Breakfast kick starts your metabolism for the day, so you don't want to mess that up. Here are the top four breakfast mistakes I see, plus how to fix each one.
The mistake: you skip it to save calories
Forgoing breakfast may seem like a calorie-saver, but it can actually be a fat trap. Researchers at Imperial College London found that when people went without an a.m. meal, their brain reward centers lit up when they were shown images of high-calorie foods. That means turning down treats becomes harder, and you’re likely to make up for the missed calories (and then some) with junkier choices later in the day, when it’s tougher to burn them off.
Commit to eating something every morning. If time is an issue, stash a healthy energy bar containing fruit in your bag.
The mistake: you turn to high-carb foods for energy
Grabbing a blueberry muffin with your coffee may not seem so bad, but a typical bakery muffin packs more added sugar than you should have for the entire day—a staggering 44 grams. According to the American Heart Association, women should top out at about 24 grams of added sugar daily (that’s 6 teaspoons’ worth).
You don’t have to completely avoid sugar if you need a jolt to get going. Chop up one tasting square of dark chocolate and mix it into your oatmeal. (I use this trick in my overnight oats recipe, at right.) Also, make fruit your friend: Blend up a smoothie or fold fruit into yogurt or oatmeal. You can also top toast with mashed avocado or almond butter, then slices of fresh figs or pears.
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The mistake: you're eating healthy but missing produce
Only 8 percent of Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit each day (2 cups, for a moderately active woman) and just 6 percent hit the mark for veggies (3 cups), according to a report from Produce for Better Health Foundation. So even if you have a nutritious egg-on whole-wheat sandwich in the morning, not fitting in some produce may keep you from reaching the daily goal.
Get at least one serving at breakfast by grabbing a piece of fruit before you head out the door. For more, add vegetables to an omelet or put greens in a smoothie.
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The mistake: your breakfast is too skimpy
Being pressed for time is one of the main reasons women don’t eat enough in the morning. But the expression “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” holds up. Researchers in Israel found that overweight women who ate more calories at breakfast and fewer at dinner lost more weight and had greater waistline reductions than those who flipped the numbers, even when total daily calories were the same.
Aim for a combo of lean protein, healthy fat and good carbs in every breakfast. Instead of just yogurt, add in nuts and fruit. Bottom line: If you work normal hours, your dinner should never pack twice as many calories as breakfast.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Cynthia is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.