Does this sound like you?
- starving by mid-morning even after your “healthy” breakfast
- sugar cravings throughout the day
- 3pm energy crash
- brain fog
- afternoon cravings/hunger
- energy spikes and dips throughout the day
- late night sugar cravings
- you get the munchies after dinner or are hungry at night but not for breakfast
If any of the above sound familiar, check your breakfast. Most of us are on the go and in a hurry in the mornings, making that so-called healthy bran muffin (loaded with sugar) from the coffee shop seem like a good idea. Don’t grab something you’ll regret later. The right breakfast will make or break your energy and clarity for the day.
Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal of the Day?
It’s one of the golden rules of nutrition: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I used to tell people it was important to eat within an hour of waking for energy and stable blood sugar during the day, but this isn’t true for everyone. If you are hypoglycemic and need to pay mind to blood sugar balance, you may need to eat a protein-rich breakfast soon after you get up, but if you have a goal of weight loss or are working to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, intermittent fasting may help balance and lower blood glucose levels. If you do a 14-16 hour overnight fast, perhaps your first meal of the day isn’t until 10am or even noon, and that is fine too.
No matter when you eat breakfast, however, your first meal of the day counts toward providing you with fuel for stable energy and productivity, so it needs to work for you. If you are carb sensitive, you need to stay away from grain-based breakfasts (read more about that here) or you’re in for a nasty energy crash.
But regardless of your individual physiological needs, there are guidelines for building a good breakfast that apply to everyone.
Here’s my guide for breakfast: what to eat, and what to ditch.
Avoid refined cereals, pastries, high sugar yogurts, and junk like Pop Tarts (I used to love those Toaster Strudels as a kid! Didn’t do me any favors). These are high sugar, low protein breakfasts that will leave you starving and with a nasty energy crash.
Focus on a breakfast that includes protein and healthy fats for ideal fuel for your day. You don’t want a high carb or high sugar breakfast that will send your blood glucose levels soaring, This won’t keep you full for long and will actually increase your appetite and contribute to binge behavior and sugar cravings throughout the day.
I included some inventive, quick, delicious and nutritious breakfast options for you.
Breakfast: What to Ditch
- cereal with soy or skim milk. And yes, even your organic Kashi Go Lean, which has soy protein isolate and processed grains that break down quickly into sugars. This may cause a mid-morning energy crash in certain individuals, notably those with sugar sensitivity. And does cereal with milk keep you full and fueled for hours? Soy milk is high in plant estrogens that can adversely affect hormone levels and contains goitgrogens that suppress thyroid function. Skim milk is basically just milk sugar and provides little if any nutritive value; your body needs the fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A&D. And who likes skim milk anyhow? Gross. Read here why low fat dairy is a bad idea.
- yogurt and granola. Many people have underlying dairy sensitivities, and they’re not aware. Dairy can cause inflammation, acne, congestion, and bloating. Yogurt can be super high in sugar if it’s fruit and contains corn syrup, and granola is typically high in sugar or contains wheat or oats that may zap your energy. This is what I call the “fake healthy” breakfast. Click here to read more on dairy and dairy intolerance.
- bagel & cream cheese. Bagels are made with refined flours and are carb-heavy with minimal protein. That means they don’t provide much in the way of fuel and can cause brain fog and an energy crash. If you’re prone to constipation or other GI symptoms, a bagel can sit in your stomach like a brick. If you have a dairy sensitivity or don’t digest lactose well, the cream cheese can cause bloating and gas.
- bran muffins. These delicious demons pose as “healthy” but they’re just fancy cake. The bran muffins in your local coffee shop can contain as much as 34 grams of sugar (about 8 teaspoons). They’re high in sugar, calories, and are probably made with unhealthy vegetable oils or hydrogenated fats. Not to mention the refined white flour that contributes to weight gain and inflammation.
