Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

05/01/2019 Nutrition and Recipes Nutrition Healthy Eating Health and Wellness Weight Loss

Breakfast is an important meal to include in your daily eating pattern. Just make sure it’s healthy, and you'll reap benefits ranging from better focus to an increased metabolism and feeling fuller.

breakfast

Do you experience topsy-turvy mornings? Rush-hour traffic? Early morning classes? Hectic kid schedules? Trouble waking up with enough time to be prepared for your day?

Mornings can be complicated and can even feel impossible at times. Fitting in a healthy breakfast can seem like an uphill battle you don't want to fight, but it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Creating a healthy, balanced, and simple breakfast is totally possible—even amid your busy mornings. Be sure to take note of some of the important elements to include in constructing a healthy breakfast, along with some science-based reasons to make sure you eat a good breakfast.

Here are the hows and the whys for eating a healthy breakfast.

Build a Healthy Breakfast

Let’s begin with a few simple guidelines. The term “healthy breakfast” is one that’s important for you to understand. The following categories explain what makes a healthy breakfast and identifies some healthy breakfast foods. A healthy breakfast will, in turn, leave you feeling satiated, energized, focused, and ready to take on the day!

Quality First

Just like any other meal, using high-quality, whole-food ingredients is always best. What is also integral to a healthy breakfast is keeping your blood sugar stable with low-glycemic index (GI) ingredients. The GI is a scale of how carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. A low-GI food digests over a longer period of time and keeps your glucose (aka energy) levels more stable. High-GI foods lead to spikes in those glucose levels. You will want to ensure that any breakfast carbohydrates you include are on that low end of the GI. Aim for whole-food based and low in sugar options.

Balance Your Macronutrients

Include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—the three macronutrients (main nutrients in foods) that should feature in any meal. Consider thinking of your breakfast plate (or blender) as a pie chart. The Healthy Eating Plate, recommended by the Harvard School of Public Health, is a simple and thorough guide to creating a healthy and whole-food meal (including breakfast).

Here are the simple guidelines for your breakfast pie chart:

  • Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits.
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with whole grains.
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with healthy proteins (plant or animal).
  • Use healthy natural oils in moderation.
  • Drink lots of water (avoid sugary drinks).

Busy Mornings? Try a Simple Protein-Based Green Smoothie

Green smoothies, with a hearty dose of protein, are a simple solution to the oh-so-common rushed-breakfast pandemic. With just one well-balanced green smoothie and a few short minutes of preparation, you will have a swift way to start your day.

There are many green smoothie ideas out there, but what's important to note is that you can pack each smoothie with a balanced, satiating, blood sugar-stabilizing list of ingredients. This type of green smoothie is a good “meal.”

Try green smoothies that are rich with good natural fats, healthy proteins, nutrient dense fruits, veggies, and superfoods. What could be better than that? (See recipe below.)

Choose Well-Rounded Plant-Based or Animal Proteins

For optimal daily energy and vitality, choose pure, unrefined organic proteins. Protein builds muscle mass and keeps your blood sugar stable, elevating your energy for the rest of the day. There are many wonderful sources of plant-based or animal proteins that are easy to prepare in the morning. Try experimenting with chia seeds, hemp seeds, eggs, lean meats, fish, tofu, or a variety of high-quality protein powders to help provide you with a balanced breakfast.

Prep Some Overnight Grab-and-Go Breakfast Favorites

There is nothing better than a grab-and-go portable breakfast for a busy morning. While eating on the run is not always optimal, bringing your breakfast with you to enjoy during a quiet moment at your office or on a park bench, while your kids run and play, may be a good option for you. Green protein smoothies, chia puddings, and overnight oats are some good examples.

Dinner for Breakfast? 

Absolutely! Warming soups and broths can feel nourishing for your digestion in the morning. Heat up your dinner leftovers—such as warming soups or stews—and you will be surprised how well they go down. You digest your food at your body temperature, so a nourishing and warming breakfast can ease your digestion and be ready in a jiffy for busy mornings.

Why Should You Eat a Healthy Breakfast?

The health benefits of eating a healthy breakfast range from lower cravings to increased weight loss and improved mood.

Lower Sugar Cravings

When you eat a well-balanced, low-glycemic breakfast, you help to diminish your sugar cravings throughout the day. One small study with a group of fifteen overweight men showed that the quality of the carbohydrates affected their cravings (especially for sugar). This demonstrates that when you eat more processed and refined carbohydrates, such as those found in sugary cereals, you will experience more blood-sugar imbalances. 

  • One study investigated a group of 80 participants. Half of the group was fed lower glycemic breakfasts and the other half was given more sugary breakfasts for four weeks. The group that was fed lower glycemic breakfasts showed a lower level of cravings (specifically for sugar) than those in the group that was fed higher glycemic breakfasts.
  • Another study showed that when people chose low-carbohydrate foods throughout the day, it helped them to curb their cravings and decrease their overall food intake throughout the day.

Stay Satiated

Skipping breakfast, or eating a more sugary breakfast, affects the hunger and satiation cues in your body.

