What is the ideal breakfast? Healthy and well-balanced options for all
Salty or sweet, the important thing is that to be an ideal breakfast it must be rich.
I cite in help to my affirmation the very wise and popular saying that catalogues in an excellent way the importance of meals: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper“.
So it should be rich, but rich of what?
Of course not of empty calories (the term “Empty Calories” is used for foods full of calories but “empty” for quality nutrients: for example cookies, croissants, tarts, brioches and so on). Therefore it is necessary to choose among alternatives rich in functional macro and micronutrients, avoiding those which do not provide any benefit. Every food containing refined flours and sugars, hydrogenated and/or saturated fats, should be considered part of this group and therefore categorically eliminated from the shopping list.
On the contrary, the foods to be preferred must be rich in dietary fiber, proteins, complex carbohydrates, good fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other substances with nutraceutical characteristics.
The ideal breakfast step by step
I know we don’t all have the same metabolism and the same habits, but apart from very few individuals with special needs, we could all benefit from a rich and well-balanced breakfast. Not going to work or school on an empty stomach, will allow us to have an optimal cognitive condition; with the ample availability of energy we will be more snappy and we won’t feel that stimulus that will make us overdo the next meal: lunch can be much more “dangerous” both for the line and for health. Yes, health. Our ancestors with their wisdom have anticipated a 16-year study, conducted by Harvard University: from this study it can be deduced that people who habitually skip breakfast have a 27% higher risk of cardiovascular disease(1).
But this is not the only problem that threatens the well-being of those who skip breakfast (we can replace it with “of those who adopt an incorrect breakfast”: several studies have pointed out the correlation between not eating breakfast and weight gain and consequently the risk of being overweight(2); or insulin sensitivity and dyslipidemia(3) and even the risk of diabetes mellitus(4); or simply the increased postprandial glycemic response(5). This last factor is important, especially for people trying to lose weight; in fact, the more blood sugar increases, the more insulin will rise, thus triggering the increase in hunger: the possibility of keeping temptations at bay becomes even more complicated!
In addition, depriving oneself of food, i.e. not eating for a prolonged period, triggers a reduction in the basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Those who know the world of diets know well that with a low basal metabolic rate, losing weight will be complicated: it’s a bit like swimming against the current.
A good and correct breakfast will allow us to increase the BMR index, thus obtaining a higher consumption of energy than that introduced(6).
At what time should we eat the ideal breakfast?
An answer that is valid for all individuals perhaps does not exist, but we should not underestimate the influence of circadian rhythms on the human body.
Light and darkness have important effects on this delicate balance, as well as the intake of food in the form of “breakfast”.
The hours between 6 and 9.30 am. mark the beginning of the day; breakfast eaten during these hours is perceived by the body as the start button of a machine; depriving it of this great potential slows down the vital system, not only causing drowsiness, attention deficiency and weight gain, but above all causing the serious metabolic diseases mentioned above(7).
The ideal breakfast: what should we eat?
The importance of breakfast comes from the fact that it is the first meal after a long nocturnal rest for the digestive system; as we open our eyes in the morning, the whole body requires only one thing: water.
Therefore, the ideal breakfast should start with at least 1-2 glasses, taken about half an hour before sitting at the table, in order to oxygenate and hydrate the cells, soften the intestines, facilitate the work of purification of the kidneys, reduce the acidity of the stomach, purify the body from the toxins of the day before. Drinking water as soon as you get out of bed will also awaken your appetite: so even those who complain about not being able to eat anything in the early morning, will no longer have an excuse.
As I said at the beginning, salty or sweet, the important thing is that your breakfast is rich. You have many options to choose from.
Sweet alternatives for the ideal breakfast
– bowl with yogurt (plant based or animal origined), jam with no added sugar (or honey, or grape molasses or maple syrup, or fresh fruit or other), slice of whole wheat bread, raw nuts.
– hot or cold oat, quinoa or millet porridge, prepared with 50 g of oat flakes (or quinoa and millet), 200-300 ml of water or milk (cow or plant-based) or a mixture of water and milk; raw nuts; grape molasses (or maple syrup or honey or other to taste); a pinch of salt, boiled as much as needed (5 to 20 minutes depends on the type of oats or other cereals used)
– a glass of milk (cow’s or plant-based) with cereal flakes with no added sugar or granola or muesli or other; honey, or grape molasses or maple syrup, or fresh fruit or other; raw nuts.
