What is a healthy breakfast?

Everyone knows that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?

Eating a healthy breakfast provides energy to start the day, can reduce hunger to prevent overeating later in the day, and is important for attention and learning, especially in kids.

But what is a healthy breakfast? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

 Unfortunately, there is no specific answer to that question. I think most experts would agree that a good breakfast should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and even some fat but be low in added sugar. These broad guidelines suggest that there are many ways to create a healthy breakfast, even if it doesn’t include traditional breakfast foods.

Instead of making a list of all the foods that could be part of a healthy breakfast, I took the opposite approach and made a list of foods that shouldn’t  be part of a healthy breakfast. The idea being that if your breakfast contains these items,  it could likely use some improvements. And if you avoid these foods, your breakfast can’t be all bad.

So, here is my list of foods that almost certainly aren’t part of a healthy breakfast:

1. It has frosting on it.

I think everyone would agree that foods that are frosted are better classified as dessert than breakfast. That said, from donuts to Pop Tarts to breakfast bars, many unhealthy breakfast foods are covered with a layer of frosting.

2. One of the ingredients is marshmallows.

Just like frosting, breakfast foods that contain marshmallows are probably better choices for dessert. Marshmallows are found in cereals, granola bars, an other packaged foods that are almost always high in added sugars beyond the marshmallows.

3. It is topped with whipped cream.

A fruit smoothie can be a healthy breakfast. But a fruit smoothie topped with whipped cream is likely closer to a milkshake as far as sugar and calories are concerned. The same goes for coffee drinks. A mocha-caramel-latte with whipped topping may contain coffee, but it also has far more sugar, fat, and calories than you might expect.

4. It contains chocolate.

Research shows that eating chocolate may have health benefits. But the research involves consuming small amounts of dark chocolate, not chocolate donuts or chocolate-flavored cereal. Again, save the chocolate for dessert.

5. You are eating it in your car.

More specifically, you got the food while you were in your car, which means it likely came from the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant. Fast food is just as poor of a choice for breakfast as it is for lunch or dinner.

Of course, this is a work in progress and there are certainly some exceptions. And there is nothing wrong with treating yourself to a chocolate frosted donut once in a while. But if your daily breakfast includes items from this list, you could benefit from a breakfast makeover, and this list should help you avoid many unhealthy choices.

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