fresh blueberries contains:
— Fat:0.5 grams.
— Carbohydrates:21.4 grams (including 3.6 grams of fiber and 14.7 grams of natural sugars).
— Protein:1.1 gram.
— Potassium:114 milligrams.
— Vitamin C:14 milligrams.
— Manganese:0.6 milligrams
— Vitamin K:29 micrograms.
One cup (5.1 ounces) of fresh blackberries contains:
— Fat:0.7 grams.
— Carbohydrates:14.7 grams (including 7.6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of natural sugars).
— Protein:2 grams.
— Potassium:233 milligrams.
— Vitamin A:310 milligrams.
— Vitamin C:30 milligrams.
Enjoy either berry in a hot or cold cereal, yogurt, a morning smoothie or in whole-grain pancakes or muffins.
“Cooked blackberries make a delicious syrup. Just put them in a little water and bring them to a boil. Try to stick to about a cup of blackberries per serving,” says Dana Hunnes, a senior clinical dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Whole-grain carbohydrates help fuel the brain for the morning, and buckwheat is brimming with good carbs and other important nutrients. Buckwheat seeds come from flowering plants that are then ground into small pieces that can be enjoyed in the form of hot cereal or into a powder for baking flour.
“Buckwheat is a high-fiber, gluten-free alternative to white [refined] 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 University Medical Center.
A quarter cup (45 grams) of buckwheat contains:
— Fat:1.5 gram.
— Carbohydrates:32.3 grams (including 4.5 grams of fiber).
— Protein:6 grams.
— Iron:1 milligram.
— Potassium:207 milligrams.
The grain has a nutty, sometimes bitter taste, but the flavor is more palatable when it’s roasted or combined with other ingredients. 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.
Top 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, which are the 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.
One large egg contains:
— Calories: 72.
— Fat: 5 grams.
— Carbohydrates: Less than one gram.
— Protein: 6 grams.
Eggs are also rich in minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium), vitamins (such as B and D vitamins) and other nutrients (such as lutein and zeaxanthin).
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.
One tablespoon of ground flaxseed, for example, contains:
— Calories: 37.
— Fat: 3 grams of healthy unsaturated fat.
— Carbohydrates: 2 grams (including 2 grams of fiber).
— Protein: 1.3 grams.
— Magnesium: 27 micrograms.
— Calcium: 18 milligrams.
— Lutein and zeaxanthin: 45 micrograms.
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 roasted chicken and sautéed spinach and roasted sweet potatoes, you can give these meals a second life by enjoying them the next morning.
“There is no wrong time to eat certain foods,” Gustashaw says. “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.”
She also advises repurposing leftovers to make interesting new breakfast dishes. Options include turning last night’s roasted vegetables into an omelet or wrap it in a whole-grain tortilla for an on-the-go meal.
“Just remember that eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard,” Gustashaw says.
“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.
A cup of raw chopped portabella mushrooms contains lots of phosphorous, potassium, folate and calcium as well as:
— Calories: 80.
— Fat: 0.3 grams.
— Carbohydrates: 3 grams (including 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of natural sugar).
— Protein: 2 grams.
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.
Nut butters are made of ground peanuts or ground tree nuts — such as almonds, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts and walnuts. While a staple of lunch and snacks, nut butters are perfect for breakfast too, whether on your whole grain toast or mixed into a smoothie, oatmeal or whole grain pancake mix.
Nut butters are also good for you when consumed in moderation. A nut butter’s superpower comes from its main ingredients (nuts or peanuts), which are associated with lower body mass and reduced risks for developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
They’re rich in protein and fiber, which keep you full, plus lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Two tablespoons of almond butter contains:
— Calories: 200.
— Fat: 18 grams (including 2 grams of saturated fat and 16 of grams unsaturated fat)
— Carbohydrates: 6 grams (including 3 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar).
— Protein: 7 grams.
— Calcium: 111 milligrams .
But it’s important not to overdo it. Nut butter’s health benefits can be derailed quickly if it includes unhealthy ingredients.
