A longer version of this article originally ran on Fox News Health.
While you may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the reality is not all breakfasts are created equal. One of the best ways to set yourself up for a successful day is by getting a strong start in the morning— protein, fruits, and whole grains are important to keep you full and focused. Keeping calories in balance and minimizing added sugars are also essential for your short-term focus and long-term health.
If your breakfast is lacking in the nutrition department, consider making one of these simple swaps:
1. Sip regular coffee instead of an energy drink
Most of us need a little boost in the morning to get the day started, but not all caffeine drinks are created equally. It may be the case that coffee itself— not just caffeine— is a better choice when it comes to improving your cognitive function during the day. A study on rats showed that animals supplemented with coffee performed better than those supplemented with caffeine alone. The researches speculate that the difference may be due to the beneficial plant-based compounds (or phytochemicals) present in coffee beans. To get the most from your morning joe, stick to regular coffee rather than an energy drink or “coffee drink.” While a regular black coffee is low-calorie and contains no sugar, an energy drink has 110 calories and 29 grams of sugar per serving, and a medium Caramel Frappuccino has 420 calories and 66 grams of sugar.
2. Eat Greek yogurt with real fruit instead of the flavored kind
Yogurt can be a quick and easy breakfast, but many yogurts on the market today are packed with added sugars and artificial sweeteners. By starting with plain Greek yogurt (Greek yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt) and adding your favorite fresh fruit, you get a more nutritious option compared to a flavored yogurt. The other benefit of adding fresh fruit to your plain Greek yogurt is that you’ll reduce the amount of added sugars and boost its nutritional content. One study found that after increasing the energy density of meals by adding fruits and vegetables, people reduced their intake by and average 308 calories over the course of a day.
3. Spread your toast with smashed avocado instead of butter
Avocado toast is all the rage, and it’s benefits go far beyond taste. Including healthy fasts in your morning meal is key to not feeling hungry a few hours after you eat. One study suggested that people who ate a high fat breakfast reported a reduced appetite three to four hours after breakfast. The subjects also had their blood sugar tested: The low fat group showed relatively lower blood sugar three to four hours out, and the researchers believe this is why they also showed relatively high levels of hunger. Get the most nutritional value out of the fat at your breakfast by swapping butter for smashed avocado. Along with heart-healthy unsaturated fats, avocado is also a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals— all things lacking from a pat of butter.
4. Fill your bowl with fiber-packed oatmeal instead of cereal
If you want your breakfast to set you up for success at meals later in the day, consider swapping your ready-to-eat cereal for oatmeal. In one study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants who were fed oatmeal for breakfast wound up eating less at lunch than those who had eaten the same number of calories from ready-to-eat cereal. Not only is oatmeal a filling, high-fiber breakfast, research shows it can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and help strengthen our immune system. If you don’t have time to prepare oatmeal in the morning, make a batch in advance and simply reheat it, or try an overnight oats recipe (oats soaked overnight in a liquid) for a healthy grab-and-go breakfast.
5. Smash berries with cinnamon instead of using prepackaged jelly
Jelly is a quick way to add some sweetness to your morning meal, but swapping in some mashed berries with cinnamon might help to improve your performance at work. One study of over 300,000 students ages 12-18 found that eating breakfast and fruit were both associated with improved performance at school. Plus, antioxidant-rich cinnamon has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels, which can help you feel calmer and more focused. If you are aiming to get your “five a day” serving of fruits and vegetables, this swap can put you on the right track before you are even out of your pajamas.
For some quick and energizing breakfast recipes, try my Sunny Side Up Avocado Toast or Maple Berry Granola.