After reading an article in Today’s Dietitian titled, “Protein Power” written by Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, it completely reaffirmed my belief in starting your day with a protein-packed breakfast. I always tell my patients that you don’t necessarily have to eat the minute you wake up, but it is important to get up and get your day started with a protein-packed breakfast. The article goes on to provide the evidence that breakfast has a variety of effects on satiety, weight management, decreasing the late night snacking habits, and reducing appetite and cravings – all evidence I see on a daily basis through my patients, and experience personally.
When I talk with my patients, I would estimate that at least 60% of the time, they don’t eat breakfast. When I find out they don’t eat breakfast, I also generally find that they tend to snack more often in the evening. Breaking that cycle is probably one of the best ways to jump-start weight loss and help you FEEL BETTER overall.
Speaking from personal experience, I can tell a HUGE difference when I either don’t eat breakfast or eat something that doesn’t include much protein – i.e. bagel, oatmeal, cereal, etc. Now, I know what many of you are thinking – “I thought oatmeal was good for me?!” First of all, I’m not saying it’s bad, in fact, it’s a good source of soluble fiber. However, oatmeal by itself contains very little protein. Sure you’ll have energy for an hour, maybe two, but after a meal containing very little protein, your blood sugar increases pretty quickly. And the faster it goes up, the faster it tends to comes down. Soon you’re starting to feel tired, lethargic, and you’re looking for a snack to give you another boost of energy. Usually that choice is a high-carb/sugar snack – a handful of pretzels or chips, a candy bar, a piece of fruit, etc. which only serves to send your blood sugar up quickly, with (yet again) another quick fall. Now you’re riding the blood sugar roller coaster and you’re probably not functioning at your best – you’re losing concentration, you have no real energy, and you’re hungry or thinking about food all day long.
The solution to this problem? PROTEIN. Protein slows down digestion and slows the release of sugar into your blood stream, therefore, preventing the spike and fall in your blood sugar and the ride on that blood sugar roller coaster.
I also find that this is the reason so many people don’t eat breakfast – “When I eat breakfast, I’m hungry all day long. If I just skip breakfast, I can hold off until lunch, or heck, not even eat until dinner!” First of all, feeling hunger is NORMAL. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, I used that fuel to perform basic body functions, feed me again so I can keep working.” When you skip meals, your metabolism slows down and doesn’t function at it’s best. Also, when you do finally eat after skipping the first meal(s), your body realizes it’s STARVING and you tend to feel hungrier than you originally realized. I often find those same people that skip breakfast (and/or lunch) are the same people that tend to get the urge to snack at night or eat a huge dinner – to the point of being uncomfortable. And the later in the evening you eat, the less hungry you are in the morning.
So let’s break that cycle! In fact, the word ‘breakfast’ implies that itself – break the fast!
A few of my go-to options are always egg cups, scrambled eggs with lots of veggies, hard boiled eggs – really any type of eggs – see post about Eggs.
If my body wants something else, I’ll go for a superfood oatmeal that combines some whole grains (quinoa, steel cut oats), some protein powder, and nuts/nut butter (to balance out the carbs) and then spices (cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, etc). You could even make your oatmeal savory – add some sauteed veggies, curry, unflavored protein powder and a Tbsp. butter.
Recipe for this: 1/2 cup uncooked superfood oats [Trader Joe’s], 1/2 cup almond milk, 1 scoop Quest vanilla protein powder, 1 scoop Dynamic Fruits and Greens Espresso flavor, 1 tsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. L-glutamine. Cook the oats with almond milk, let cool slightly, then add other ingredients and top with 1 oz. nuts (this is a combination of walnuts, macadamia nuts, and cashews).
If you’re going to eat something like yogurt – opt for a Greek yogurt (because it has more protein than regular yogurt) and add a handful of nuts/seeds to balance out the sugars with some healthy fats. I tend to choose plain Greek yogurts that I can flavor and sweeten how I want – either with Stevia and cinnamon, or fresh/frozen fruit blended in.
Recipe for this yummy bowl: 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 scoop Quest vanilla protein powder, 1 Tbsp. chia/flax seed blend, 1 tsp. L-glutamine, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 oz. nuts.
Cottage cheese with nuts and berries is another good option. The version pictured below is a lower carb version. It’s a mixture of 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms, 1 cup chopped fresh spinach, and 1 Tbsp. pesto.
For my patients that aren’t used to eating breakfast, and don’t necessarily want to eat something for breakfast, I would recommend a protein shake – not Ensure, Boost, Glucerna, Special K, or Slim Fast. The kind we choose are important. Protein shakes should still be balanced like our meals. I prefer whey isolate protein powders as they are generally one of the better quality protein supplements. Whichever you choose, I suggest aiming for 20-30 grams of protein per shake. The protein shake should also include some healthy fats. Either blend in some type of nut butter, add chia or flax seeds for some healthy omega-3’s, add ½ of an avocado, or use full-fat coconut milk. In terms of healthy carbs I would suggest a handful of spinach, ½ – 1 cup frozen berries or other fruit, and/or frozen cauliflower! I promise you won’t even taste the veggies. Protein shakes can really be whatever you want them to be and you can customize them to your personal preferences. I always advise my weight loss patients be aware of the amount of things they add to their smoothies. While smoothies can be very healthy and can really pack a nutrient-dense punch, they are still liquid calories. Again, it totally depends what you add to it. Balance is key.
This protein smoothie combines 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 scoop Quest protein powder, 1 tsp. L-glutamine, 1 tsp. probiotics, a few drips vitamin D plus K2, 1 Tbsp. almond butter and about 4-6 oz. unsweetened almond milk.
Although, heck, I’ve been known to eat spinach burgers and pork chops for breakfast (basically thick-cut ham, am I right?!) – I don’t discriminate breakfast foods!
So, in a ‘nutchelle’ ALWAYS choose breakfast to ‘break the fast’ and jump-start your metabolism; but make sure you’ve got some protein/healthy fats to balance out the carbs and provide long-lasting energy throughout the day.