By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
As I wrote in What Really Is Healthy Breakfast Food?, the key to a healthy breakfast is eating foods that are high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. With the exception of eggs, which I recommend eating, most American breakfast foods are a dietary nightmare.
Pancakes, waffles, and French toast are simple carbs, usually topped with more sugary junk like whipped cream, powdered sugar, and fake “maple” syrup made with high fructose corn syrup. Conventionally produced processed meats like bacon and sausage are full of fillers and compounds such as nitrates. Muffins are essentially mini-cakes, and I don’t have to tell you what nutritional catastrophes pastries and donuts are.
So that begs the question: Besides eggs, is good old-fashioned oatmeal (not to be confused with the processed, artificially flavored, sugar-filled instant oatmeal packets) the only other healthy breakfast option?
Fortunately, no…but sometimes you need to get creative and think outside the traditional breakfast box. Here are some easy, healthy breakfast ideas to get you started.
Rethinking Hot Cereal
Oats aren’t the only whole grain that makes a healthy breakfast. Try making hot cereal with brown rice and/or quinoa—an ancient grain that has been a dietary staple of people in the Andean region of South America for thousands of years.
Healthy Breakfast Recipe #1: Quinoa Fruit & Nut Bowl
While quinoa is usually classified as a whole grain, it is actually a seed from the goosefoot plant, which is related to spinach and beets. It is prepared similarly to brown rice.
One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Quinoa is considered a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids that we cannot produce on our own. All this to say, it is an excellent vegetarian source of protein.
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 cup organic berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries – fresh or defrosted) or 1/3 cup organic dried berries: cherries, cranberries, Goji berries
- 1 to 3 Tbsp chopped raw walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts
- 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil (EVOO or flavored, like lemon or blood orange)
- Natural salt, to taste
Prepare quinoa according to instructions on packaging. Spoon into a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil of choice, and season with natural salt crystals, to taste. Top with berries and nuts.
*Vegan; Vegetarian; Gluten free
Healthy Breakfast Recipe #2: Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl
Brown rice is rich in not only fiber, but also vitamins B1 and B6, magnesium, selenium, and manganese. Despite being a high-carbohydrate, starchy food, brown rice can still be enjoyed by those with diabetes if cooked, cooled, then reheated. When prepared this way, rice becomes a resistant starch.
Resistant starches are broken down much more slowly by the body than typical starches. And instead of being digested in the small intestine, they ferment in the large intestine with the help of gut bacteria. For this reason, the starch behaves more like fiber, which slows the body’s insulin response.
- 1/4 cup unsweetened almond, cashew, or macadamia nut milk
- 1–2 Tbsp real maple syrup or honey
- 1 cup precooked and cold brown rice
- 1 medium apple, peeled and diced
- Optional: drizzle of EVOO
Combine milk, maple syrup/honey, and apple and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and continue cooking until apple has softened, about 5–10 minutes. Add cooked rice and stir until combined. Heat through until everything is warm. Add a touch more maple syrup or honey if you want it a little sweeter, and sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg if desired. Add optional EVOO as a finish, if desired (I always add a healthy fat to my carbs, even if unrefined).
*Vegan; Vegetarian; Gluten free
Healthy Breakfast Recipe #2: Avocado Toast
Avocados are nutritional powerhouses, and I wholeheartedly recommend them. A breakfast that’s gained popularity over the past several years is avocado toast—which is essentially mashed up avocado on top of some delicious, high-quality bread.
To make a super-healthy version of avocado, get some whole grain, unprocessed bread. Sourdough is a tasty option…or make your own! Lightly toast the bread while making the topper.
For the topper, grab an avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and a few of your favorite fresh or dried herbs and spices. You can use basil, red pepper flakes, fresh garlic or garlic powder, and/or jalapeno, to name a few.
Mash up the avocado with roughly a tablespoon of EVOO and your desired herbs/spices. There’s no real “recipe”—just include everything to taste. Finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a few grinds of high-quality natural salt, and you’ve got an awesome spread to top your toast.
For some extra protein, you can add a fried or sliced hardboiled egg.
*Vegetarian if no egg used; Gluten free if a certified gluten-free bread is used
Other Healthy Breakfast Ideas
Yogurt with a Kick
Yogurt can be a healthy breakfast—but there is a major caveat here. Most of the yogurts you’ll find at the grocery store are full of sugar and other additives. Sugar-free varieties are just as bad since they’re sweetened with aspartame, sucralose, or some other artificial chemical sweetener.
I understand the desire to sweeten yogurt, as plain varieties can be pretty bland. But I recommend doing this at home, rather than buying pre-sweetened brands.
Look for plain, unsweetened, organic yogurt (made with either whole milk or low-fat milk). The only ingredients should be milk/cream and live active probiotic cultures. Scoop out what you want, and add a tablespoon of either honey or real maple syrup. Mix it up, and top with fresh berries, sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, and/or a little granola.
If you don’t do cow’s milk, dairy alternative yogurts are becoming readily available. You can find yogurts made with coconut, cashew, almond, or sheep’s milk, among others. Same rules apply—buy plain and add your own fruit and natural sweetener.
I love smoothies, and turns out they make excellent breakfasts and mid-day snacks. What I love most is that you can add vegetables like spinach without altering taste; chia seed or flax seed for extra healthy fat and fiber; a scoop of protein powder; and any fruit you like for natural sweetness.
You can find countless smoothie recipes online but here are some of my personal favorites:
Doctor Up Cold Cereal
Finally, when all else fails, regular boxed cold cereal (unsweetened varieties) can be a healthy-ish option. I don’t recommend eating boxed cereal every day, but when in a pinch, you can add a handful of fresh berries, raw nuts, chia seed, and/or unsweetened coconut flakes to boost the nutritional value.
I hope these ideas and recipes inspire you to step outside the box when it comes to healthy breakfasts. Bon appetit!
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.