Start your day with a nutritious breakfast and stay satiated until lunchtime.
Medically reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP and words by Annie Hayes
From staving off unhealthy snacking to protecting your heart, countless scientific studies show the benefits of eating your largest meal in the morning. But, while breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, the foods you choose to eat in the morning can also make a big difference.
Prioritising healthy breakfast foods with a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats is key. Unfortunately, filling up on a double espresso and a Danish is just about the worst thing you can do. The simple carbohydrates in your pastry may provide you with a jolt of energy, but, by mid-morning, you’re likely to be left feeling drained and hungry.
Rebecca Traylen, associate nutritionist and head of nutrition at Probio7, runs us through 14 healthy breakfast foods you should eat in the morning to keep you satiated until lunch:
14 best foods to eat in the morning
It might take a little extra effort, but preparing a healthy, nutritious breakfast has the power to influence the rest of your day.
People who skip breakfast tend to have other unhealthy habits – consuming 40 per cent more sweets, 55 per cent more soft drinks, 45 per cent fewer vegetables and 30 per cent less fruit than people who eat breakfast – according to research by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).
People who skip breakfast eat more sweets and soft drinks and consume fewer vegetables and fruit than people who eat breakfast.
They’re also missing out on key nutrients, the study reported. Brekkie fans get a significant portion of their daily recommend intake of several key nutrients from their morning meal, including vitamin D (58 per cent), vitamin B12 (42 per cent) and vitamin A (41 per cent).
Incorporate any of the following healthy breakfast foods into your morning and your day will be better for it:
When it comes to healthy breakfast foods, few options have more to offer than eggs. Not only are they one the healthiest foods on the planet, but studies have shown that eating eggs at breakfast promotes feelings of fullness, reduces the amount you eat at the next meal and regulates blood sugar and insulin levels.
Eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need.
This is mostly due to the high protein content of eggs – a single large egg contains an impressive six grams. ‘Protein is important to build and repair muscle tissue,’ says Traylen. ‘It is also used for several key functions in our body. Eggs are a good source of vitamin D, which is needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.’
Eggs contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need, with a single egg providing 22 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of selenium, 15 per cent of your vitamin B2, and nine per cent of your vitamin B12 and phosphorous intake. They’re also high in choline, an essential nutrient for your brain and nervous system.
- Greek yogurt
A creamy, rich breakfast staple, Greek yogurt contains more nutrients and vitamins than regular yogurt, and far more protein than milk – around 10g per 100g serve. It also contains around 11 per cent of your calcium requirements, ‘which can improve bone health,’ says Traylen. ‘It also contains friendly bacteria to support your gut microbiome.’ These bacteria are called probiotics, and Greek yogurt is packed with them.
They can have powerful effects on mind and body – researchers at the University of Virginia identified a specific mechanism for how Lactobacillus bacteria affects mood, providing a direct link between the health of the gut microbiome and mental health. The team even managed to reverse depression symptoms in mice by feeding them the strain, and are optimistic that their discovery will be replicated in human studies.
Greek yogurt is also rich in B12, containing 13 per cent of your RDA in every 100g serve, and vitamin B6, with around six per cent of your daily intake. B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood, and low levels may be linked to depression.
Oats are full of goodness and extremely nutrient-dense – a 40g serving contains 95 per cent of your manganese RDA, 20 per cent of your phosphorous and vitamin B1, 17 per cent of your magnesium, 12 per cent of your copper, and 10 per cent of your iron and zinc intake.
They’re also higher in protein (around 6g) and fibre (4g) than other grains, including the soluble fibre beta-glucan. ‘Oats are a source of beta-glucans, which helps to lower cholesterol level and support your immune system,’ says Traylen. They also promote the growth of ‘good’ gut bacteria and increase feelings of fullness.
To reap the most benefits from your morning bowl, opt for oat groats – the most intact form of oats – where possible, followed by oat bran, steel-cut oats, and rolled oats. Avoid pre-portioned, pre-flavoured or instant oat options, since they’re usually high in added sugars.
- Nuts and nut butters
Nuts are an excellent breakfast choice as a topping on porridge, yogurt, cottage cheese, or cereal, while nut butters are delicious spread over wholegrain toast, spooned into a smoothie or even stirred into a chia latte.
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‘Nuts have several beneficial properties, including lowering cholesterol, controlling blood pressure and weight management,’ says Traylen. ‘This is because nuts are a good source of healthy fats, fibre and several essential nutrients and antioxidants.’
While nuts are high in fat, most of it is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, as well as omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Studies suggest you don’t absorb all the fat in nuts – indeed, one meta-analysis found that diets high in nuts do not significantly affect weight gain or weight loss.
While their specific nutritional profile and health benefits vary, generally nuts appear to reduce the risk factors for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes, and studies have shown that people who eat them live longer than those who don’t.
‘Nut butters are a great way to include nuts in your diet,’ Traylen continues. ‘Ensure you pick a nut butter without added sugar as this can increase the calorie content.’
Nuts appear to reduce the risk factors for many chronic diseases, and studies have shown that people who eat them live longer than those who don’t.
Bananas are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre – specifically pectin, which is beneficial to blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling full, and resistant starch, which feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
One medium-sized banana contains 33 per cent of your vitamin B6 RDA, 14 per cent of your manganese, 11 per cent of your vitamin C, 10 per cent of your copper, and nine per cent of your potassium intake.
