Many of my patients admit to skipping breakfast with this excuse: Whenever they eat in the mornings, they wind up feeling much hungrier than if they hadn't eaten at all. Sound familiar? My nutrition intuition tells me that they're not feeling hungry because they ate breakfast, but rather, because they ate the wrong breakfast. In my years working with patients, I've found that for some people with good intentions, there seems to be a disconnect with what they consider a healthy breakfast.
Not enough protein. Many of my patients have a bowl of cereal with milk for their breakfasts. Seems like a good choice, right? Yes, one cup of milk provides eight grams of protein, but think about it: How often do slurp down all the milk that accompanies our cereal? Not often, I would guess. Protein digests more slowly than carbohydrates, so without ample amounts, you'll be hungry sooner rather than later. If you don't want to drink the milk from the bowl, add a hard-boiled egg to your meal for extra protein. You can also consume protein via 100 percent whole-grain toast, and when you do, don't top it with just a tiny smear of peanut or almond butter. Enjoy the full serving of nut butter with your toast to get more protein.
Too little fiber. The more sugar in your breakfast cereal, the faster it digests, and the hungrier you'll be. Conversely, more fiber will keep you fuller longer. So, here's my rule of thumb for cereal: There should always be at least five grams of fiber, and there should always be more fiber than sugar. For extra fiber, add chia or flax seeds. If you choose the latter, make sure to grind the seeds first, or else you won't absorb their nutritional benefits.
No fat. A meal with no fat can make you hungry again within an hour. Let's look at the supposed healthy breakfast of non-fat Greek yogurt, high fiber cereal and berries. Where's the fat? I tell my patients to either switch to 2 percent-fat yogurt or to add some nuts to prevent feeling hungry. However, whenever I mention adding fat, I want to drive home the point that more isn't better. A little fat goes a long way.
Not enough food. While a piece of fruit is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it's not enough for breakfast. Many of my patients have found that a grab-and-go breakfast—like an apple on the drive to work—simply doesn't cut it. However, if they sit down and mindfully consume about 300 to 400 calories, they feel way more satisfied. By the time lunch approaches, those extra calories are no longer relevant, and have likely kept them from a day of overeating.
Too Late in the Day. I usually recommend eating within an hour of waking, if possible. The longer a person waits to eat breakfast, the hungrier they usually become, making it harder to be satisfied once they eat. Remember: One of a breakfast's main purposes is to provide you with fuel after a long break from eating. Once your breakfast blurs with the lines of lunchtime, it no longer does its job efficiently.
Bottom line. If you want your breakfast to keep you satisfied, let's try and keep the mistakes to a minimum. But remember: Any breakfast is better than no breakfast.
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Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.