Although breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, that definitely depends on what you’re eating for your morning meal.
A healthy breakfast should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fat to start your day off on the right foot.
Unfortunately, many of the most popular breakfast foods are highly processed or lacking in these important nutrients.
Here are 10 ways to give some of the most popular breakfast foods, like pancakes, muffins, and toast, a healthy upgrade and start your day right.
While breakfast cereals are often considered a nutritious choice for children and adults, many types are highly processed and rich in refined grains and added sugar.
Eating too much added sugar may contribute to a variety of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver problems (
Refined grains are also lower in fiber. Fiber is a key nutrient to help you feel more satisfied after eating a meal (
One upside to cereals is that many types are also fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, thiamine, folic acid, and vitamin B12 (
Ideally, look for varieties of breakfast cereal that are low in sugar and made from whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, or wheat bran. Pair your cereal with some plain yogurt or milk and fruit to balance out your meal.
Many breakfast cereals are highly processed and rich in refined grains and sugar. Ideally, look for cereals that are made with whole grains and low in sugar.
Pancakes and waffles are popular choices for weekend breakfasts at home or in restaurants.
Although they have more protein than some other breakfast items, pancakes and waffles are typically made with white flour, a refined grain that doesn’t have a lot of fiber.
In addition, pancakes and waffles are typically topped with maple-flavored pancake syrup, which contains high-fructose corn syrup and delivers a lot of added sugar.
One tablespoon of pancake syrup has 8 grams of added sugar, and it’s easy to pour a few tablespoons on your pancakes and eat more added sugar than is recommended in a day (
To give pancakes or waffles a healthy twist, try making them with whole grains or nuts instead. Try using whole wheat flour, oat flour, or almond flour. Eating more plant-based whole foods with fiber is linked with decreased insulin resistance (
You can also top them with fresh fruit, plain yogurt, nut butter, or a bit of pure maple syrup.
Pancakes and waffles are often made from refined flour and topped with syrup. Try using flour made from whole grains or nuts and pairing them with healthy toppings like fresh fruit, yogurt, or a little pure maple syrup.
Toast topped with margarine may seem like a classic breakfast choice.
However, white bread is made from refined flour, meaning that it’s lacking in fiber and essential nutrients.
Furthermore, some types of margarine contain trans fats, a type of fat that can increase inflammation and contribute to heart disease (
Instead, opt for whole wheat bread whenever possible and choose healthier toppings for your toast, such as sliced avocados, nut butter, hummus, or ricotta.
White bread is made from refined flour, and some types of margarine contain trans fats. Using whole wheat bread and choosing healthier toppings can be a better breakfast option.
Muffins are a popular breakfast item usually made from refined flour, vegetable oils, eggs, and sugar.
Muffins sold at bakeries, coffee shops, and grocery stores are also often very large, which makes them higher in added sugar and calories than most people would think.
In fact, a chocolate chip muffin at a popular coffee chain has 36 more grams of added sugar (that’s 9 teaspoons) than the chocolate frosted doughnut (8, 9)
There are plenty of recipes available for healthy muffins you can make at home, which often feature ingredients like whole wheat flour, fresh fruit, or Greek yogurt.
Alternatively, enjoy store-bought muffins as an occasional treat and try saving half for later and adding a hard-boiled egg to give you some protein and keep your portion sizes in check.
Muffins are usually high in refined flour, calories, and added sugar. Try making homemade muffins using healthier ingredients and enjoying them as an occasional treat.
While fruit juice may seem like an easy way to ramp up your fruit intake, many fruit drinks on the market actually contain very little fruit and are sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
Although 100% fruit juices deliver more nutrients, they often contain high amounts of natural sugar and are missing the fiber you’d get from eating whole fruits, which helps keep you full (
Choose whole fruits over juice, and if you love juice, consider diluting it with water or seltzer to help reduce the sugar in your cup.
You can also try making smoothies with your favorite fruits and vegetables for a refreshing drink that retains more of the beneficial fiber found in these ingredients.
Fruit juice is high in sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation. Try making homemade smoothies using fresh fruits and veggies instead.
