Sometimes it feels like the only reasons to get out of bed in the morning are coffee and the newfound knowledge that your mattress is really (really) dirty. But let’s not forget about another very important component of your morning: breakfast. The food you eat first thing in the morning sets the tone for your day. “We naturally fast overnight—breakfast means to break your fast— so you want to be intentional about how you do that,” says naturopathic doctor Erin Stokes, ND, and MegaFood medical director. Think of your first meal like a clean slate—whatever you eat is going to go into an empty digestive system. “Most breakfast cereal is lean in the protein and fiber department and rich in the sugar department, it often leads us high and dry looking for more and more. Plus, a ton of breakfast cereals are highly processed which are void of any substantial nutrition,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD. Eating cereal for breakfast isn’t doing your body and mind any favors.
Much like the attention from an emotionally unavailable person you’re in love with, sugary cereal gives you a high that only lasts for a bit and then leads to a crash. “A high sugar meal, or even just a high sugar food, is going to raise your blood sugar quickly,” says Stokes. That’s because your body can digest sugar pretty fast, so it enters your bloodstream quickly. This can make you feel jittery and anxious and then tired and irritable as your blood sugar crashes. Not to mention, you’re going to get hungry again pretty quickly.
“The elements of a healthy breakfast contain a mixture of proteins from eggs or cottage cheese, healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocado, whole grains from oatmeal or nutrient-rich bread as well as hydrating fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and oranges,” says Beckerman. (That last one is extra important, as she says the majority of people wake up dehydrated.) Stokes recommends breaking your fast gently. If you have the time, she recommends starting your morning with hot water and lemon, followed in a bit by a green smoothie. “Later in the morning, try something like avocado toast or an egg, or even a piece of salmon,” she says. (Getting some hobbit meal schedule vibes and not mad about it.)
Beckerman offers “cottage cheese (like Good Culture), oatmeal (like Bob’s Red Mill), pre-made smoothies (like Koia), or eggs (like Peckish or Blue Sky Family Farm)” as nutrient-rich alternatives to cereal. However, she adds that a healthy breakfast should also contain flavors and textures that you are craving in the morning. “If you deny yourself what you are truly seeking, you can end up having two or three breakfasts, an unhealthy lunch or a day full of unsatisfactory meals,” she says. And if you’re craving the crunch of cereal, a mushy bowl of oatmeal is probably not going be satisfying.
Thankfully, Beckerman says that there are healthy cereals out there that have short ingredient lists, are low in sugar, and contain nutrients like whole grains, fiber, and protein. Forager Project, Magic Spoon, and Cascadian Farm are all examples of brands that have improved cereal. For healthier cereal eating, she recommends you mix cereals that deliver on different nutritional fronts, add a handful of walnuts and blueberries, and then finish it off with your milk of choice.