How to Take Charge of Your Body and Brain with a Healthy Breakfast

Pile of refined sugar

With thousands of choices at your disposal, how do you know what’s best?

What is a good breakfast?

In the USA — and just about any developed country — this is a tough question. There’s not exactly anything you could call “a classic American breakfast”… because everyone does something different. 

You might say that this is the problem with having access to supermarkets in every neighborhood. With thousands of choices at your disposal, how do you know what’s best? 

Is it time to re-think your breakfast? 

Does breakfast matter?

A doctor holding a syringe

Food and lifestyle affect your health and life expectancy more than anything else in your control. Breakfast is no exception; it signals the start of your day sets the tone for your daily diet.

And diet and lifestyle aren’t just critical for developing countries, as high-income countries are struggling with disease just as much as ever. Check out some of the numbers for the USA:

Diabetes: Ranks 1st among developing countries for diabetes per capita, with about 11 out of 100 people dealing with the disease [1][2].

Deaths from heart disease: Progress is slow; The USA is the slowest-improving country when compared to other high-income countries [3]. For women in the US and Canada, mortality from cardiovascular disease has increased… while other countries have decreased mortality. 

Obesity rates: Ranks 1st among all developed or high-income countries [4]

Cancer mortality: Ranks 5th among all countries [5]

Life expectancy: Ranks last among countries with similar income. In fact, for the first time since the 1920s, life expectancy has dropped in the last few years [6][7]

If you’re looking to improve your diet fast, start with breakfast. You can ask yourself the following questions to start making a dramatic difference in your health:

Is morning coffee good for you?

A tired woman sleeping on her desk

Coffee has a host of health benefits — but it’s not clear that coffee is all good or all bad for you.

For example, some people think they need coffee because of the antioxidants, but depending on only one source of antioxidants has its problems.

So here’s a better question: is the good worth the bad?

Everyone knows that caffeine is addictive since you’ll likely experience withdrawals when you try to quit too quickly. But that’s not necessarily a problem by itself. 

What are the negative effects of coffee?

Caffeine can cause serious problems with sleep deprivation, especially if you’re drinking too much, too frequently, or too late into the day. 

It can take as long as 10 hours for caffeine to leave some people’s systems, so you might feel some lingering effects from the caffeine if you’re trying to sleep early [8]

Because coffee delays the onset of deep sleep, falling asleep early doesn’t mean that your body is recovering or that it will be ready for the next day [9]

If you have trouble staying awake and alert during the day, this may be a sign that the caffeine is affecting your deep sleep… even though you’re falling asleep on time. 

Is coffee bad for you?

aged woman

A lack of deep sleep has links to cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, chances of injury and accidents, depression, and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia [10][11][12]

So, is coffee really good for you? Dependence on caffeine has serious effects on your sleep quality, so the pros might not outweigh the cons. 

Is sugar bad for you in the morning?

A little-known fact is that everyone’s body acts a little “diabetic” in the mornings.

This is partly due to cortisol, the stress hormone that builds up slowly overnight to help you wake up naturally in the morning when it peaks [13]. But why would that be a problem?

Cortisol tells your body it’s time to use the energy already stored in the body, so it pumps sugar from your liver into your bloodstream to get you moving in the morning. 

Can you imagine what happens if you then eat a sugary breakfast?

overflowing cup of water

It’s a lot like pouring water into a cup that’s already full — there’s nowhere for all the blood sugar to go, and this can cause serious health problems over time. It’s similar to the effect of type 2 diabetes, except that this window only lasts a few hours in the morning [14]

When high blood sugar is a part of a regular diet, it’s linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease [15]

If you’ve got foods high in sugar or simple carbohydrates in your morning routine, it may be time to think about other options. 

Is cereal good for you?

Because cereal’s main ingredients are usually simple carbohydrates and added sugars, they tend to blast your blood with high amounts of sugar. This can be especially hard on your body in the morning (see “Is sugar bad for you in the morning?”).

When you eat a bowl of cereal all by itself, the lack of fiber worsens the impact of high blood sugar [16]

bowl of breakfast cereal

Here are some of the most common ingredients in cereal that bathe your system with sugar in the mornings:

  • Processed carbohydrates
    • Wheat flour (whole grain, refined, or enriched)
    • Rice flour
    • Corn flour
    • Corn starch
  • Added sugars [17]
    • High fructose corn syrup
    • Cane sugar
    • Sucrose
    • Glucose

Are fatty foods good for breakfast?

Foods that are high in fat will often leave you hungry sooner in the day, especially if you don’t have fiber in your breakfast meal. This could include food like bacon, eggs, and croissants [18].

If you’re looking to control your weight, eating fatty breakfasts can lead to unwanted increases in appetite and caloric intake throughout the rest of the day… not just during breakfast.   

Is it bad to skip breakfast?

Mother and daughter stretching

Skipping breakfast is about as controversial as it gets, and there’s no clear answer whether it’s good for you or not. Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting has benefits, and others suggest that breakfast is not to be skipped at all [19][20]

That said, the important thing seems to be to not deprive yourself of precious nutrition in general — whether at breakfast or any other meal. 

