You've been told a million times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that doesn't stop you from scarfing down a blueberry muffin, an extra-large bagel, or worse, nothing but coffee before flying out the door to work. Hey, at least it's something to tide you over until lunchtime, right? Not exactly.
Turns out, what you choose to eat for breakfast could either help or hinder your weight-loss efforts for the rest of the day, according to Richard Mattes, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition science at Purdue University.
According to his research presented at a conference hosted by the Institute of Food Technologists, a high-glycemic breakfast can make your blood sugar and appetite soar for hours, regardless of what you eat for lunch. In other words, if you eat a bad breakfast, in the form of a doughnut or cornflakes, no food later on can make up for that mistake. The damage is already done, and you'll be jonesing for junk food 'til dinnertime. Talk about high stakes at the breakfast table.
"Starting the day without a good breakfast is like trying to build a house without laying a foundation," says registered dietitian Keri Glassman, author of Slim Calm Sexy Diet: 365 Proven Food Strategies for Mind/Body Bliss. "You're going to over-consume or you're going to crash."
The reason: Chowing down on high-glycemic foods, like white bread, Rice Crispies or waffles, is a little bit like mainlining sugar. The glycemic index (GI) measures a food's impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, explains food scientist Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., who also spoke at the conference. The higher the food's glycemic number, the faster our blood sugar levels skyrocket after eating it. As we all know, what goes up must come down—and that precipitous dip can lead to hunger, irritability and cravings. Low-GI foods, on the other hand, keep your blood sugar level stable and Twinkie cravings to a minimum.
So how do you spot low-GI foods? In general, they are the ones that take longer to digest, because fiber, protein or fat slow them down, explains Shelke. Lean sources of protein or complex carbohydrates are among the best choices (think nuts, cottage cheese, oatmeal or lentils), while refined carbohydrates and sugary foods and beverages are among the worst.
If being hungry and irritable weren't enough reason to steer clear of the bakery aisle, high-glycemic foods can also muck up your body's fat-burning efforts, according Glassman. In an attempt to get all that sugar out of your bloodstream, your body shovels it into storage—as fat. Yikes.
To keep muffin tops, mood swings and mid-afternoon munchies away, Glassman recommends these three healthy, satisfying and low-glycemic breakfasts to get you through the day:
Hot cereal: A half-cup of cooked quinoa or oatmeal, made with milk or almond milk, and topped with blueberries and almonds.
Yogurt parfait: Swap out your granola, which can be high in sugar and low in fiber, for 1/3 cup of cooked brown rice. Mix in unsweetened yogurt and garnish with almonds and berries. Sweeten with cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Eggs: Make an omelet or scrambled eggs using one egg and two egg whites. Add in ¼ cup each of chopped spinach, tomatoes and onions. Top with avocado slices. If you're on the run, grab a hard-boiled egg instead, along with a plain yogurt or skim latte.