Some people need to eat first thing to be able to start their day. While to others, the idea of having a meal when they’re still half asleep is a total non-starter. Whether you’re a breakfast lover or lean more towards brunch, the benefits of making your first meal a balanced one has some serious merit.
Four reasons to eat a healthy, balanced breakfast
- Skip the blood sugar rollercoaster. Eating a balanced breakfast within an hour or two of waking generally sets you up for steady blood sugar levels and less snacking and overeating throughout the day. Skipping breakfast (even a later one), can potentially cause your blood sugar to spike and dip, increasing hunger cravings. When your blood sugar is off-kilter it creates a hormonal response that can prevent your body from using stored fat for energy, making weight loss more difficult.
- Manage your mood. Going too long without eating can lead to irritability and volatility. When your blood sugar and hormone levels are out of whack, your mood tends to follow suit.
- Keep your heart healthy. While more research is needed, some evidence supports the idea that consuming more calories earlier in the day (i.e., making breakfast your largest meal and dinner your smallest) may be beneficial to cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association, people who eat breakfast are less likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, while those who skip this meal are more likely to be obese, have poor glucose metabolism and be diagnosed with diabetes.
- Reduce your diabetes risk. Again, more research is needed, but experts claim that insulin and other metabolic processes are more efficient in the morning, further supporting the case for making breakfast your largest meal of the day. Your body may be better able to handle the calories and bring your blood sugar levels back down more readily, compared to having a big meal at night.
So, what is a healthy balanced breakfast?
Unfortunately, the traditional breakfast of cold cereal and milk many of us were raised on doesn’t make the cut. While some cereals are better than others, many are low in protein and fiber and high in carbohydrates and sugar, a combo that can leave you feeling tired and hungry not long after your bowl is empty. To truly get the most out of this meal, it’s important to choose nutrient-dense whole foods and make balanced meals. These include protein, plenty of veggies and fruit, a serving of healthy fat (i.e. nuts, seeds or avocado), and a serving of complex carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains, starchy veggies, beans).
A veggie scramble with eggs or tofu, a cup of cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt with a serving of fruit and nuts, a smoothie made with a protein powder from our recommended list, or even dinner leftovers (i.e. a salad topped with chicken, salmon or tofu) are all good options. See a list of quick and easy breakfast ideas here.
These will all help keep you from reaching for high-carb or sugary snacks before lunchtime. Ideally your breakfast (and every meal) will keep you going for at least three hours before you need to eat again. If you’re feeling hungry sooner than this, try bumping up your protein.
Keep in mind that eating breakfast is only beneficial to weight loss if it means eating fewer calories throughout the day then had you skipped it.
If you don’t eat breakfast and feel fine, should you start?
If you typically skip breakfast and don’t end up making unhealthy choices later in the day, you may be fine without it. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the entire day. If you don’t eat your first meal until lunchtime and are prone to feeling “hangry,” crave carbs and sugar throughout the day, overeat at other meals or notice your weight loss has stalled, consider having a small breakfast (i.e. an apple with nut butter or hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit) and notice if and how it changes your mood, behavior and weight loss efforts.
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