“Especially in North America, breakfast foods seem to all be one color: golden brown,” says Ekaterina Solovieva, obstacle racer, blogger and health coach for Precision Nutrition, a company that offers online nutrition and lifestyle coaching. “Its a homogeneous mass of pancakey hashbrowney eggs.”
I have to say, given my meal at an adorable little diner with my family in N.J. this weekend, Solovieva nailed it. But we know the pancakey hashbrowney goodness isn’t the best choice for our health.
While it’s easiest for us to go for quick and sweet, we do what we can to navigate the nutrition waters and pick healthier options.
Here are some tips to help you steer clear of the many sugar icebergs in the deep waters of breakfast:
1. Stop trying to make sense of the numbers.
Pick an unsweetened yogurt with only a few ingredients. “This one has more sugar, this one has more more fat — it’s so easy to get confused,” Solovieva says. “If you enjoy learning about nutrients and percentages that’s great. But you shouldn’t need a degree in nutrition to have a good breakfast.”
2. Solovieva says avoid of long lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
“Just by looking at them, you can pick out what is the best one. The one that has 2-3 ingredients and that is all. Skim milk, cream and active bacterial cultures. Is there is a yogurt with 47 ingredients and one that has 5? Go for simpler.”
Yogurt with added fruit is much higher in sugar — but is there any way to pick yogurt with fruit in it?
“No,” Solovieva says immediately. “That’s the honest answer.”
3. Sweeten yourself — and go for honey
“It is possible to find greek yogurt that has honey as an added ingredient without anything else. But just because a yogurt says honey on the label, it doesn’t mean it uses honey to sweeten. A honey concoction is not honey.”
If you have a sweet tooth, the best option is always to sweeten yourself. “If you were to put two tablespoons of honey, it’s still a healthier choice than artificial sweetener.”
4. Cereal: Look beyond the marketing.
“When you look at people getting healthier and eating healthier it’s an evolution. This is where cereals fit,” Solovieva explains.
“What is your alternative? Cereal beats a donut — but it all depends on your alternative. We can go from eating Captain Crunch to eating Kashi cereals. It’s better, but it’s still not the healthiest breakfast option compared to something like oatmeal or eggs.”
Stay away from children’s cereals, period. “Children’s cereal have the most sugar, most artificial coloring, the most crap. It seems counter-intuitive since we are giving it to children,” Solovieva says. “Again look at the label. Simpler is better.”
Just because it has a healthy sticker slapped on the front or is made by a brand you consider healthful – always take a second look. “Sugar tends to hide in the healthier cereals. It’s not uncommon to see “healthy” cereals sweetened with apple juice or maple syrup. It sounds healthier to the ear, but your body doesn’t know the difference. Sugar is sugar.”
Here is a guideline: Look for more fiber and less sugar. “You can always add sugar and that is sugar you can control. When it comes out of a box added already, you consume more than you realize.”
5. Don’t ban bread (but it’s best if it’s not the kind that lives in your pantry)
“Real bread goes bad. Real food, in general, goes bad. You want it to go bad,” Solovieva says.
She’s talking about highly processed breads. “Twinkies and Wonder bread can probably survive the apocalypse. Real bread grows mold.”
Solovieva recommends Ezekiel bread, a sprouted grain bread that is kept in the freezer to remain fresh.
6. Watch that smoothie — or should we say, sugar bomb?
“That fruit smoothie you think of as a really healthy breakfast mostly ends up being a sugar bomb. Candy in a glass,” Solovieva says. “People add orange juice, banana and strawberry and wonder why they’re hungry. Make a smoothie as an actual meal – include healthy fats, proteins – a vegetable if you can help it.”
When it comes to picking your fruits, be sure to stick to no more than one or two servings a day.
“Bananas tend to be very sugary and low in fiber. Apples are much higher in fiber. Berries are a good choice,” Solovieva advises. “No matter what you choose, remember: Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean you should eat a ton of it.”
7. Mix it up
Want a salad for breakfast? Go for it.
“We can stop thinking that there is such a thing as breakfast food. Food is food is food. This kind of cultural stuckness keeps us from healthy options. Have a salad! Have a steak! Go with tuna salad. Simply think of other healthy meals. You just need to eat.”