Toaster pastries are an undeniably quick and easy breakfast option. However, they are also highly processed and typically contain refined flour and added sugar.
Plus, they’re low in protein, an important nutrient that can help reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness (11).
Some companies have started offering toaster pastries that are high in protein and low in added sugar, which can be a healthier alternative to many popular brands.
If you’re feeling creative, you can even make your own at home using whole wheat flour, fresh fruit, and natural sweeteners.
Toaster pastries are high in sugar and refined carbs yet low in protein. Some companies offer healthier varieties, or you can try making your own at home.
High in sugar and calories, scones topped with jam are more like dessert than a well-rounded breakfast.
Scones are made by mixing refined wheat flour, butter, and sugar with desired flavorings. The dough is then shaped and baked.
They’re usually topped with cream and jam or jelly. The end result is a high calorie, sugary breakfast with little fiber and protein.
Studies have shown that fiber has many benefits, including keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range. It also makes you feel satisfied so you won’t get hungry immediately after breakfast (
While scones probably shouldn’t be a staple in your morning meal, they can fit into a healthy, well-rounded diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.
Choose varieties made from whole wheat flour and top your sweet or savory scones with fresh fruit, cream cheese, ricotta, or pesto.
Scones topped with cream and jam are high in sugar and calories but low in fiber. While they can be enjoyed in moderation, try whole wheat varieties and adding healthier toppings.
A bowl of plain Greek yogurt topped with berries is a great example of a healthy and balanced breakfast.
Unfortunately, many popular varieties of fat-free, flavored yogurt are packed with added sugar, with some types containing about 60% as much sugar as vanilla ice cream (
Additionally, you may be tempted to buy fat-free yogurt to keep calories down, but fat is an important nutrient that helps slow the emptying of your stomach to keep you feeling full longer (
Removing the fat from dairy products and adding a lot of sugar changes a nutritious breakfast option into a food that is better suited as an occasional treat.
Instead of purchasing yogurt with added sugar, opt for plain yogurt and ramp up the flavor with tasty ingredients like fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Nonfat sweetened yogurt is very high in sugar and lacks the natural dairy fat that can increase fullness. Unsweetened yogurt is a better option and can be easily sweetened with your favorite toppings.
Although granola bars may sound like great breakfast options, they’re often pretty similar to candy bars in terms of nutrition.
In fact, many granola bars provide only 1–3 grams of fiber and are also low in protein, with just a few grams per serving (
Additionally, some of the most popular brands contain a combination of added sugars, including sugar, corn syrup, and honey, along with other ingredients like chocolate chips or dried fruit.
Large amounts of these sugars can increase blood sugar, insulin levels, and inflammation (
Look for granola bars that are low in sugar and made from nutrient-dense ingredients like oats, nuts, and seeds.
You can also make homemade granola bars using ingredients like oats, nut butter, coconut flakes, and dates.
Many types of granola bars are high in sugar but low in fiber and protein. It’s best to choose low sugar granola bars made from nutrient-dense ingredients or try making your own granola bars at home.
Gluten-free diets have become very popular in recent years because of concerns about the potential negative health effects of gluten (
While there’s no harm in avoiding gluten, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and use refined ingredients like rice, potatoes, and tapioca, which may cause blood sugar spikes (
Additionally, gluten-free pancakes, muffins, and other baked goods are typically low in protein and fiber, similar to traditional wheat-based versions of these foods.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, there are plenty of breakfast options that are rich in nutrients and minimally processed, including gluten-free oatmeal, egg cups, smoothie bowls, and veggie frittatas.
In addition to being low in protein and fiber, many gluten-free packaged foods are highly processed and refined. There are a variety of other breakfast foods that can fit into a gluten-free diet, such as oatmeal, eggs, and smoothies.
Breakfast has the potential to set you up for a great day by providing a hearty dose of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
However, many popular breakfast foods are missing these key nutrients and can end up leaving you feeling hungry long before lunchtime.
Try some of the healthy options outlined above to give your morning meal a nutritious upgrade.
Just one thing
Try this today: Need more breakfast ideas that are both delicious and nutritious? Check out a few of the healthiest foods to eat in the morning and learn some simple ways to add them to your diet!