What Exactly Is a Balanced Breakfast? We Asked a Nutritionist
What is and isn't "part of a complete breakfast"
Conventional wisdom (and probably your mom, too) says that a balanced breakfast can help you do anything. Eat your Wheaties? Win a gold medal. Pound that organic, ethically-sourced açai bowl with coconut oil and flax seed? Become the lifestyle goddess you’ve always wanted to be. But where does breakfast fact turn into fable? Are the seemingly self-evident truths that all breakfasts are created equal—well, false?
Previous studies (and cereal marketers) would have you believe that eating breakfast every morning is linked to a smaller waistline and a longer life. But more recent ones like this found no real correlation between eating breakfast and being as fit as the Spartans in the 300. Wait, what?
To get to the crux of the matter of what a nutritious breakfast is (and isn’t!), as well as why it’s important not to skip it, we went straight to the source, speaking with Nicole Granato and Sammi Haber, both licensed nutritionists, to find out whether one man’s white toast is another man’s tofu.
“It’s definitely something that you want to avoid,” Granato says.“You shouldn’t be eating meat in the morning because it takes your body a lot of time to digest. You’re basically setting yourself up for failure.”
Going to town on that Denny’s Grand Slam in the a.m. means you’ll be as lethargic as Homer Simpson after a donut binge come the afternoon as your body tries to digest all of those carbs and meat. Haber, on the other hand, says it’s okay to splurge every once in awhile, but stick with modifications where you can. On her list of pre-approved items? “Try eggs with a piece of whole wheat toast, as well as swapping out orange juice for just an orange so you get less sugar and more fiber.”
For those of you who think a breakfast without bacon is no breakfast at all, remember that bacon didn’t really come into the American repertoire of breakfast until the 1920s. People have been doing without bacon for literally thousands of years. But if you simply can’t go on without porky perfection in your life, do it in moderation. Plus, both nutritionists recommend adding meat to your lunch menu, and skipping it at other times in the day.
“Your body is already awake, you’re active, your metabolism’s already going,” Granato says. “At breakfast or dinner, your body is coming out of or going into a state of rest.”
Another thing to remember? The all-important ratio of protein + whole grain + fruit means that you shouldn’t be just relying on that stale bowl of Fruity Pebbles to get you through a hectic schedule. “You want these three things so you feel full, satisfied, and have enough energy to get through the day,” Haber says, adding that means that other quick-fix college staples like Pop-Tarts and Toaster Strudels are out. And it’s a good rule of thumb that if a box of cereal has one or more cartoon characters on it, there’s simply too much sugar to make it worth it.
Instead, Haber suggests something like a piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter and and an apple, or the trendier avocado toast with a fried egg on top, or a cereal that has more fiber than sugar with Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit.
And no matter what Instagram tells you, smoothie bowls aren’t as quite as healthy as fitness bloggers would have you think. “To fill an entire bowl, you’re probably drinking something like three bananas, a bag of spinach, two apples, and a carton of strawberries—you’d never eat that in just one sitting,” Haber says. Drinking your calories means you don’t feel as full, meaning you’re at risk of overeating. “Try splitting a bowl with a friend or keeping it to one cup of fruit. “Anything bigger is too much,” she recommends.
As for skipping breakfast, both Haber and Granato agree that’s another mortal sin. “When you skip breakfast, your body doesn’t know when food is coming, which can lead to overeating later and can slow down your metabolism,” Haber says.
Overeating isn’t the answer either. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but we lost sight of what’s important—it shouldn’t be your biggest meal, but it should be the meal that sets the tone,” Granato adds. Other staples in your pantry should be plain oatmeal, eggs, chia pudding, and plenty of fruit.
At the end of the day, Granato says a nutritious breakfast is one that doesn’t stick to the latest trendy fads, but rather gives your body the fuel it needs to keep going.
“With all of these new diets, the most important thing is going back to basics,” she says. “Whole grains, proteins, and eating real, whole foods. Try to figure out what your bodies are trying to tell us, and listen.”
Alright, body. We’re all ears.