In fact, it may be that the reported problems with skipping breakfast come from broader patterns of self-neglect; people that skip breakfast may be shorting themselves on good eating, enough sleep, and good self-care in general. 

So ultimately, yes… skipping breakfast is certainly bad for you if it’s the difference between good and poor self-care. 

What are the benefits of a good breakfast?

How does getting a good breakfast help you? There are countless long-term benefits [21] to getting a good diet in general, like:

  • Reduced risk of countless diseases
  • Longer life
  • Improved memory
  • Strong bones and teeth

But here are some immediate benefits to feeding yourself well at breakfast:

a man working with a client

Increasing your focus and energy:

Feeding yourself healthy breakfast foods is a great way to keep your blood sugar at the right levels during the first part of the day. 

Proper levels of blood sugar are crucial to feeding your muscles enough energy to stay active during the day… but your muscles are only part of the need for ample blood sugar. 

What many people don’t realize is that your brain uses about 60% of all glucose in your body daily, and so keeping yourself nourished is critical to keeping it running the way it should [22]

Improving your mood:

Remember how your brain is hungry for glucose? As it turns out, your mood is also affected dramatically when your blood sugar is low. 

People instinctively call this being “hangry,” but the effect is more serious than you might realize. 

…So, why is being “hangry” a problem?

woman stressed at her computer

In a famous study, it was found that judges — that is, professionals trained in the art of being reasonable, consistent, and rational — made dramatically different decisions when they were most hungry [23]

In the study, judges gave favorable rulings for cases about 65% of the time. This number drops to about 0% right before all meal times… and jumps right back up to about 65% right after mealtimes.

How can I get a healthier breakfast?

There’s no one simple answer to this, so here’s a question to guide you as you get started:

What nutrients should you focus on at breakfast? The answer is generally the same as for other meals of the day.

Focusing on getting these 4 nutrients will generally get you the variety and quality you need (remember that not all people can tolerate all these foods):

a woman holding leafy greens
  • Protein (animal or plant):
    • Eggs
    • Nuts
    • Dairy
    • Protein supplements (see below)
  • Fat (animal or plant)
    • Eggs
    • Nuts
    • Dairy
    • Fatty fish
    • Avocados 
  • Fiber
    • Vegetables
    • Fruits
    • Roots
    • Legumes
  • Complex carbohydrates
    • Tubers
    • Legumes 

Are smoothies healthy for breakfast?

If you’re looking for a quick and easy solution, one of the best ways to jumpstart your breakfast is with a healthy smoothie. 

Many people turn to smoothies because they’re one of the quickest ways to get a full meal’s worth of nutrition before you’re out the door in the morning. 

To get a wide range of nutrients in the shortest amount of time possible, try combining fruits, vegetables, and dairy-free milk with a high-grade protein supplement.

What kind of smoothie supplement should you use?

green smoothie being poured from a blender into a cup

Many supplements focus on protein alone, and many times they’re dairy-based… which doesn’t work well with everyone. 

To make sure your smoothie is as balanced as possible, you can check out our favorite plant-based antioxidant and protein supplement here

Since it gives your smoothie 10 grams of plant-based protein and 12 servings of fruits and vegetables, it makes it easy to keep pace with your daily nutritional needs. Not to mention, it makes your job of planning, shopping, and preparing healthy meals much easier.

 

References:

  1. “U.S. Leads Developed Nations in Diabetes Prevalence”
  2. “Statistics About Diabetes”
  3. “Is the long-term decline in cardiovascular-disease mortality in high-income countries over? Evidence from national vital statistics”
  4. “The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency”
  5. “Global cancer data by country”
  6. “How does U.S. life expectancy compare to other countries?”
  7. “Life expectancy (from birth) in the United States, from 1860 to 2020″
  8. “Pharmacology of Caffeine”
  9. “Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro”
  10. “Lack of Sleep and Cancer: Is There a Connection?”
  11. “Extent and Health Consequences of Chronic Sleep Loss and Sleep Disorders”
  12. “Mechanisms linking circadian clocks, sleep, and neurodegeneration”
  13. “Diurnal Cortisol Curves”
  14. “Cortisol Is Negatively Associated with Insulin Sensitivity in Overweight Latino Youth”
  15. “Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy”
  16. “Beneficial effects of a high carbohydrate, high fiber diet on hyperglycemic diabetic men”
  17. “Effects of high-fructose (90%) corn syrup on plasma glucose, insulin, and C-peptide in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and normal subjects”
  18. “The effects of high-carbohydrate vs high-fat breakfasts on feelings of fullness and alertness, and subsequent food intake”
  19. “Potential Benefits and Harms of Intermittent Energy Restriction and Intermittent Fasting Amongst Obese, Overweight and Normal Weight Subjects—A Narrative Review of Human and Animal Evidence”
  20. “Skipping breakfast: longitudinal associations with cardiometabolic risk factors in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study”
  21. “What are the benefits of eating healthy?”
  22. “Each Organ Has a Unique Metabolic Profile”
  23. “Extraneous factors in judicial decisions”

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