When trying to lose weight or correct many of the adverse consequences of years of heavy carbohydrate eating, breakfast seems to be the toughest meal of the day for many people.
I think it’s because the quest for sweet has dominated the American breakfast for so long, with its half-century legacy of cartoon character breakfast cereals; baked flour products like pancakes, waffles, and English muffins; more recently, “healthy” alternatives like bran muffins and oat waffles. The cereal industry has surfed the wave of popular health misinformation and breakfast cereals now proudly sport all manner of health claims on their products, from “heart healthy” to “part of a weight management program.”
In my view, the truth is precisely the opposite: The modern American breakfast makes us fat, raises blood sugar, powerfully cultivates pre-diabetes and diabetes, accelerates heart disease.
Most breakfast cereals, by the way, contain sugar, sugar, and sugar . . . oh, and a little food coloring. If the principal ingredients in your breakfast cereal are corn starch, whole wheat flour, and sugar (as it is in a very popular “heart-health” oat cereal), then your cereal is made of ingredients that all convert to blood sugar faster and to higher levels than table sugar: your cereal contains, in effect, sugar, sugar, and sugar, along with a little of whatever healthy ingredient du jour is added (such as oats).
This breakfast lifestyle has contributed to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Breakfasts of wheat- or corn-based cereals, even those labeled “heart healthy,” fruit, and whole grain breads are well-walked paths to low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, small LDL, increased inflammatory responses, high blood pressure, and higher blood sugar. Such foods also make you tired, make abdominal fat grow (“wheat belly”) and increase appetite so that you want more. The appetite-increasing effects of modern foods are an often-overlooked landmine: You eat them, you want more. Including them in your diet makes losing weight a virtual impossibility without the willpower of a saint.
So what can you eat for breakfast that doesn’t provoke these patterns?
I can tell you what specific foods and strategies work for me and many of my patients. Be warned: It may require you to suspend your previous notions of what “should” be included in a list of breakfast foods.
Here are some examples of healthier breakfast choices:
Raw nuts. One or several handfuls of raw almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios. I urge my patients to include raw nuts every day, though not necessarily just part of breakfast. When nuts are raw, they do not make you fat. (It’s only when they are dressed as beer nuts, party mixes, mixed nuts roasted in hydrogenated fats with high fructose and sugar-soaked cranberries, etc., that nuts become an unhealthy, fattening food.)
Cheeses. The real, traditional sorts like gouda, goat, Swiss, edam, bleu, feta, etc. They are satisfying and contain vitamin K2. Because cheeses do raise (large) LDL, I usually ask patients to consume no more than 1-2 oz per day. This also provides vitamin K2 (the MK-4 form) that in two Dutch studies including the 4800-participant Rotterdam Heart Study led to 57% less heart attack and less calcification of the aorta.
Eggs, Egg Beaters ®. “Spice” eggs up with sun-dried tomatoes, salsa, olives, tapenades, olive oil, onions, green peppers, etc. I always urge patients to add olive oil. If you find eggs constipating, add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed or oat bran and hydrate. The yolks do raise (large) LDL modestly, so I usually ask my patients to not exceed a yolk a day by giving the extra leftover yolk(s) to the dog or use egg white-only products like Egg Beaters ®.
Yogurt (real, of course), cottage cheese. Add some oat bran or ground flaxseed (the non-wheat grain fibers), walnuts, pecans, blueberries, finely-chopped apples, etc. (However, I ask my very carbohydrate-sensitive patients to minimize or avoid these non-cheese dairy products, since they provoke insulin responses.)
Ground flaxseed, oat bran. If you love the habit of a hot cereal for breakfast, these two non-wheat grain fibers make a wonderful choice. Microwave in milk, water, or soy milk, add walnuts, pecans, berries. These two non-wheat fibers are especially helpful for reducing both total LDL and small LDL.
Oatmeal. Slow-cooked only, not instant. Add oat bran or ground flaxseed to heighten the LDL and small LDL-reducing benefit.
Soups. Especially great for winter. Of course, avoid those thickened with cornstarch or flour.
Dinner foods. This may sound peculiar, but for a healthy breakfast, have dinner. I don’t mean a big spread, but simply transfer foods traditionally associated with dinner to your breakfast. Save leftover chicken, beef, fish, green beans, asparagus, tomatoes, etc., from last evening’s dinner and have in the morning along with some nuts and cheese. You’ll be surprised how filling dinner foods eaten as breakfast can be. I’ve had a salad for breakfast many mornings; you might use a slightly different flavored salad dressing, or add more nuts and cheese for variety (not croutons).
It’s really not that tough. It just means selecting from an entirely different list of foods than you might be accustomed to. Curiously, non-wheat and non-cornstarch breakfasts leave you more satisfied for the entire day, making food choices for lunch and dinner even easier, since you won’t give into impulse and craving.