‘Bananas are a good source of potassium and contain carbohydrates to give you an energy boost,’ says Traylen. ‘Potassium is an electrolyte that helps to regulate fluid balance – a key factor in blood pressure regulation.’
Antioxidant-rich, extremely nutrient-dense and low in calories, leafy greens have a space at any breakfast table – blend into a green smoothie, sauté for egg on toast, mix into sweet potato hash, or bake into an egg white frittata.
‘Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are an excellent source of several nutrients including iron, which can help maintain energy levels,’ says Traylen. ‘Pair your greens with sources of vitamin C to increase iron absorption.’
Studies show eating a diet rich in leafy greens has untold health benefits, including protecting your eye health, enhancing sport performance, improving immune defences, slowing cognitive decline, and warding off heart disease and diabetes.
- Whole grain toast
Whole grain bread is made up of wheat kernels that are still whole, with the bran, germ and endosperm intact. It also contains other whole grains like oats, brown rice or barley. This type of bread is more nutritious and takes longer for our bodies to digest.
‘Swapping white bread for wholegrain toast means you can get more fibre,’ says Traylen. ‘Eating at least 30g of dietary fibre a day may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.’
Whether they’re smashed on toast, sliced with eggs, or even cooked into muffins, avocados are the ultimate breakfast staple – as versatile as they are delicious.
They contain 20 different vitamins and minerals, with a 100g serving packing 26 per cent of your vitamin K RDA, 20 per cent of your vitamin B9, 17 per cent of your vitamin C, 14 per cent of your potassium and vitamin B5, 13 per cent of your vitamin B6, and 10 per cent of your vitamin E intake.
‘Avocados are a healthy source of fat which is important for a healthy heart,’ says Traylen. ‘They also contain vitamin E which maintains healthy skin and eyes. Additionally, half an avocado counts as a portion of your five-a day.’
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, acai berries, cranberries… Whatever your preference, berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat. Packed with fibre, vitamin C, and potent antioxidants, many berries have proven benefits for heart health.
‘Berries are an excellent source of antioxidants, which can help remove free radicals in your body,’ says Traylen. ‘Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which is thought to play a role in several diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.’
Due to their high water and fibre content, berries are also filling while being low in calories. Try pairing your favourite berries with Greek yoghurt, oats and nut butter for a balanced breakfast that ticks all three – protein, fat, and carbohydrate – boxes.
Salmon is one of the richest sources of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These essential fats are important because your body can’t make them, so you have to consume them through your diet.
Both EPA and DHA have been shown to have powerful health benefits – reducing inflammation, removing excess fat from your liver, treating depression and anxiety, and even reducing the risk of diseases such as dementia and certain cancers.
‘Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have a positive effect on heart health,’ says Traylen. ‘Salmon is also a good source of vitamin D, which supports the immune system.’
Chia, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and flax seeds make the perfect breakfast topping, adding texture and crunch to sweet and savoury dishes, from poached eggs to porridge. When soaked overnight, chia seeds and flax seeds can even transform into standalone ‘pudding’ dishes.
Seeds are high in fibre, and contain monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. ‘Seeds are a great addition to breakfasts due to their fibre content, which helps to keep you fuller for longer,’ says Traylen. ‘They also contain healthy fats, which have a positive impact on heart health.’
Refreshing, tart and sweet, grapefruit is full of powerful antioxidant plant compounds. It’s delicious cut into segments, topped on muesli and greek yogurt, or sliced in half, drizzled with honey and scooped out with a spoon.
One average-sized grapefruit – around 160 grams – contains 72 per cent of your vitamin C RDA, 21 per cent of your vitamin B9, 13 per cent of your vitamin A, and 16 per cent of your potassium intake.
‘Grapefruit is high in several nutrients, including vitamin A, which is important in keeping eyes and skin healthy,’ says Traylen. ‘Grapefruit is also low in calories. Half a fresh grapefruit counts as one of your five-a-day.’
Be aware that grapefruit contains a group of chemicals called furanocoumarins which can affect the metabolism of drugs by the liver, meaning the medicine may stay around in higher levels in the body than normal. This can have very much unwanted consequences. If you are on regular medication of certain types it is likely that your doctor will warn you not to take these with grapefruit or grapefruit juice. (These medicines include amongst others some specific statins, heart and blood pressure drugs, urinary tract medication, anticancer, antibiotic, antinausea and nervous system drugs so always check with your doctor if you are a grapefruit fan.)
- Homemade baked beans
Homemade baked beans are high in plant-based protein, fibre, B vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds. The fibre in legumes supports your gut health, while plant compounds called phytosterols help to reduce your cholesterol levels.
‘Homemade baked beans is a very simple but healthy and filling meal,’ says Traylen. ‘Making it yourself means you can reduce the salt content. Too much salt can lead to an increased blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.’
Low in calories, sweet and super refreshing thanks to its high water content, watermelon is a tasty addition to any breakfast. It’s high in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopen, and also contains citrulline; an important amino acid.
‘Watermelon has a high water content – 92 per cent – which is important for hydration,’ says Traylen. ‘Watermelon is low calorie and a good source of beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A helps keep our eyes and skin healthy.’