Nutrition is never one size fits all. Each of us thrives off of something different, and what I recommend for clients depends on that person and their body, goals, and lifestyle.
When it comes to the first meal of the day, there are a number of tips that my clients and I follow. First, try to opt for something that’s easy to digest — a smoothie or coconut yogurt parfait. Second, if you find your meal is carbohydrate heavy, consider adding healthy fat, like avocado, or some kind of protein such as nut butter or a plant-based protein powder.
Recently I was given the chance to rate some Healthline employees’ breakfasts, based on three categories: nutrition value, how processed (or not!) their meal was, and how much energy their choices provided them. Each category was given a rating of one to 10, one being the lowest score and 10 being the highest. The higher the rating, the better.
Check out their results, below.
Sprinkled donut and latte
- Nutrition: 1
- Whole Ingredients: 1
- Energy: 4
Donuts don’t provide us with much nutrition at all. This breakfast is calorie dense and nutrient empty, and it lacks many of the vitamins and minerals we need to thrive. Donuts contain trans fats and saturated fats, as well as many processed ingredients that can cause inflammation and potentially harm our bodies.
With their high glycemic index, donuts can also lead to blood sugar spikes followed by major crashes in energy. This can cause you to feel shaky, weak, and lethargic, which, in turn, can cause you to reach for more sugar and refined carbohydrates.
Instead, reach for whole grains and other complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, that keep our blood sugar and energy levels stable. If you’re on the go, try sprouted whole-grain toast smeared with almond butter or grab a coconut yogurt topped with berries and granola.
Craving that latte? Swap out cow’s milk for a plant-based option like unsweetened almond milk.
Promax protein bar and a venti iced coffee
- Nutrition: 2
- Whole Ingredients: 2
- Energy: 6
We’ve all been down that aisle searching for the perfect protein bar. Next time you’re there, try looking for products that use plant-based sources of protein from ingredients like brown rice, hemp seed, pumpkin seed, pea, or spirulina, instead of whey or soy protein isolate.
Most protein bars are super dense, processed, man-made products that are loaded with a ton of complex ingredients that are hard to digest. It’s important that you read all the ingredients and make sure you recognize everything on that list. A rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce it or if you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it! This trick can help you steer clear of products that have added sugars, gums, chemicals, preservatives, and colorings.
Although the high protein content of a bar like this one can keep you feeling full, we always want to choose real, whole foods where possible.
Trout lox and scrambled eggs
- Nutrition: 7
- Whole Ingredients: 9
- Energy: 8
Eggs are a great source of high-quality protein that contain all the essential amino acids we need to survive. They also have key vitamins and minerals including iron, choline, vitamin D, and vitamin B-12. When eating eggs, try to pair them with veggies like sautéed spinach, kale with onions, or sliced tomato. Add a side of avocado for a healthy fat option, or make a hearty vegetable and avocado omelet. In short, think eggs plus produce!
Trout lox is another great source of protein and is loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids — just be careful of the sodium.
Both trout lox and eggs will help keep you feeling full thanks to their high protein content.
Orange, buttered toast, prunes, and spinach and cucumber salad
- Nutrition: 7
- Whole Ingredients: 8
- Energy: 7
I love that this breakfast contains mostly natural, whole foods, but making the swap from white toast to a more nutritious bread would help it score major points. Try choosing a sprouted whole-grain, dark sourdough, rye, millet, or spelt bread instead.
Spinach and cucumber salad is always a yes in my book as it contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, tons of hydration, as well as natural enzymes that will help our body digest the rest of the meal.
Don’t go overboard on the prunes, though. They’re high in sugar and can lead to spikes in blood sugar, especially in a meal that also includes bread and additional fruit.
Coffee and vegan protein shake with frozen banana, chia, and milk
- Nutrition: 6
- Whole Ingredients: 7
- Energy: 7
Depending on what protein powder and milk is used, this could go from a more processed, low-nutrient breakfast to one chock full of whole foods with a few simple changes.
Keep the banana and chia seeds in there, but try adding in greens such as kale or spinach to kick up the nutritional value. Use an unsweetened, plant-derived milk such as almond or coconut for your base.
We also want to mix up our fruit to get in a wide variety of health benefits. Add in color — blueberries, strawberries, raspberries. Organic frozen fruit is a great option too as it has a similar nutritional value.
The combination of the protein and fiber in this breakfast will keep you full with stable blood sugar levels. Chia seeds in particular are a great source of protein, fat, and fiber, and can absorb over 10 times their weight in water, which will keep you feeling satiated for extended periods of time.
Original Life cereal with strawberries and blueberries
- Nutrition: 5
- Whole Ingredients: 5
- Energy: 5
Fruit is hands down one of my favorite breakfasts. Aside from being delicious and simple to throw together, it’s easy to digest, hydrating, and packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
However, eating fruit with a highly processed cereal can hinder digestion and lead to bloating. Cereals high in sugar will also cause a spike in energy followed by a serious crash.
We want to stay away from processed cereals that contain any chemicals, preservatives, gums, or colorings — these are not food! They are food-like substances that we cannot digest and end up sitting inside of our gut causing inflammation. Instead, opt for whole-grain cereals, muesli, homemade granola, or soaked oats for a better, more nutritious start to your day.
Eggs in Cholula hot sauce
- Nutrition: 6
- Whole Ingredients: 9
- Energy: 6
This breakfast contains nearly 100 percent whole ingredients. Eggs are one of our best natural, whole-food sources of protein containing 6 grams of high-quality protein, 5 grams of healthy fats, and variety of vitamins and minerals.
Cholula is a great way to add flavor. Although it contains primarily spices and peppers, it does include a gum as a binder, which is why this breakfast doesn’t score a perfect 10 for whole ingredients. Opt instead for a hot sauce with no gums or a fresh veggie salsa.
To make this breakfast even more nutritious and filling, add in fresh produce such as sautéed greens or roasted veggies, or throw the eggs over a salad or a piece of whole-grain toast. Also remember to choose pasture-raised organic eggs when possible and never to skip out on the yolk!
Additional research, writing, and editing contributed by Chelsey Fein.
Nathalie is a registered dietitian and functional medicine nutritionist with a BA in psychology from Cornell University and a MS in clinical nutrition from New York University. She’s the founder of Nutrition by Nathalie LLC, a private nutrition practice in New York City focusing on health and wellness using an integrative approach, and All Good Eats, a social media health and wellness brand. When she isn’t working with her clients or on media projects, you can find her traveling with her husband and their mini-Aussie, Brady.