You’re driving for hours on an uphill road. You’ve got the air conditioner cranked, the windshield wipers on and the gas pedal to the floor. After six hours, your car starts to sputter. You pull over to get some gas.
Now imagine the car is your body. It works hard on autopilot all night to keep you functioning — yet too many of us don’t fill the tank after waking up. Unfortunately, skipping breakfast not only increases the risk of weight gain but also influences energy levels, mood and cognitive function.
You need the right fuel for premium performance. Start with these five.
Greek yogurt is a perfect grab-and-go option. Like regular yogurt, greek yogurt contains important nutrients such as calcium and B vitamins. But it provides double the protein of regular for around the same number of calories. Stick with plain greek yogurt rather than fruit-flavored varieties, which are loaded with added simple sugars. If plain is too bland, add your own flavor with berries, banana slices, a handful of walnuts or a sprinkle of flax seed.
Fruit salad is a sweet, healthy option for those who don’t have big morning appetites. Compared to drinking fruit juice, eating the fruit itself provides more intact fiber, which slows absorption and may help lower cholesterol. And research comparing whole apples to juice suggested that whole fruits contain vital nutrients not available in juice. The whole apples contained a type of antioxidant and the dietary fiber pectin, but the juice did not.
Plan a few extra minutes in the morning to cook a veggie omelet with a 3:1 ratio of egg whites to yolk. The egg whites contain protein and water, and the yolk provides important nutrients such as vitamin A, choline and B vitamins. Eliminating a few yolks will reduce fat and cholesterol while still providing these nutrients. Sauté spinach, peppers and tomatoes and add them to your omelet for a vitamin party on your plate.
To get the most from this combination, be a savvy shopper. Go straight to the list of ingredients on each product. With peanut butter, it doesn’t matter if it’s creamy, chunky, organic or natural as long as the only ingredient listed is peanuts (and maybe salt). For the English muffin, check to see that all ingredients are 100 percent whole grain (100 percent whole wheat, 100 percent brown rice flour, etc.) Researchers have found that eating more whole grains and fewer refined ones was associated with a lower risk for obesity and related chronic diseases.
Skip the high-sugar cereal and fill your breakfast bowl with quinoa — and all of its remarkable nutrients. Quinoa is a high-protein grain used in salads and dinner entrees, but it also makes a great hot cereal option. Aside from soy, quinoa is the only plant-based source of complete protein, meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids. So it is an especially good breakfast choice for vegetarians. When preparing quinoa as a hot cereal over the stove, try adding almond milk, cinnamon and raisins for a splash of flavor.
Brigid Titgemeier, nutrition assistant at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, contributed to this article.