A doctor’s recipe for a healthy breakfast

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

When I look at the typical breakfast food offerings at many restaurants, supermarkets, and food trucks, and I think about the health of our nation, I want to cry. Muffins, bagels, donuts, pancakes, waffles, French toast sticks… Want some bacon, sausage, or fried potatoes with that, ma’am?

Then there’s what marketing tells you is a “well-balanced breakfast”: the image of a big bowl of cereal and a few decorative strawberries on top, with a tall glass of orange juice. You get the idea that you need the calcium in that milk, that vitamin C in that orange juice, and the carbs in that cereal for energy. But do you?

Eating like this may be okay once in a while, but if you do so often, I guarantee these foods will make you sick, one way or another.

Why are familiar breakfast foods not great for you?

Simply put, to the cells in your body, a bowl of cereal, or a bagel, or a piece of toast, or a muffin are all no different than a dessert. Processed carbohydrates and sugars cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise. The insulin easily ushers all that sugar into your fat cells, where it becomes stored energy, also known as body fat.

The animal fats in bacon, sausage, and butter can glom up arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes. The salt in cured meats and other processed foods causes us to retain water and pushes the blood pressure up. This is all a recipe for weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol… and eventually, heart disease.

So… what should we eat for breakfast?

The answer is basic healthy eating advice: fruits and vegetables, whole (unprocessed) grains, and healthy proteins and fats. This is not a trend, this is not a hippie opinion. The evidence is overwhelming. And I love bacon. But, I treat it with respect because it can (and does) cause great harm to the human body if eaten often.

But many people need more guidance than just a list of food groups, including how to do so when you have a busy life.

So here’s what I eat

I’m a working mom. I take the train into work. I need something quick, easy, and transportable. Plus, it needs to be budget-friendly, and must hold me over for a number of hours. So, I put together a quick, easy fruit/yogurt/grain/nut bowl every single day. Here’s my three-ingredient recipe:

  • Frozen fruit: berries, mixed fruit, fruit with kale bits, whatever. Fruit is frozen at the peak of freshness, so the quality and vitamin content can be better than what’s in the produce aisle. We buy large bags of frozen mixed berries at the wholesale club or discount grocery, as they are much more economical than fresh and don’t go bad.
  • Nuts and/or seeds and/or grains of your preference: for example, unsalted nuts, toasted seeds or grains, or a combination such as a low-sugar granola. You can find my recipe for no-added-sugars granola here.
  • Your favorite yogurt, ideally plain or low-sugar.

Either the night before or the day of work, grab a plastic container that can hold at least a few cups, and fill with the frozen fruit, heaped up at the top (mine holds 3.5 cups). Defrost it in the microwave (mine takes about 3 minutes). Put a top on it. Throw that in your lunch box alongside a snack-sized baggie of nuts and/or seeds and/or grains (I like cashews), and the yogurt. Don’t forget your spoon.

Eat at your desk and be the envy of your colleagues.

This is literally my breakfast sitting on my desk.

Why is this a healthy breakfast?

The fruit is not a token sprinkle, nor a decorative touch. The fruit makes up the bulk of this meal. There’s fiber in the fruit, and plant sugars in their natural form, not to mention healthy fat in the nuts, and protein in the yogurt. A low-sugar yogurt will leave us feeling more satisfied, for longer. We won’t get the insulin spike that triggers hunger pangs (unlike when we eat processed carbs).

If you want to step it up a notch, ditch the dairy. We can get plenty of calcium and other vitamins from leafy greens and other veggies. Personally, I’m not there yet, as I love yogurt, and have weighed the added benefits of my beloved creamy protein and probiotics against the recognized risks of regular consumption of animal products. So, I limit my intake of animal products as much as I can, and enjoy my daily morning yogurt.

Enjoy!

