The perfect breakfast

Many of us eat cereal with milk or buttered toast with jam alongside a glass of orange juice for breakfast. But that breakfast is far from ideal in terms of nutrition. Indeed, a breakfast packed with carbohydrates encourages insulin secretion, which should be avoided — especially in the morning. Here are our recommendations for a delicious, healthy breakfast based on the advice of nutritionist Anthony Berthou.

1 – A protein source (ideally eggs)

We tend to gravitate toward sweet breakfasts, but savory choices are more advisable. Eating animal protein in the morning promotes the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the mind and jump-starts your motivation to tackle the day.

In addition to making you more motivated and alert, consuming protein at breakfast can also help you feel full longer and reduce snacking later in the morning (see our article on proteins).

Finally, because our breakfasts often include lots of carbohydrates, eating protein helps reduce the speed at which the carbohydrates are absorbed. Protein increases the time it takes to digest carbs and lowers their glycemic index. That means that it reduces insulin spikes and prevents the infamous pre-lunch slump.

Eggs are the perfect solution because they contain extremely high quality protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals. But there are other protein sources you can try for variety:

  • Animal protein: a slice of good ham, one ounce of cheese (preferably goat or sheep milk), a yogurt (goat or sheep milk) or sardines
  • Plant-based protein: soy-based vegan yogurt, chia seeds, nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)

Are eggs really bad for cholesterol?

Contrary to what we often hear, the impact of eggs on cholesterol is quite limited: the majority of our cholesterol does not come from dietary cholesterol, but rather blood cholesterol, which the body produces from the foods we eat.

Therefore, eating one or two eggs a day does not cause a significant rise in blood cholesterol and does not increase cardiovascular risk. Still, there is an important distinction in the case of diabetics, who should only eat three to four eggs per week.

2 – Healthy fat: almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts.

Including fat with your breakfast is crucial, but you have to choose the right one! High-quality fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-9, are indispensable to keeping the body running smoothly: they help prevent cardio-vascular disease and diabetes and play a role in brain, muscle and bone development (see our article on lipids).

These “good fats” are found in nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. Walnuts are the nut with the highest omega-3 content. In the morning, you can consume 1 to 1.5 ounces of mixed walnuts and almonds to get omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and magnesium. An alternative way to eat quality fat is to eat chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocado or fatty fish such as salmon or sardines.

For your toast, you can forego the jam (which is full of sugar) and replace it with nut butter made from almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts.

3 – Real fruit (not fruit juice)

Drinking fruit juice is not the same thing as eating fruit! Fruit juice does not contain any fiber. And fiber is what slows down the speed at which the sugar in fruit is digested. That explains why the glycemic index is higher for fruit juice than for fruit. For example, the glycemic index for an orange is about 35, whereas the glycemic index for orange juice is around 45.

Furthermore, eating whole fruit encourages chewing and promotes satiety, which does not happen with fruit juice. Lastly, fruit juice contains fewer vitamins than the fruit itself.

So, go for fruits rather than fruit juices — even homemade versions and guaranteed 100% pure juice!

Is it absolutely essential to eat breakfast even if you aren’t hungry?

If you are not hungry, don’t force it. Unlike what we are often told, it is absolutely possible to pass on breakfast. You can even omit your morning meal every day, provided that you eat a balanced diet for the rest of the day. That enables intermittent fasting. Because the body is always working on digestion, it is beneficial to give it some rest time. On the other hand, be careful not to compensate by snacking all morning. If you are hungry mid-morning, reach for a truly balanced snack comprised of fruit, a yogurt and a handful of nuts.

4 – Optional: quality carbohydrates

Contrary to common wisdom, it is possible to have a breakfast without grains as long as the meal contains enough high-quality fat and protein. However, if you cannot do without them, be sure to choose the right carbs.

After all, baguettes, sliced bread (white bread in general), puffed grain cereal and crispbread are a far cry from what we call “slow-release carbs”. These foods have a high glycemic index and encourage insulin secretion. That means you should turn to grain products with a low glycemic index, such as whole-wheat sourdough bread, mixed-grain organic bread or traditional muesli (an oat- or spelt-based blend).

5 – Green tea

Hydrating the body is crucial. Green tea is the best option at breakfast. It is packed with antioxidants, which are beneficial in the prevention of many illnesses, such as cancer and degenerative diseases. Ideally, you should steep it at 185°F for a few minutes to extract all the antioxidants.

Green tea also has caffeine that gives the brain a boost by improving attention span and memory.

Coffee is also a good bet for breakfast because of its antioxidants, but it should be consumed in moderation.

Sources

  • Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA. 1999;281:1387-1394.

  • Vorster HH, Benade AJ, Barnard HC et al. Egg intake does not change plasma lipoprotein and coagulation profiles. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992;55:400-410.

  • Katz DL, Evans MA, Nawaz H et al. Egg consumption and endothelial function: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Int J Cardiol. 2005;99:65-70.

  • Howell WH, McNamara DJ et al. Plasma lipid and lipoprotein responses to dietary fat and cholesterol: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;65:1747-1764.

  • Krauss RM, Eckel RH, Howard B et al. AHA Dietary Guidelines: revision 2000: A statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Stroke. 2000;31:2751-2766.
  • Swanson D, Block R, Mousa SA. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan;3(1):1-7. doi: 10.3945/an.111.000893. Epub 2012 Jan 5. Review.
  • Nichols PD, McManus A, Krail K, Sinclair AJ, Miller M. Recent advances in omega-3: Health Benefits, Sources, Products and Bioavailability. Nutrients. 2014;6(9):3727–3733. Published 2014 Sep 16.
  • Étude individuelle nationale des consommations alimentaires 3 (INCA 3) - Avis de l’Anses - Rapport d’expertise collective.
  • Delgado GE, Krämer BK, Lorkowski S, März W, von Schacky C, Kleber ME. Individual omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acids and mortality-The Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health Study. J Clin Lipidol. 2017 Jan - Feb;11(1):126-135.e5

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