- coffee. Use caution if you start your day with coffee only. Although intermittent fasting or bulletproof coffee for breakfast does work for some people, it’s not right for all bodies. If you are prone to hypoglycemia or unstable blood sugar, coffee only for breakfast can cause energy fluctuations (3pm crash after lunch anyone?) and can lead to that insatiable late night hunger. Coffee spikes blood sugar and taxes adrenals. Click here for my thoughts on coffee. CAVEAT: if you’re doing planned intermittent fasting, delaying mealtimes may be part of your protocol (and coffee is allowed).
- waffles, pancakes, toast. These goodies are traditionally made with processed flours and sugar and are low in protein. That means a snooze fest. Even if you get “whole grain,” the grains are processed and cause blood sugar spikes. And yes, your gluten free waffles and pancakes are included too– they’re still carb-heavy refined grains. Look for pancake and waffle recipes made with whole foods-based alternative flours like coconut or almond with eggs; those won’t affect your blood sugar like other flours, and the eggs add protein.
- skipping breakfast or eating a piece of fruit only: Leads to energy crashes, irritability, and late day overeating in some people.
Our cultural norms are sweet comfort foods for breakfast: coffee cake, french toast, muffins, pancakes and pastries. It’s like having dessert for breakfast! These refined breakfasts are low in protein and lack fats and antioxidants, all of which your body needs in the morning to get you going for the day.
Breakfast: What to Eat
- my fave quick breakfast is a smoothie. Click here for my post about how to build the perfect smoothie. 5 minutes to make and you’re out the door! I use collagen peptides or this protein with spinach, frozen berries, almond butter, and spirulina or moringa for extra nutrients. Coconut milk adds good fats and makes it super creamy dreamy. This is my vegan smoothie protein choice.
- 1 or 2 organic chicken sausages stir-fried in coconut oil with greens like spinach, kale or chard; top with avocado. Side of raw kraut for probiotics. Protein + greens + healthy fats + probiotics = the ultimate breakfast to stabilize blood sugar, give you energy, and support good gut flora. Takes about 10 minutes to make, or prep the night before to grab and go.
- dinner leftovers with raw kraut. Just heat and eat.
- eggs scrambled with leftover veggies or a handful spinach and raw kraut. Add nitrate-free bacon or organic sausage if you wish. 10 minutes.
- Frittata: make one on a Sunday (here is my recipe), and it’ll keep for quick leftovers for days. Eat with a handful of berries and raw kraut of course. Or try this egg casserole that includes sweet potato, greens, and meat.
- Lox or smoked salmon over cucumber slices.
- Apple with 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini. This makes a nice, light breakfast with fiber and good fats if you’re not super hungry.
- EGG FREE idea: make some chick pea pancakes. Soak 1/2 cup chick pea flour overnight in 1/2 cup water. Add a little olive oil, sea salt, and scallions and cook like you would a pancake in a skillet. Roll up smoked salmon & avocado in the pancake and enjoy. They keep well for leftovers too.
- 2 ingredient grain free pancakes (just banana or canned pumpkin and egg whisked together and made like pancakes) slathered with almond butter or topped with organic bacon.
- coconut flour blueberry muffins (need to be made ahead for grab n go). They don’t contain the blood sugar spiking grain flours that contribute to gut irritation and energy crashes. My pinterest breakfast board has tons of options. Also see my grain free baked goods board.
- Grain free porridges. I LOVE this egg and grain free porridge: combine 1/2 cup pumpkin; 1 tbsp tahini or almond butter; 1/4 cup coconut milk; protein powder; cinnamon and vanilla, and heat until warm, stirring til everything is mixed. Top with coconut.
- Overnight chia puddings (like this pumpkin version, just add a scoop of protein so it keeps you fuller longer) or overnight oats or oat bran if you can tolerate grains ok. Read this post to determine if oatmeal is right for you.
- I’ve made this protein-rich keto bread and it is delicious and simple! Great toast alternative.
- These savory cauliflower english muffins have just 3 ingredients and a whole lotta cauliflower so you get some veggie power at breakfast. Bonus: egg for protein. Does contain cheese though.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.