What’s Wrong with this Breakfast?
Two common mistakes people make with the first meal of the day
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Callie wrote to ask for suggestions for a healthy breakfast that would keep her going for at least 5 hours. Apparently, she finds herself getting hungry long before lunch time rolls around. Callie currently eats a bowl of high fiber cereal with skim milk—precisely the type of breakfast that you’ll see recommended in health magazines and diet books. But I’m not at all surprised that Callie is running on empty midway through her morning.
Most of the so-called “healthy” breakfasts I see touted in popular books and magazines fall short on two major counts.
Mistake #1: Not Eating Enough Food
One common breakfast mistake is simply not eating enough. When you wake up in the morning, it’s been 8 to 10 hours since you’ve eaten, so you’re basically running on empty. Is it realistic to expect a 200-calorie breakfast to last 5 hours? Probably not.
The average person needs somewhere between 1,800 and 2,400 calories a day and most people are awake for 16 to 18 hours a day. So, here’s a rule of thumb: a meal should provide at least 100 calories for every hour it will be until your next meal (or bedtime). If it’s going to be 5 hours until lunch time, you should be eating closer to 500 calories at breakfast.
Now, some of you will find that number shockingly large—but that’s because you’ve been brain-washed by magazines and food ads that promote low-calorie breakfasts as a good weight management strategy. If you’re only going to eat 200 calories for breakfast, you’d better plan for a mid-morning snack—because you’re going to need it. And if you’re someone who doesn’t wake up with a big appetite, dividing that 500-calorie morning meal into a small breakfast and a mid-morning snack is certainly an acceptable alternative.
See also: Tips for Healthy Snacking
But if, like Callie, you’d prefer not to—or don’t have the opportunity to—snack between breakfast and lunch, eating a bigger breakfast will make that possible. And just as an aside, although it’s a myth that food eaten after 8 or 9 pm in the evening is more quickly converted to fat, cutting down on evening snacking can go a long way toward invigorating your morning appetite.
For more diet and nutrition myths, check out my two e-books: How to Win at Losing: 10 Diet Myths that Keep You From Succeeding and Nutrition Zombies: 10 Diet Myths that Refuse to Die
Mistake #2: Not Eating Enough Protein
The other common mistake people make at breakfast time is to skimp on protein. Typical breakfast foods like cereal, toast, bagels, muffins, fruit and fruit juice are primarily carbohydrates, which are relatively quickly digested and absorbed. Even if you’re following my advice and choosing low-sugar, high-fiber cereals and eating whole fruit instead of drinking juice, you may still find yourself running out of steam mid-morning.
To dramatically increase the staying power of your breakfast, try adding some protein to those healthy carbs. Cottage cheese, Greek-style yogurt, eggs, smoked salmon, or peanut butter are all good options. And there’s no need to limit yourself to conventional American “breakfast” foods, either. The Japanese typically start the day with a bowl of miso soup; in India, spiced lentils and rice are common; in Israel, you might be served a breakfast salad of feta, watermelon, and cucumber. So, free yourself from your preconceived notions about what breakfast should be: Have some vegetable soup or a salad. Heat up leftovers from last night’s dinner. Or, check out my episode on how to make the perfect smoothie.
Not only will it keep you from getting hungry as quickly, but a higher-protein breakfast can also help you concentrate and perform better on mental tasks throughout the morning.
More Breakfast Suggestions
In my book, Secrets for a Healthy Diet, I devote an entire chapter to breakfast. I discuss when, what, and how much to eat and include suggestions for healthy, high protein breakfasts that supply anywhere from 400 to 700 calories. Look for the book wherever you buy or download books.
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