What Really Is Healthy Breakfast Food?

For as long as I can remember, breakfast has been touted as the “most important meal of the day.” Growing up, my mom insisted I eat scrambled eggs and toast every morning.

The relative importance of breakfast is a trendy debate topic right now. There are plenty of experts willing to pass on breakfast, claiming there’s nothing special about it—or that there’s nothing wrong with skipping it altogether. But there are just as many who will eagerly point to research that shows eating breakfast is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and overall mortality.

As a cardiologist and a nutritionist, I believe it’s best for your health to eat breakfast. However, it’s also important to be mindful of what you eat. Eating the wrong things can be worse than not eating at all.

How to Choose Healthy Foods to Eat for Breakfast

The trick to building a healthy breakfast is to select foods that deliver enough nutritional value to get you going and keep you feeling full, without overstimulating your insulin response.

I do this by making sure my breakfast foods contain ample amounts of fiber, fat, and protein.

Fiber, fat, and protein are all low glycemic so they don’t make your insulin levels spike. Too much insulin is inflammatory to arteries and sets you up for rollercoaster-like waves of hunger and hypoglycemia (blood sugar that is too low). When lower-glycemic foods are consumed, your insulin response is automatically more controlled and your body absorbs nutrients over a longer period of time.

A good analogy for this is drinking on an empty stomach. When you have a glass of wine without food, the alcohol hits you hard and fast. The same glass of wine, consumed along with nuts, cheese, or dinner, is absorbed much more gradually.

The same thing happens when you combine fatty and fiber-rich foods with breakfast foods that are on the high end of the glycemic index, like breads and other carbs that break down quickly into sugar.

Easy, Healthy Breakfast Recipes / Combos

Let’s take a look at a few examples of healthy breakfasts that apply this principle:

#1— Organic Eggs Paired With an Organic Veggie Burger or Avocado and Fresh Fruit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: eggs are the perfect food. They provide healthy fat, solid protein, lots of important vitamins and minerals, and choline, a vitamin-like nutrient your body needs to produce cell membranes.  Yes, there is cholesterol in the yolks, but there’s no need to avoid it, as I wrote in The Great Cholesterol Myth CookbookEggs are also associated with a reduced risk of diabetes.

I like to pair my eggs with an organic veggie burger (no bun) for fiber. You can also add sliced avocado to your plate for a dose of – you got it – healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants, including vitamin E and glutathione. For additional fiber and phytonutrients, you can complete the meal with fresh organic fruits like apples, grapes, pears, oranges, or even tomatoes!

#4—Nut Butter and an Apple

If you’re short on time and don’t want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen, slice up an apple and dip it in the organic nut butter of your choice—almond, peanut, cashew, or walnut. The nut butter will provide the fat and protein, and one medium-sized apple will provide 12 percent of the daily RDA for fiber. Apples also are rich in the do-it-all nutrient vitamin C, which may explain why eating an apple a day is so well known for its ability to “keep the doctor away.”

#5—Healthy Muffins and Pancakes

Yes, there are some muffins that I consider healthy, particularly flax muffins spread with coconut oil. If you’re a die-hard grab-and-go person, this breakfast option is for you. I’m a big fan of the flax muffins made fresh at my organic grocery store. They’re packed with fiber and taste great when cut in half and lightly toasted, with coconut oil spread on them.  They’re also small-sized portions, not the huge ones you find in supermarkets; If I’m still hungry, I’ll have one of the healthy breakfast smoothies above instead of another flax muffin.

You may have to do some searching to find a similar product in your neighborhood, but breakfast really doesn’t get any easier than this. Just don’t forget to add the coconut oil or butter for extra fat content and don’t use margarine to offset insulin response. Despite all the hype, it’s not a healthy substitute.

Pancakes can be a healthy breakfast food when they’re not made with white refined flour and not covered in syrup.  I like pancakes made with buckwheat flour or from ground oats and flax, with added organic blueberries or strawberries.

