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8 healthy breakfast ideas

Follow these tips to get a healthier start to your day

Published: September 2014

1. Front-load your calories

Aim to consume 20 percent to 25 percent of your total daily calories at breakfast (up to 400 calories for women, up to 500 for men, and a bit more for vigorous exercisers). Research shows that it increases levels of the satiety hormone PYY, helping you to feel full, and may reduce the number of calories you consume at lunch, according to Heather Leidy, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. It may also help you avoid overeating later in the day, which may lead to weight gain.

2. Think protein

The latest research suggests that eating protein first thing in the morning is crucial. Having 24 to 35 grams may help prevent weight gain and promote weight loss by stabilizing your blood sugar, decreasing your appetite, and making you feel full. Morning protein also helps limit high-fat evening snacking. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate a protein-rich breakfast consumed 200 fewer calories at night.

3. Time it right

“In general, researchers agree that you should have a meal within 2 hours of getting up,” said Rania Mekary, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences University in Boston. “If you eat later, you may be fasting too long.”

4. Pump up your cereal

Ready-to-eat cereal on its own isn’t the healthiest of breakfasts. That’s because it’s primarily carbohydrates, with little fat or protein to help control blood sugar levels and keep you full. A cereal can be considered "good for you" if it has few ingredients, 5 grams or more of fiber, and no more than 3 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar, and 140 milligrams of sodium.

Milk adds protein, but not enough. Topping cereal with 1 cup (8 ounces) of Greek yogurt and a quarter-cup of almonds will supply 33 grams of protein. (Add fresh fruit for extra fiber and sweetness.) If only milk will do, supplement your cereal with an egg or a slice of whole-wheat toast with nut butter.

Read more about the benefits of a healthy breakfast.

5. Choose yogurt carefully

All yogurts contain lactose, a naturally occurring sugar, but vanilla and fruit-based yogurts often contain added sugars. We tested 14 Greek vanilla yogurts and found that they had 6 to 21 grams of sugars. Those on the low end included Dannon Light & Fit Nonfat (7 grams), Yoplait 100 Fat Free (7 grams), and Activia Light Fat Free (6 grams). One way to keep the sugar down is to choose a plain variety, then add a tiny amount of vanilla extract and honey, or top with fruit. In general, when shopping for yogurt, look for one that has 20 grams or less of sugar per serving and at least 15 percent of the daily value of calcium.  If fat intake is a concern, choose low- or nonfat products when possible.

6. Don’t be afraid of eggs

True, eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, but their effect on your blood cholesterol level is minimal. Most people can eat several eggs per week without worry. They’re an ideal breakfast food for people watching their weight. In a study in the International Journal of Obesity that was financed by the American Egg Board, people on a low-fat diet who ate eggs lost more weight than those who ate a bagel. And eggs have been found to reduce levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin and to increase levels of PYY3-36, a hormone associated with satiety.

7. Go easy on the fruit juice

A small glass each day—4 ounces or a half-cup—is fine, but don’t overpour. Choose whole fruit instead, which has less sugar and more fiber, and is more filling.

8. Consider mixing it up

There’s no rule that breakfast has to consist of food specifically designated for that meal. In fact, last night’s leftovers may be perfect. That’s because most people consume about 50 to 60 percent of their total daily protein at dinner, and shifting those calories to the morning may have health benefits. In studies, eating protein at breakfast vs. lunch or dinner led to a greater feeling of fullness. Other research indicates that morning protein might encourage weight loss and increase muscle mass. Some good options: grilled chicken with vegetables, steak kebabs, or an egg-based casserole.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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