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How to Make a Healthy Breakfast

“All of our meals are important; I don’t think breakfast is the most important meal,” says Dr. Starr. But it “starts the processes that our bodies use to function properly.”

A balance of protein, fiber and unsaturated fats at breakfast is important to maintain healthy blood sugar, energy and feelings of fullness until your next meal, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, a registered dietitian in New Jersey.

That roughly equates to at least 20 grams of protein, 8 to 10 grams of fiber and 10 to 15 grams of unsaturated fat, for a total of about 300 to 350 calories, says Ms. Harris-Pincus.

But it’s important not to get hung up on the numbers, said Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Your nutritional needs will depend on your weight, activity level, age and health, says Dr. Lichtenstein.

It’s more important to focus on the things you enjoy and make you feel energized and fulfilled, she says. “A lot of times we’ve tried to give people formula,” she said, “and if you look at the eating patterns and scores in the U.S., we’re not doing that well in terms of diet quality.”

“So what’s the ideal breakfast?” Dr. Lichtenstein said. “No matter what makes your body perform at its best.”

One of the things to prioritize when planning your breakfast is protein, says Ms. Harris-Pincus. Many Americans get more than enough protein throughout the day, she says, but they often don’t get enough at breakfast — instead, they choose refined sugar or other foods high in carbohydrates, such as bagels, pastries or energy bars.

If they did prioritize protein, they would often choose foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon or sausage, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, Dr. Starr said.

Your body needs protein to maintain your muscle mass, metabolism and strength (among other things), but only use about 25 to 35 grams of protein per meal for these purposes, says Ms. Harris-Pincus. If you eat more protein at once, your body either uses it for energy, stores it as fat, or excretes it.

So if you “skip breakfast or skip protein at breakfast,” Ms. Harris-Pincus said, “you lose that opportunity because you can’t double up on protein later on.”

Calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber are often referred to as “deficiency” nutrients because Americans generally don’t get enough, Ms Harris-Pincus said.

Over time, deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to a variety of problems, including weak bones, poor gut health, and high blood pressure.

But it just so happens that many healthy breakfast foods in the U.S. are rich in these nutrients.

Most fortified milks contain calcium, vitamin D, and potassium; most fortified cereals contain vitamin D (be sure to choose ones that are high in fiber and low in added sugar); bananas, citrus, and many dried fruits contain potassium; oats are rich in fiber .

“So when you think about things like a bowl of whole grain cereal and milk with some fruit, that really makes up for those nutrient deficiencies,” Ms Harris-Pincus said.

You don’t have to limit yourself to standard breakfast foods to get a nutritional mix in the morning, says Josephine Connolly-Schoonen, director of nutrition at Stony Brook Medicine.

“Any whole plant food is going to have a lot of phytonutrients,” she says, which are antioxidants that protect cells from damage.

These foods also contain fiber, which helps keep you full and supports gut health.

Coffee and tea can also provide some antioxidants and be part of a nutritious breakfast — just don’t overdo it with added sugar or cream, says Dr. Connolly-Schoonen.

Amanda Sauceda, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, Calif., supports expanding breakfast to include anything you might eat at any other time of day.

“I don’t like to eat breakfast, but I hate how my body feels when I don’t eat breakfast,” she says.

Her breakfast is usually a rehash of the previous night’s dinner, which may be Chinese food or grilled chicken and vegetables.

“I’ve been known to eat whatever I ate the night before and wrap it in a tortilla for a burrito,” she says. “I’m still eating my food group, even though it might not be what you traditionally eat for breakfast.”

Dr. Connolly-Schoonen says it’s important to take your time and enjoy your food. She said, eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

Breakfast doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning. “If you wake up at 7:30 a.m. to go to exercise class, if you’re hungry, you might take a few bites, go to class, and then come back for breakfast,” says Dr. Connolly-Schoonen. “Anything that works for you.”

Many of the breakfast ideas recommended by nutritionists are easy, nutritious and delicious. Here are some options to help you get started:

  • whole wheat Breakfast Burrito Mix eggs and egg whites, cheese, beans and salsa

  • steel cut oats or high fiber cereal with milk, whey protein powder, almonds or walnuts and melon slices

  • fried tofu with skim mozzarella, vegetables, avocado and whole wheat toast

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