While weekend breakfasts are often lavish, boozy affairs—Bloody Marys! Mimosas!—weekdays demand more utilitarian fare. You want a breakfast that’s quick, transportable and satisfying enough to keep your belly full and your mind sharp until lunchtime.
One option is a combination of whole grains, nuts and fruit, plus a bit of yogurt, suggests Dr. Walter Willett, chair of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.
Berries in particular are an ideal fruit for breakfast (or anytime), Willett says. Packed with fiber and healthy polyphenols, there’s a lot of research to suggest blueberries, blackberries and their tart cousins are protective against cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer—even the non-gut types like breast cancer.
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Likewise, whole grains are consistently linked to better heart health and lower rates of diabetes and obesity, Willett says. But it’s not as simple as reaching for whole-grain bread at your supermarket.
“Many of the cereal grains and breads we eat are heavily processed, which is not what you want,” explains Dr. David Ludwig, a colleague of Willett’s at Harvard and author of Always Hungry?—a book that breaks down many of the harmful, hunger-fueling misconceptions we have about diet and weight loss.
If you’re a toast-in-the-morning kind of eater, look for breads that include “sprouted” or “stoneground” grains, and that list some type of whole grain as the first ingredient on its packaging, Ludwig says. “You want something where you can see bits of kernel in it, and that has a dense, chewy consistency,” he says. “Basically, the opposite of Wonder Bread.”
Along with your bread and berries, a healthy fat or protein will help you last until lunchtime without snacking. Greek yogurt provides a big hit of both. Just opt for the full-fat variety, Ludwig advises. “The evidence is substantial in support of full-fat over reduced-fat dairy to control excessive weight gain and lower your risk for diabetes,” he says.
Stripping out the fat from your yogurt or other dairy products may make them less caloric. But it also makes them far less filling, he explains. “So you end up eating much more than you would with full-fat, or you feel hungry again very quickly.” Also, because dairy products tend to taste thin and unappealing when stripped of their fat, manufacturers usually add unhealthy sugars to fat-free varieties to make them more palatable.
If you’re looking for options that combine non-dairy fat with protein, nuts are a great way to go, both Ludwig and Willett say. Most nuts and seeds are good for you, but walnuts in particular are health champs. Smoked salmon is also a healthy, filling choice for your mornings, Ludwig says.
Another traditional breakfast hero: “Eggs!” says Dr. Robert Lustig, director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at University of California, San Francisco.
“They’re delicious, and the amino acids in eggs bind to gut opioid receptors, which reduces hunger and increases satiety,” Lustig says. Eggs are also great sources of iron, folate and several more salubrious nutrients. And no, the yolks are nothing to fear. “The cholesterol in eggs was, and always will be, irrelevant,” Lustig adds, echoing the government health authorities that recently noted that cholesterol should not be a nutrient of special concern.
As for beverage options, wash down your breakfast with coffee or green tea. Coffee once got a bad rap—mostly because people who drank it tended to smoke, drink alcohol and engage in other unhealthy behaviors that skewed the data. Looked at on its own, however, coffee has been linked with lower rates of heart disease and improved gut health. Drinking it may even lower your risk for brain diseases like dementia. Many of those same benefits—and a few others—are also associated with tea consumption.
Just skip the sugar and other unhealthy additives, says Dr. Eliseo Guallar, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Guallar has studied the heart benefits of caffeinated coffee. He says “moderate” coffee consumption—three or four cups—seems to be healthful.