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The old saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is often debated by health experts, but research overwhelmingly supports eating a well-balanced breakfast. What you eat at breakfast can affect your entire day. "Breakfast eaters get two main benefits: increased energy and reduced cravings," says Lainey Younkin, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., weight loss dietitian at Lainey Younkin Nutrition. In fact, one study showed that eating a healthy breakfast—specifically one that includes protein—reduces hunger throughout the day and may even stop brain signals that drive you to eat more. Research also links breakfast consumption to better nutrient intake and better overall health.
But not all breakfasts are created equal—the quality of your breakfast matters. "A healthy breakfast should include high-fiber carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat," notes Younkin. "Carbohydrates are your body's main energy source, but choosing ones high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, or whole-wheat toast, slow down the spike of blood sugar and release of insulin, which keeps you full and energized for 3-4 hours. Protein and fat are also digested slowly and suppress hunger hormones, helping you stay full."
Here are 10 of the best healthy breakfasts to eat according to dietitians.
1. Baked Sweet Potato with Peanut Butter and Sliced Apples or Raisins
"Sweet potatoes are a great way to add healthy carbohydrates to your morning meal," says Chrissy Carroll, R.D. of Snacking in Sneakers. "This is especially important for active people and can be a great way to fuel morning workouts," she adds. Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium, vitamin A, fiber, and many other important nutrients. When paired with the healthy fats and protein from nut butter and the extra fiber in the apples, you have a well-balanced breakfast. Want a bigger boost of protein? Add a spoonful of Greek yogurt on top. (Try these sweet potato toast recipes for more inspiration.)
2. Overnight Oats with Chia Seeds and Berries
"Oats are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals that promote good digestion, steady energy, and healthy cholesterol," says Lexi Endicott, R.D., L.D. of To Taste. Chia seeds add healthy fat, protein, and even more fiber and the berries (or any fruit, really) contributes to your total fruit intake. Overnight oats are great for busy mornings because you can make them the night before and just grab and go when you wake up.
3. Lentil Breakfast Bowl
Though they may not seem like a typical breakfast food, lentils can make a great base for a savory breakfast. They're a favorite breakfast food for Shahzadi Devje, R.D., C.D.E., M.Sc., of Desi~licious RD. "Lentils provide high quality plant-based protein and essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also incredibly versatile, easy to cook and a healthy and satisfying choice to power you through until lunch," says Devje.
4. Quinoa Breakfast Bowl
"Quinoa isn't just for lunch or dinner," says Lisa Andrews, M.ED., R.D., L.D. of Sound Bites Nutrition. It can be a great substitute for oats when you want to mix it up. "Quinoa is a good source of fiber, iron and protein and helps keep you feeling fuller, longer. It's a versatile grain that can be seasoned with ginger, vanilla, cinnamon or other spices," adds Andrews. Andrews recommends pairing it with citrus or berries, which contain vitamin C and enhances iron absorption. For added protein and healthy fat, top it with a dollop of your favorite nut butter or some chopped nuts or seeds. Or make it a savory bowl with some sautéed greens and an egg.
5. Savory Oatmeal Bowl
"Oats are a great choice for a healthy breakfast. They contain soluble fiber, which can help regulate your blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and keep you full longer than other cereals," says Christie Gagnon, R.D., L.D. of Hoorah to Health. Going the savory route lends itself to more vegetables at breakfast, which can help you reach the recommended two to three cups of vegetables per day. Gagnon likes to add sweet potatoes, spinach, and roasted pepitas for a balanced option.
6. Kefir Smoothie
In a rush? A smoothie is the perfect on-the-go option that can pack in a ton of nutrition. Christa Brown, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Christa Brown Dietitian recommends adding kefir, which provides protein, calcium, and probiotics. Blend it with your favorite fruit and some nut butter or flax seed for healthy fats for a quick balanced breakfast. Want an even bigger nutrient boost? Add a handful of spinach or a half-cup of riced cauliflower for extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
7. Avocado Toast
There's a reason this dish has become a favorite in recent years—it's fast, filling, and most importantly, delicious. Choose whole grain toast for the extra fiber and then pair it with a protein source for increased satisfaction. Younkin recommends two eggs, cooked however you like them. Smoked salmon is another great option. For a plant-based version, try hemp seeds and a squeeze of lime or black beans and salsa.
8. Tofu Scramble
Whether you follow a vegan diet or just like to make some of your meals plant-based, a tofu scramble is a great way to get more plant-based protein in your diet, which is tied to many different health benefits. Add your favorite vegetables, herbs, and spices and pair with whole grain toast topped with nut butter or avocado for a well-balanced filling breakfast. Or, wrap it up in a tortilla with black beans, veggies, salsa, and avocado for a super filling plant-forward breakfast burrito.
9. Greek Yogurt Parfait
Another fast breakfast for busy mornings is to make a Greek yogurt parfait. Greek yogurt contains more protein than regular yogurt, making it more filling. Choose plain over flavored yogurts and add your own fruit to limit added sugar. Finish it with some chopped nuts for some healthy fat and a sprinkle of your favorite granola for added flavor. You can change it up throughout the year by choosing whatever fruit is in season.
10. Whole-Grain Waffles or Pancakes with Fruit and Nuts
Weekends can be a great time to whip up a batch of waffles or pancakes that can be eaten throughout the week. Whole-grain options, whether made from whole wheat flour or oats, are the best choice to keep blood sugar stable and keep you satisfied longer. Instead of reaching for traditional sugary toppings like syrup and whipped cream, go for something more nutritious like Greek yogurt, chopped nuts and fresh berries.
These are just a handful of the many ways you can build a healthy breakfast. The key is to think outside the traditional cereal, bagels, or pastries, and choose options that are well-balanced and can add nutrients to your day.