My trusted nutrition information resources

www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/

www.nutritionfacts.org/

Comments:

  1. Charles Crumpton

    Cholesterol, other high lipids, and blood sugar generally have a common cause, overeating.
    The body has food priorities to ensure survival in the worst of times.
    energy to keep going and stay warm
    Build and repair damage
    Store for lean times.

    In the old days, there was seldom to much food available. For survival the body attempts to use everything we eat. As we know, fat is the number one and visible result. However excess food give the liver freedom to run wild and make to much cholesterol. Why? A small amount of cholesterol is needed in the human reproductive process. To keep this level in lean times there needed to be a little extra in our system to guarantee the survival of the human race. Now, there are no lean times in the USA but the liver does not know this so it keeps on adding to the overage overloading the need.

    Cholesterol does not metabolize into energy so after going on the doctor recommended diet and exercise program expect results to be slow. It may take 9/12 months to reach healthy levels.

    I was under the care of Dr. Evan Stein. My Chol. was 260 I entered his program of diet and exercise and 90 days later I was down to 258, heartbroken and convinced I had a heredity problem. He did the test-Negative. Dr. Stein told me to stick with what I was doing. 6 months 238, and then the 9 month check was a beautiful 180 and at years end 150. A 110point drop along with 20 pounds and 6 inches off the waist.

  2. Eyton Shalom, L.Ac.

    There are a few things I would add from the Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine standpoints.

    First is that digestion is a warm process. Eating frozen cold foods damages the digestive fire which does not respond well to cold, especially when cold outside. . This is why all traditional cultures eat warming cooked foods for breakfast, from hot soy milk and left over rice with egg, vegetables and meat, or congee in China to steamed rice and lentil cakes Iddli and Sambar lentil and vegetable soup in South India.

    Most fruit is cooling (raspberries are an exception, as are peaches), so to us, the amount of fruit recommended here might be a bit extreme and also too much sweet food at once. Fruit in Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda is generally recommended on its own, as well, as opposed to with yogurt. Mango Lassi aside, which is a between meal desert drink in hot dry weather, most yogurt eating cultures from Russia to Sri Lanka do not take yogurt and fruit at once, if anything they tend to drink their yogurt, Kefir style, with herbs and spices or plain. In India yogurt can be had at breakfast but its diluted with water and spice. Otherwise its taken at noon, when digestive fire is maximum.

    Although frozen fruit does contain all the vitamins of fresh fruit, one thing missing in frozen foods is Qi. Compare a frozen peach to a fresh one, or even frozen banana to fresh. What’s missing is the aroma, the fragrance, the texture, the juiciness. Those are all evidence of what Chinese medicine calls Qi, like the steam rising off of freshly cooked rice. ,. Same thing with frozen organic t.v. dinners versus fresh made food. One fills the room with a wonderful fragrance, the other does not.

    Yogurt is quite heavy and Kaphagenic in Ayurveda, which makes it unsuitable in the morning for folks with problems of mucus, like chronic asthma or sinus infections. They can have yogurt mixed with water and spices like cumin powder to increase digestability. This is called “buttermilk” in South India.

    Since digestion is a process of warm transformation of food into energy, in Ayurveda we protect the digestive fire/Agni with judicious use of spices and herbs. In the case of fruit-nuts-yogurt, this is basically a sweet dish still. So it needs to be balanced with spices like ginger, cardamon, and cinnamon that stimulate gut fire to deal with the slightly cloying nature of that much sweet food at once.

    We definitely do not recommend mixing green veggies like kale with sweet food like fruit. Kale and hearty greens are best cooked, in soups and stir fries or Indian style. Not overcooked, but cooked. Its cooking that breaks down the cellulose in vegetables. Some nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed when cooked, like carrots. Cooking with spices like cumin and coriander increase digestability. In fact hot soup is a great breakfast in cold weather, miso soup, or dal with rice or whole grain bread.