– a slice of whole wheat bread (preferably homemade with sourdough) with peanut or almond butter, or other sugar-free, sweetened with a jam with no added sugar (or honey, or grape molasses or maple syrup, or fresh fruit or other).
Salty alternatives for the ideal breakfast
– cheese (feta or ricotta or other), salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs or other), olives and a slice of whole wheat bread (this one is known also as Turkish breakfast)
– eggs (hard-boiled or soft-boiled, or scrambled or other, without exaggerating with fat and salt); salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, fresh herbs or other), olives and a slice of whole wheat bread
– tofu scramble or a chickpea crepe for vegans and not (discover here this easy and delicious recipe) to fill with whatever you desire
– vegan pancakes topped with avocado or tahini (you can find the recipe to prepare it at home here), salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs or other).
But now I’ll let you in on a little secret: if you’re on a diet and don’t know how to endure it without a dessert, you should know that the best time to “give in to temptation” is right at breakfast! Studies from a few years ago show(8) that those who eat a sweet treat at breakfast have a better chance of carrying on with the diet without falling off the wagon, thus ensuring a stable weight loss. So, without exaggerating with the portions, you can also enjoy these light and sustainable desserts:
– chia pudding with Greek yogurt (plant-based or not) and fruit (for recipe click here)
– carrot cupcake (see recipe by clicking here)
– chocolate black bean brownies (see recipe here)
– fit and vegan pancakes (see the perfect recipe by clicking here)
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What to drink during the ideal breakfast
Coffee lovers, don’t hate me! If you don’t want to risk lack of important minerals such as iron or calcium, you must learn to separate your morning coffee and its variants from your breakfast (and meals in general) by taking it either half an hour before or two hours after. Same thing for black tea; instead green tea can be drunk as long as you observe as much moderation as possible.
Or do as I do and prepare a homemade herbal tea with apple peels and cinnamon, or with lemon peel and a slice of ginger: it will quench your thirst without creating antagonistic effects with the nutrients present in your breakfast (9).
We should also reduce our intake of fruit juices, regardless of whether they are freshly made; whole fruits are preferable to squeezed and separated fruits: our bodies also need dietary fibre as well as vitamins; and juices are a harmful concentration of fructose. For this reason, vegetable juices may be a better choice.
As you can see, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to an ideal breakfast!
Enjoy your most important meal of the day and good revolution to all
1) Prospective Study of Breakfast Eating and Incident Coronary Heart Disease in a Cohort of Male US Health Professionals Leah E. Cahill, Stephanie E. Chiuve, Rania A. Mekary, Majken K. Jensen, Alan J. Flint, Frank B. Hu, and Eric B. Rimm
Originally published 23 Jul 2013
2) Song WO, Chun OK, Obayashi S, Cho S, Chung CE. Is consumption of breakfast associated with body mass index in US adults? J Am Diet Assoc. 2005; 105:1373–1382.
3) Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women.Am J Clin Nutr. 2005; 81:388–396.
4) Mekary RA, Giovannucci E, Willett WC, van Dam RM, Hu FB. Eating patterns and type 2 diabetes risk in men: breakfast omission, eating frequency, and snacking.Am J Clin Nutr. 2012; 95:1182–1189.
5) Jakubowicz D, Wainstein J, Landau Z, Raz I, Ahren B, Chapnik N, et al. Influences of breakfast on clock gene expression and postprandial glycemia in healthy individuals and individuals with diabetes: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes Care. 2017;40(11):1573.
6) Dulloo AG, Jacquet J. Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: a role for feedback signals from fat stores. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(3):599–606.
7) Heo, J., Choi, WJ., Ham, S. et al. Association between breakfast skipping and metabolic outcomes by sex, age, and work status stratification. Nutr Metab (Lond) 18, 8 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12986-020-00526-z
8) Endocrine Society. “‘Dessert with breakfast diet’ helps avoid weight regain by reducing cravings.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625125050.htm>