Successfully tackling your morning to-do list could start with the first thing you put in your mouth.
If you’re feeling like a zombie in the morning, an unbalanced breakfast consisting primarily of simple sugars could be to blame, said Nancy Z. Farrell Allen, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Carbohydrates – whether from fruits and vegetables or from sweets and cookies – breakdown to sugar in the body, otherwise known as glucose,” said McKel Kooienga, a registered dietitian, the founder of the blog Nutrition Stripped and the creator of the Mindful Nutrition Method, via email. “Think of glucose (or sugar) as energy in the body.”
After we eat carbs, the pancreas produces the insulin hormone to clear the sugar from the bloodstream, Kooienga explained. The type, timing and amount of carbs eaten determines how much sugar is introduced to the bloodstream at one time. Simpler or processed carbs – such as muffins or maple syrup – introduce sugar to the blood at a faster rate if not eaten with other macronutrients like protein and fat, she said, resulting in short-term energy that causes a person’s blood sugar to spike and crash.
Instead, think about savory, filling eggs, beans and browned Halloumi cheese for protein, complex carbs and healthy fats. Or raspberries, oats and coconut for the same benefits.
“A balanced breakfast sets the pace and the tone for the day. It provides food that feeds both our brain and our body so that we can be mentally intact and productive out of the starting gate,” Farrell Allen said.
Having low blood sugar levels from regularly not eating breakfast can cause people to constantly reach for sugary and processed foods, which might “lead you down a path with food that can impact your mental health as well,” Kooienga said. That can lead to higher risk of turning to restrictive or disordered eating behaviors to stop overindulging, she added, a habit that can lead to binge eating.
The concept of balance, Kooienga said, includes a combination of complex, fiber-rich sources of carbs; protein; and healthy fats that would release sugar to the blood at a slower rate, supporting longer-lasting energy.
“There are so many wonderful options at breakfast time that provide the opportunity to explore cultural, savory, healthy and mindful eating,” Farrell Allen said.
Here are two recipes to help you jump-start your day and take on everything you need to accomplish.
Overnight Chia Oat Bowl
Chock-full of fiber-rich complex carbs, healthy fats and muscle-building protein, Kooienga’s oat-based recipe is convenient since you can prep the breakfast the night before and grab it on your way out the door the next morning.
Makes 1 serving
- 1/2 cup dried oats (such as rolled oats)
- 3 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- Ground cinnamon, to taste
- Optional add-ons for different flavor combinations include 1/4 cup pumpkin puree, a dollop of nondairy coconut yogurt, berries of choice (blueberries, strawberries or raspberries), nut butter (almond, peanut or sunflower), and nuts or seeds
- In a bowl, stir together the oats, chia seeds, almond milk, maple syrup and cinnamon.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Before serving, stir again. Serve with whichever add-ons you’d like from the ingredients list.
Foundational Five Eggs, Beans and Greens Nourish Meal
To eat mindfully, Kooienga aims to have two to five specific elements – protein, fat, carbs, nonstarchy carbs and flavor – at each meal, including breakfast. These additions can help support your energy, digestion and long-term satiety, she added, and the “nourish meal” recipe checks most of those boxes.
Makes 1 serving
- 1 cup cooked beans (such as black beans, kidney beans or pinto beans; if canned, rinse well)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large eggs, fried or cooked how you like them
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup steamed broccoli
- 2 cups dark leafy greens or lettuces (such as kale, spinach or arugula)
- 2 tablespoons dressing of your choice to taste (Kooienga recommends her Cilantro Lime Dressing or Creamy Zesty Shallot Dressing)
- 1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
- 1/2 cup sprouts (such as alfalfa or broccoli sprouts)
- Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- If using precooked canned beans, rinse thoroughly. Otherwise, prepare dried beans a day ahead following a traditional recipe, since dried beans need hours to fully cook.
- Heat olive oil in a pan, then cook eggs to desired texture (over-easy, medium or hard). Season with sea salt and black pepper. While eggs are cooking, lightly steam broccoli.
- Use the greens or lettuces as the base of your dish. Add dressing, cooked beans, steamed broccoli, sliced avocado, sprouts and season with more black pepper and red pepper flakes, if you’d like.
These recipes are adapted from Kooienga’s blog Nutrition Stripped.