    Myself, being a cold, thin, dry Vata type in Ayurveda, I like to make very low sugar “breakfast cookies.” Here’s one way, using dried Chickpeas and Nuts http://new.bodymindwellnesscenter.com/roasted-chickpea-nut-breakfast-cookies/

  3. Charles Crumpton

    When we wake, our bodies are dehydrated, out of protein, carbs, and the entire system is full of junk that needs to be eliminated. The lymph system has been working hard all night and needs to cleaned and refreshed. Heart rate and breathing is low creating slow flowing low oxygen blood.
    I am 77 and very active inspire of triple bypass and type 2. along with 6 back surgeries. I kept active after each. Getting up in the morning the day starts with 3 cups of room temp water. 30+ minutes of steady exercise. Shower and enjoy high protein cereal with protein Silk soy milk topped with 1/4 of walnuts and 1/2 banana. 1 cup of coffee ,stevia, trying to stop that, do a little exercise every 2 hours to circulate lymph fluids, diet is a no brainer. Salad with vinegar and oil with spinach, broccoli, etc. Small servings fish or baked chicken, No bread or potatoes. Drink pure water.
    30 mins plus on treadmill watching 6PM news. Remember, all excess food will be processed into something resulting from survival needs of the past.
    Providing the liver with extra food to play with can be dangerous in more ways than fat. Those of us who have type 2 or heart problems, must fight hard each and every day to control bad and promote the good. DIET AND EXERCISE DIRECTLY FIGHTS DISEASE INCLUDING SOME CANCER BY CREATING AND CIRCULATING IMMUNE AGENTS STARTING IN THE SMALL INTESTINES AND FLOWING THROUGH THE LYMPHATIC VIENS BY MUSCLE CONTRACTIONS ONLY!!!! weight loss and looking good is just a side benefit.
    Charles Crumpton FB
    .

  4. Gail

    I’ve read that recent studies show that dairy fat is not harmful in the way that fat from beef, pork, etc., is.

  5. Sharon

    Three and half cups of fruit seems to be too much in one setting. Wouldn’t this spike your blood sugar a bit?

    • Monique Tello, MD, MPH
      Monique Tello, MD, MPH

      The fiber in the fruit plus the protein and healthy fats offset any sugar/ insulin spikes. The vitamins and antioxidants of the fruit also provide great health benefits.

  6. Nancy

    Can you mix a bit of water with the fruits?

  7. Monique Tello, MD, MPH
    Monique Tello, MD, MPH

    Hi Lisa, I’m happy to report that this is a healthy breakfast for people with diabetes. It’s not carbs that are the issue, it’s the type of carb. Refined carbs (flours and sugars) are associated with the development and worsening of diabetes. On the contrary, here we have abundant plant carbs in their natural form, as nature intended for us to consume. A whole-foods plant-based diet has been shown to be quite effective for the prevention and treatment of diabetes. For an excellent review on this topic see a recent research article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466941/
    The authors also cite plenty of prior research, concluding: “There is a general consensus that the elements of a whole-foods plant-based diet—legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, with limited or no intake of refined foods and animal products—are highly beneficial for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. Equally important, plant-based diets address the bigger picture for patients with diabetes by simultaneously treating cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, and its risk factors such as obesity, hypertension, hyper-lipidemia, and inflammation…. While larger interventional studies on plant-based diets carried out for longer periods of time would add even more weight to the already mounting evidence, the case for using a plant-based diet to reduce the burden of diabetes and improve overall health has never been stronger.”

  8. Carol

    I usually have a egg/spinach casserole for breakfast and your fruit/nut/yogurt bowl for my lunch or supper. Works for me!

  9. Lisa Paige, MBA, RDN, CSOWM

    Thank you for making nutrition a priority. This does look like a healthy breakfast, except for someone who must control blood glucose such as a person diagnosed with diabetes. The foods in this breakfast combine to make a very large carbohydrate load. Please continue to provide nutrition guidance and consider the CHO content too. Thank you.

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