This spin on the traditional pancake breakfast will elicit less of an insulin response than pancakes made with white flour. It also is a nice option if you’re looking for a family style sit-down breakfast. Just follow this recipe:

  • 3/4 cup of rolled oats and 1/4 cup flaxseed, ground into flour, or buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 to 1 cup milk (depending on how thick you like your pancakes and how much egg you use)
  • 1-2 eggs (2 is better if you add fruit, to hold pancakes together)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Organic fruit of your choice: berries, mashed bananas, etc. 

Mix wet ingredients together in one bowl and dry in another, then add dry to wet ingredients. Fruit goes in last. Cook in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

You’re probably thinking, “well, what about syrup?” I have no objection to modest amounts of maple syrup – which contains health-promoting compounds, as long as it’s the real deal, not the fake stuff made from corn syrup. Warm applesauce makes a good topper too. Again, butter or coconut oil adds healthy fat that helps slow insulin response.

Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Kids

As many, if not most, parents can attest, getting kids to eat healthy breakfast foods can be a challenge.

Kids tend to like simple carbohydrates—bread, especially. If you can blend that natural preference with some protein and healthy fat, you’ll be well on your way to making sure they start the day on a healthy foot.

Here are a few options to try with little ones:

  • Toasted whole-grain bread (go with the least refined you can find, preferably with seeds) paired with an organic egg or nut butter. Prepare the egg however your child will eat it—scrambled, hard boiled, poached, or fried (in coconut oil or butter). If nut allergies are an issue, try sunflower seed butter or avocado;
  • Healthier pancakes (see above) or French toast (which is coated in egg) topped with butter only. Again, maple syrup is okay if real and used sparingly and with butter or coconut oil;
  • A small bowl of nut butter (some kids will eat it with a spoon) and a banana;
  • Chocolate smoothie made with – get this – baby spinach, kidney beans, canned pumpkin, soymilk or almond milk, banana, nut butter, unsweetened cocoa powder, and maple syrup to taste. For best results, I’d suggest not making this healthy breakfast smoothie in front of the kids.

Foods You Should NOT Eat for Breakfast

Of course there are some things you should never eat for breakfast. Processed foods are out, as are jams, jellies, and anything with added sugar. Donuts and pastries—though they may taste good—are definite no-nos.

Keep in mind, too, that when shopping for high-fiber cereals and grains, buy organic. It’s the only way to avoid the GMOs present in corn and possibly wheat. I also urge you to use the Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 food lists when shopping for berries and produce, for guidance on avoiding pesticide residues.

References:

© 2016, 2017 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  1. Bonnie Yoho

    on September 28, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Reply

    My usual breakfast that keeps me going all day. IF summer and in season, fresh tomatoes from the garden cut up and cooked in a pan with some coconut oil. I then add fresh greens. I love swiss chard and kale. I also grow them in the garden. I put about a half teaspoon each of tumeric, ground cumin and corriander. If I have some squash, I might cut up a baby patty pan or cozelle in there too. I cook this then when it is all nice and bubbly, I put in two or three fresh home raise pastured eggs. I poach the eggs but leave the yolks runny. Sometimes I add an extra raw egg yolk in the bowl then dump all of the greens tomatoes etc on top. While I am cooking this, I drink some home made goat milk kefir. I milk goats each morning so we have raw goats milk and I make kefir and cheese and sometimes yogurt. I also do some chores in the kitchen while cooking this. Then when it is done and in the bowl, I add salt and pepper to taste and toss on some cheddar cheese. Left over veggies from supper the night before might also be tossed in.

    I love avocado, but usually eat it in a salad at supper or with some home made Mexican food.

    I will have to try to do the muffin thing for my husband he is more of a traditionalist for breakfast.
    Another thing I love to have is home made whole grain pancakes with some kefir cream cheese stuff. You make two day old kefir then strain the whey part out hanging it in a muslin bag. This leaves soft kefir cream cheese like spread. I put a layer of the kefir cream cheese on the pancake then put on some home made very low sugar peach or wild black berry jam. It is so good. I don’t do the pancake thing very often, but it is good. The kefir cream cheese is good on toast with home made jam too. I dont do that often either but really it is better than most desserts you get in restaurant.

    Thank you Dr. Sinatra for you great ideas and recipes.