“You want to avoid nut butters made with added sugar and palm or fractionated oils. It’s easy to spot them because those are usually the nut butters that are pre-stirred,” Hunnes says. “Look for the ones you have to mix.”
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- and calcium-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 that is higher in protein with less sugar than the regular variety. Packed with calcium, potassium and probiotics, Greek yogurt is a versatile and nutritious choice that promotes good gut health and helps control your appetite.
A half a cup of plain non-fat Greek yogurt contains:
— Calories: 60.
— Fat: 0.3 grams of fat.
— Carbohydrates: 4 grams (including 3 grams of natural sugar).
— Protein: 10 grams.
— Calcium: 111 milligrams.
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.
A 3.5-ounce serving of cooked oat bran contains:
— Calories: 40.
— Protein: 3 grams.
— Fiber: 3 grams.
Both oat bran and steel-cut oats are a good base for all kinds of sweet or savory flavors.
Tofu is a thick, flavorless product of soybean curds that takes on the flavors of other foods and spices you pair with it. It comes in crumbles or blocks (that are soft, medium firm or firm), and its texture makes it a popular substitute for eggs or meat.
Tofu is a great breakfast food because it’s a rich source of protein to help keep you full in the morning, and it contains many other nutrients such as folate (a B vitamin), choline (an essential nutrient), and minerals such as zinc, potassium, phosphorous and selenium.
A 3.5-ounce serving of firm tofu also contains:
— Calories: 78.
— Fat: 4 grams.
— Carbohydrates: 3 grams (including 1 gram of fiber).
— Protein: 9 grams.
— Calcium: 200 milligrams.
To incorporate tofu into a healthy breakfast: “I like to cut it into small chunks and make a vegetable scramble. You can also put that in a breakfast burrito. Grill tofu and put it into a sandwich. Or get silkened [soft, custard-like] tofu and put it in smoothies,” Hunnes suggests.
In addition to nut butters, a simple handful of nuts will add crunch, flavor and nutrients to your breakfast.
Walnuts in particular will help give your cardiovascular system a healthy start in the morning. The nuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are powerhouses for the heart and blood vessels. Some evidence, such as a randomized trial published August 30, 2021, by Circulation suggests that eating walnuts lowers LDL cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol involved in plaque buildup in the arteries.
An ounce of walnuts contains
— Calories: 185.
— Fat: 18.5 grams (1.7 grams saturated fat, 13.4 polyunsaturated fat and 2.5 grams of monounsaturated fat).
— Carbohydrates: 3.9 grams (including 2 grams of fiber).
— Protein: 4.3 grams.
— Calcium: 28 milligrams.
— Potassium: 125 milligrams
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.
Whole grains are those that haven’t been refined to remove the outer shell (bran) or nutrient-rich germ (or embryo) inside the grain.
Examples of whole grains include:
— Whole wheat.
Made into breads, whole grains are handy breakfast foods that are portable and easy to prepare. They’re are also full of nutrients such as fiber, protein and B vitamins.
One slice of whole-wheat bread contains:
— Calories: 78.
— Fat: 1 gram.
— Carbohydrates: 14.3 grams (including 1.2 grams of fiber and 1.8 grams of sugar).
— Protein: 3 grams.
— Calcium: 40 milligrams.
For a nutritious breakfast, pair a slice or two of whole-grain bread with an egg, half an avocado, nut butter, or a slice of your favorite cheese.
To get the healthiest whole-grain breads, you’ll have to read the ingredient label.
“Make sure each grain has the word ‘whole’ next to it,” Hunnes advises. “And watch out for added sugars. Go for the bread with four grams (or fewer) added sugars per slice. That’s still one teaspoon of sugar, but it’s better than 8 grams or more that are common in bread.”
These are some of the healthiest breakfast foods:
— Blackberries and blueberries.
— Ground hemp, chia or flax seeds.
— Healthy leftovers.
— Nut butters.
— Oat bran.
— Plain Greek yogurt.
— Steel-cut oatmeal or oat bran.
— Whole-grain bread.
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Update 11/04/22: This story was previously published and has been updated with new information.