  • The same study noted above that addressed sugar cravings with 80 participants, also showed a significant difference in satiation levels (approximately 7 percent higher) in participants who ate a low-glycemic meal.
  • According to another study, protein is the most satiating of all macronutrients to include in breakfast. Along with this conclusion, the study also showed a direct relationship with ghrelin—the hunger hormone—and the macronutrient ratios eaten during breakfast. Participants who ate a higher protein breakfast were found to have lower ghrelin levels than the participants who at a higher carbohydrate breakfast. 
  • Again, another study previously cited showed that when these same 15 healthy men in the study ate a breakfast of low-glycemic carbohydrates in their whole forms, such as brown rice, sweet potato, steel-cut oats, quinoa, or a tart apple, those carbs were more stabilizing to their blood sugar.

This research suggests that eating low-glycemic whole carbohydrates will leave you feeling more satiated.

Increase Metabolism and Weight Loss

This may not be completely intuitive, but not only what you eat is important in keeping your metabolic rates strong, but when you eat it also matters. Breakfast may turn out to be just as important as everyone thought. 

  • Eating a low-glycemic breakfast has been shown to give you higher energy levels throughout the day. Your blood sugar is often said to be the backbone of your metabolism. Therefore, staying ahead of your blood sugar curve all day—avoiding any big blood sugar ups or downs—will ensure you are keeping your energy and metabolism strong.
  • If you thought foregoing your morning breakfast was going to help you lose weight, think again. One study showed a large improvement in metabolic syndrome in obese and overweight women who ate a more calorie-heavy meal at breakfast than at dinner. This group of women was split into two groups. For 12 weeks, group one was given a higher calorie breakfast and lighter dinner (700 kcal breakfast, 500 kcal lunch, 200 kcal dinner), while group two was given a lighter breakfast and higher calorie dinner (200 kcal breakfast, 500 kcal lunch, 700 kcal dinner). The first group, with a higher caloric breakfast, showed greater weight loss as well as a greater reduction in waist size.

This research underscores how significant eating a healthy and hearty breakfast can be for a strong metabolism as well as more optimal and healthy body weight.

Improve Mood

When you eat a healthy breakfast, your brain chemistry responds in favorable ways.

Depression is an epidemic in our world. In fact, the World Health Organization states that over 300 million people are suffering with depression worldwide, and this number is on the rise. Could this and other mood imbalances be improved by something as simple as eating breakfast?

  • One study found that breakfast not only impacts physical health but can also be associated with mental health. Eating breakfast has been associated with fewer symptoms of depression.
  • Another small study with women showed when they kept their blood sugar in balance they could relieve anxiety, depression, and other mood swings, although further research is needed.

Enhance Mental Focus

You may have heard the term brain food—foods that are known to give you brain power and help you focus. If you get to work or school and have a hard time staying on task, your breakfast could be to blame. By simply adding in some healthy breakfasts, you will be back on your game in no time.

  • One study found that children who had either skipped breakfast or had infrequent breakfasts had lower scores on measures of attention, concentration, memory, and achievement than students who ate breakfast regularly.

Consider the importance of a healthy breakfast to fuel your brain and keep you on your toes all day (kids included!). Consuming a healthy breakfast will optimize your focus and elevate your mental efficiency and energy throughout the day.

Try these low-glycemic healthy breakfast recipes.

Berry Vanilla Overnight Oats

These creamy and tasty overnight oats are prepared the night before and are ultra-satisfying to wake up to. Filled with the complex carbohydrates of the whole rolled oats (gluten-free optional), and healthy fats and protein from chia seeds and almond butter, this breakfast go-to is well balanced with all three macronutrients. Top it off with berries and vanilla extract and you will be satiated and ready to start the day!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup whole rolled oats (gluten-free, if needed)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup fresh mixed berries
  • unsweetened coconut flakes for garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a medium jar, mix almond milk, vanilla extract, and almond butter well, then stir in chia seeds and oats until fully combined.

Refrigerate six hours or overnight.

In the morning, stir well and add berries and coconut flakes. Enjoy!

Heart Beet Green Smoothie

This yummy combination may sound surprising but give it a try. This smoothie is chock-full of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and a robust serving of protein and fat.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium-sized beet
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1/2 banana
  • 16 ounces coconut water
  • 1 handful baby kale leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened yogurt (regular or dairy-free)
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder

Directions:

Add all ingredients into a blender and blend for 30 seconds, or until desired texture. Enjoy!

The best way to get your morning underway with little stress and a lot of success is to get just a little prepared ahead of time. Be sure to stock up on all the best ingredients ahead of time and try making big batches of prepared breakfasts for the beginning of the work week. The importance of breakfast is backed by science and you will feel better with a smart and satiating start to the day.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


Discover Deepak Chopra’s secrets to stay energetic and balanced all year long with our self-paced online course, Secrets to Vibrant Health. Learn More.


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About the Author
SueVanRaes

Sue Van Raes

Functional nutritionist and Food Psychology Specialist
Sue Van Raes is a functional nutritionist, food psychology specialist, and author in Boulder, Colorado. As founder of Boulder Nutrition , Sue helps people to navigate making sustainable changes in their health and make peace with their plate. Sue uses a combination of science-based testing, clinical nutrition, holistic nutrition, natural medicine, functional medicine, homeopathy, and metabolic typing to guide people to experience clarity, vitality, and body-positive living. She works with clients locally, remotely, online, and through her local and international...Read more