    1. HeartMD Editor

      on September 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

      Reply

      Your breakfast and supper sound absolutely delicious and so very healthy – truly exemplary!! And thanks for sharing with our readers – the kefir cream cheese is a fantastic idea, especially for those who enjoy “traditional” American breakfasts with bread or pancakes; for those who are more experimental, the veggies, eggs and cheese would be at the top of our healthy breakfast foods list (there’s nothing like eggs you raise yourself)!

  2. Janice K Archbold

    on September 28, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    Reply

    Thanks you! Very nice options and reminders.

  3. anna

    on September 29, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Reply

    i disagree with this a little, and i wanted to share how i am currently keeping the symptoms of my heart troubles completely at bay and living a normal life. fat makes balancing your blood sugar worse. search on youtube “blood flow after eating a fatty meal” by John Mcdougall, and if you are having unavoidable heart problems, please watch more from John Mcdougall!!!!!!! anyhow, i have heard from other places as well that when you have too much fat in your bloodstream, you arent able to balance your sugars. and this is true in my personal experience. i have fat in very small quantities (under 5g) and never right before bed. it is probably only effective for me because it is thinning my blood. but so what! i dont have time to see a doctor or money for expensive organic herbs to thin my blood. why not just listen to my body after a meal, when a fatty meal causes my heart troubles to stir up and scare me. i dont have to fear eating or fear my heart problems anymore. i am chowing down some beans and rice as we speak. and ohk ill admit it i added a little bit of cheese, under 4g, but when my heart condition was more serious i wasnt even able to tolerate this amount. as i heal, i can tolerate more. but i wanted to share what is working for me. also i think COOKED OILS clog the pipes of your heart. along with AIR QUALITY!!! and dental purity as well.

    in conclusion, i personally have benefited from adressing

    1. EXCESS OF DIETARY FATS especailly cooked fats. noooo chips people, not even organic.

    2. AIR QUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3. a clean mouth, a clean body in general and clean environment including learning about EMF!!!!, see dr. lonnie herman on youtube for now all toxins (viral bacterial manmade) contribute to the clogging of the arteries.

  4. anna

    on September 29, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Reply

    and i just wanted to say again, because it isnt well known or spoken of often, AIR QUALITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY. if you are having heart problems, consider mold mildew toxins or just plain ole stagnant indoor air a problem. open your windows, get an air purifier, and move to the country or go camping. sleeping in a tent is better than dying of heart problems. see what works for you.

  5. Lisa M.

    on March 9, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Reply

    My daily breakfast: I make a batch of quinoa muffins on the weekend and then pop one each morning in my toaster oven. Super healthy and absolutely delicious! Also gluten-free. I use all organic ingredients. Rinse 3/4 cup of quinoa well under running water in a strainer, then simmer in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water for about 20 to 25 minutes until all the water has been absorbed. Let it cool while you dice one bunch of green onions, a 5 oz. bag of baby spinach, a medium-sized zucchini, a small red bell pepper and about 1/2 cup of hormone/antibiotic-free ham and put all in a large bowl. Add a bit of grated cheese of your choice (I use imported Gouda), the cooled quinoa, and about 4 large beaten pastured eggs, then add whatever spices you like (I use sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and some basil and thyme). Mix well and bake at 350 degrees in jumbo or regular sized muffin tins (I first spray mine with avocado oil) until golden brown on top, about 35 to 45 minutes, then cool and refrigerate or freeze for later.

    You can make endless variations on this recipe — use mushrooms, a different meat, different spices and/or veggies.

    These are just fabulous and are easy and fast to eat before work each morning. I’ve been eating one daily for a long time and never get tired of them!

  6. Adrienne Jarnagin

    on March 9, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Reply

    Dear Dr. Sinatra, Thank you for this, the good info on eating the best of the best and more ideas for a healthy and more importantly’ the happy life that will brings the light of day which is just trying to do the best for yourself.
    Please continue this format for your program on being and doing the best at any age. Young college students should try everything you have layed out for better health.
    I take your vitamins and have been a customer for a long time .
    Best regards, Adrienne

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