Breakfast is your first shot to refuel your tank after a good night’s sleep, balance blood sugar levels, and keep you satiated to prevent mindless snacking. “What and when we eat can play a major role in our metabolism and overall health,” says Ilyse Schapiro, RD. “Our body converts calories from food into energy and uses this fuel to keep us alive and function properly,” she says.
“Eating nutrient-dense foods at regular intervals can support your metabolism, shed unwanted pounds and prevent certain diseases,” says Schapiro. For example, fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols, “which have been linked to improved lipid metabolism, lower fat mass and successful weight loss.” Eating every few hours can also balance your blood sugar, supporting metabolic health.
“Consuming a morning meal helps to activate thermogenesis, or the process of increasing metabolism and expending calories,” says Schapiro. Skipping the morning meal, however, can slow down the metabolism, disrupt insulin function, and have a negative impact on your appetite — leading to poor food choices. What’s more, your body may be able to better use the calories you eat for breakfast, as research shows your body’s internal clock affects metabolic efficiency.
So, while breakfast may be important, there are some morning foods that can have a negative impact on your body’s metabolism, potentially leading to health problems. Here’s what to avoid (and what to eat instead) to support a healthy metabolism and aid weight loss.
SUGARY CEREALS AND PLAIN BAGELS
These high-carb foods lack fiber, a key nutrient for slowing blood glucose responses and feeling full. They can create steep blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) that promote weight gain and reinforce cravings. “Those who eat a diet high in refined grains have a greater amount of body fat and inflammation,” says Schapiro. Of course, this is true for these highly refined grain foods at any time of day, but breakfast is often centered on these types of foods.
What to eat instead: Go for whole grains that are high in fiber, such as quinoa, teff and brown rice, says Schapiro. Research shows switching from refined grains to whole grains bumps up the resting metabolic rate. That could look like overnight oats or whole-grain toast topped with nut butter or smoked salmon for added protein and healthy fats.
PANCAKES AND WAFFLES WITH REFINED GRAINS
The best choice here is to step away from traditional buttermilk and packaged versions, which are often high in refined carbs, sugar and preservatives, and opt for whole-grain versions. However, if you stop there, you’re missing out on something big: protein. “A high-protein breakfast has been shown to support metabolism and weight loss by increasing energy expenditure and balancing satiety hormones,” says Schapiro. A study in Nutrition Journal found overweight women who consumed high-protein breakfast (a sausage and egg meal) had lower post-meal blood sugar and insulin levels and ate less at lunchtime compared to those who ate a low-protein pancake breakfast or no breakfast at all.
What to eat instead: Aim for at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast, says Schapiro. That might mean pairing a single whole-grain or almond flour pancake with cottage cheese or a couple of poached eggs.
MUFFINS AND DOUGHNUTS
Most muffins and doughnuts are loaded with sugar, refined carbs and saturated fat. They also tend to be large, so you often consume more calories and sugar than you think. Not only can they send your blood glucose soaring, but excess consumption of sugar leads to inflammation and weight gain.
What to eat instead: If you like to have a grab-and-go breakfast (a major reason these pastries are so popular), now’s the time to focus on switching to something higher in fiber. Make-ahead breakfast burritos, Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, overnight oats and smoothies are all great, portable options. The key is to make sure you have a source of protein, healthy fats and slow-digesting carbs. For example, adding fruit to breakfast is ideal because it is rich in antioxidants and fiber, says Schapiro. Greek yogurt topped with walnuts is another smart pick (opt for individual packets to help with portion control). These nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to decrease fasting blood sugar levels and improve “good” HDL cholesterol, per 2019 research.
MIMOSAS OR BLOODY MARYS
You might not be regularly brunching now, but this still holds true. The problem with cocktails at brunch is this is likely your first meal of the day. It’s also something you order first and sip on while your food cooks. “It’s never recommended to consume alcohol on an empty stomach, especially first thing in the morning, as this can disrupt metabolism and lead to poor food choices throughout the day,” says Schapiro.
What to drink instead: Water is ideal for staying hydrated and crucial for aiding weight loss. Another option if you prefer a morning pick-me-up is coffee, “which can increase metabolism and fat oxidation,” says Schapiro. However, to prevent your coffee from becoming a sugar bomb, take it black or with a little milk (traditional cow’s milk or unsweetened plant-based) and avoid added sweeteners (real or artificial), she adds.
Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.