Even if you’re trying to cut calories to lose weight, that doesn’t mean breakfast has to be a measly, dry piece of toast and a hard-boiled egg.
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Instead, you should break the overnight fast with a hearty meal that will fill you up and fuel your day.
“I like balanced meals that focus on high-quality nutrition,” says dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.
Here’s what you need to know to make good choices in the morning.
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, but its specific role in weight loss is up for debate. Some studies have found that people who eat a big breakfast burn more calories throughout the day, while others show that people who skip breakfast end up eating fewer calories in a day.
So your best bet, Zumpano says, is to follow your hunger cues. If your appetite is revved up and ready to go first thing in the a.m., then you should have breakfast. If you don’t get hungry until later, don’t stress about it.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to steer clear of heavy, refined carbohydrates, especially first thing in the morning. Baked goods like donuts, muffins and scones are high in sugar, bad fats and overall calories, Zumpano says.
“Also, if you start your day off with something sweet, you’re more likely to crave sweets all day,” she says. “Sugar is very addicting and difficult to control.”
Speaking of sugar, don’t forget about your drinks. Orange juice and sugary coffee creamers can set you back a lot of calories and sugar. Avoid them, or make sure you factor them into your daily plan.
Zumpano recommends structuring your breakfast to include plenty of protein and fiber to maximize on fullness. Doing this might also continue to pay off later: In one study, young women who ate more protein at breakfast were less likely to snack on high-fat foods and feel cravings later in the day.
She recommends including those components in your breakfast:
How many calories should you eat for breakfast? Everyone’s ideal calorie intake will be a little different, depending on what your total daily calories needs are. But if weight loss is your goal, Zumpano recommends aiming for 300 to 500 calories for breakfast. More important than counting calories, though, is making sure your breakfast is a balanced, high-quality meal.
Zumpano gives these examples as good options:
If you find that you’re rushed in the morning, try meal-prepping your breakfasts in advance. That way you can get out the door quickly but still get your nutrition first thing in the morning.
While breakfast probably isn’t the magical key to your weight-loss strategy, it can set the tone for the day and is an important component of your overall nutrition plan.