The 20 Healthiest Foods to Eat for Breakfast
Start your day off right
The next time you rush out the door in the morning without something to eat, consider this: Skipping breakfast can set you up for overeating later in the day. A healthy a.m. meal, on the other hand, provides energy, satisfies your appetite, and sets the stage for smart decisions all day long.
You want to aim for a breakfast that combines good carbs and fiber with protein, Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD, a nutritionist in New York City, tells Health. Luckily, you've got plenty of delicious, easy-to-find options. Here's a look at the 20 healthiest breakfast foods, along with tips from nutritionists for making them even better for you.
RELATED: 15 High-Protein Breakfast Recipe Ideas
Old-school breakfast option oatmeal isn't just low in calories and high in complex carbs. Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber that's been shown to help lower cholesterol when eaten regularly. Need another reason to dig in? Oats are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium.
Steel-cut oats, which take about 15 minutes to cook, contain more fiber than rolled oats or instant varieties, but any type of oatmeal is a healthy choice. Just avoid the flavored kinds, which can be packed with sugar. Instead, sweeten your bowl with milk and a bit of honey, and top with fruit and nuts.
This tangy, creamy type of yogurt is loaded with calcium and boasts plenty of protein—nearly twice as much as regular yogurt—to keep you feeling full throughout the morning. Your best bet: Choose a plain, nonfat variety, and add some fruit to give it some sweetness and flavor (and a dose of added nutrition).
"I love Greek yogurt because it's really quick and easy," says Giovinazzo. "You can always take it with you on your way out the door."
A little wheat germ goes a long way. Just two tablespoons provides about 15% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin E and 10% of your daily folate. "Vitamin E is often a little low in people's diets, so this is a good way to add in some extra—especially if you don't eat a lot of nuts or seeds, two other big sources," says Giovinazzo.
It's easy to incorporate wheat germ into almost any meal, including your go-to breakfasts: Sprinkle it over cereal, stir it into yogurt, or mix it into a smoothie.
Grapefruit made the healthy breakfast list thanks to its beneficial effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Grapefruit is also hydrating, filling, and packed with immunity-boosting antioxidants.
For a well-rounded breakfast, pair it with protein—such as yogurt or an egg, suggests Giovinazzo. But check with your doctor first if you take any medications, as grapefruit and grapefruit juice can interfere with some prescription drugs.
There's nothing like a banana at breakfast to keep those mid-morning cravings at bay. The yellow fruit—especially when they're still a touch green—are one of the best sources of resistant starch, a healthy carbohydrate that keeps you feeling fuller longer.
"Slice it up and add it to cereal or oatmeal," advises Giovinazzo. "It will add natural sweetness, so you may not need additional sugar."
Thanks to a healthy dose of potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower blood pressure naturally, bananas are a particularly good choice for people with hypertension.
Once shunned for being high in dietary cholesterol (one yolk contains about 60% of your daily allotment), eggs are now embraced as a healthy source of protein and nutrients like vitamin D. Why the turnabout? Research has shown that the cholesterol in our food has less of an impact on blood cholesterol than previously thought.
"If, overall, you're choosing lean proteins and not eating a ton of fat and cholesterol, then eggs are a great thing to have in your diet," says Giovinazzo. The American Heart Association recommends that people with normal cholesterol limit their cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day.
RELATED: Is It Really Okay to Eat Eggs Everyday?
Don't eat eggs or dairy? Almond butter is an excellent alternate source of protein, and it's filled with monounsaturated fat (one of the good fats). Plus, as Giovinazzo points out, "it's really delicious spread on whole grain bread or paired with a banana or an apple."
Nutritionally, almond butter is comparable to peanut butter; each have about 100 calories per tablespoon. Almond butter contains slightly less saturated fat, though—a definite point in its favor, even for people who aren't allergic to peanuts.
As its name suggests, watermelon is an excellent way to hydrate in the morning. This juicy fruit is also among the best sources of lycopene—a nutrient found in red fruits and vegetables that's important for vision, heart health, and cancer prevention.
Sprinkling ground flaxseed into a smoothie or bowl of cereal will turn your breakfast into a gold mine of omega-3 fatty acids; just two tablespoons contains more than 100% of your recommended daily intake for those heart-healthy fats. Flaxseed, which has a nutty flavor, is also rich in fiber and lignan, an antioxidant that's been shown to protect against breast cancer.
A word of caution: Whole flaxseeds will pass through your body without being digested, so be sure to buy them ground or grind them yourself with a coffee or spice grinder.
Fresh or frozen, these tiny superfruits pack a big antioxidant punch. Studies suggest that eating blueberries regularly can help improve everything from memory and motor skills to blood pressure and metabolism. (Wild blueberries, in particular, have one of the highest concentrations of the powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins.) Blueberries are also lower in calories than a lot of other fruits (they contain just 80 per cup).
RELATED: Very Berry Recipes
"Berries are superfoods because they're so high in antioxidants without being high in calories," Giovinazzo says. One cup of strawberries, for instance, contains your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, along with high quantities of folic acid and fiber.
Strawberries are good for your heart, too. One study found that women were less likely to have a heart attack over an 18-year period if they ate more than three servings of strawberries or blueberries per week. (Strawberries, like blueberries, are a good source of anthocyanins.)
RELATED: The Health Benefits of Strawberries
Espresso doesn't just wake you up. Drinking coffee has been linked to a lower risk of several diseases (such as diabetes and prostate cancer), and it may even help you live longer. Researchers suspect the combination of caffeine and antioxidants are responsible for many of the observed health benefits.
Of course, loading coffee up with cream and sugar may erase any potential benefits. So skip the fancy flavored drinks, and stick with skim milk.
Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Morning Coffee Even Healthier
Not a coffee person? Tea has a pretty impressive résumé of health benefits, too. Because it has less caffeine, it hydrates you more effectively than coffee, and it's also a rich source of the immunity-boosting antioxidants known as catechins.
All tea (black, green, and white) provides antioxidants, but green tea may be healthiest of all. Research suggests that drinking five cups a day can increase your body's metabolism and help you lose more weight around the middle.
Any fruit is a good addition to your breakfast, says Giovinazzo, and cantaloupe is no exception. A six-ounce serving (roughly a quarter of a melon) contains just 50 calories and a full 100% of your recommended daily intake of both vitamin C and vitamin A, an important nutrient for smooth, younger-looking skin.
Like most melons, cantaloupe has a high water concentration, which means it will help you stay hydrated and keep you feeling full until lunchtime.
This fuzzy little fruit has about 65 milligrams of vitamin C per serving—nearly as much as an orange. It's also rich in potassium and copper and contains more fiber per ounce than a banana, which makes it a super aid to digestion. (In one study, eating two kiwis a day for one month lessened constipation in people with irritable bowel syndrome.)
Kiwis are slightly tart. They're delicious by themselves, but if you prefer a sweeter flavor, try mixing them with strawberries and bananas in a smoothie or fruit salad.
Fresh squeezed OJ is a classic (and tasty) morning beverage, but that doesn't mean it can't be made even healthier. For more nutritional benefit, opt for a store-bought variety that's fortified with vitamin D. Along with fatty fish and fortified milk, fortified OJ is one of the few dietary sources of the sunshine vitamin, higher levels of which have been linked to a reduced risk of osteoporosis, depression, and certain cancers.
Whichever OJ you prefer, stick with one small glass a day, advises Giovinazzo. Fruit juice is high in calories and sugar, she says, and shouldn't replace whole fruit in your diet.
RELATED: What Causes Dehydration? Here's What You Need to Know
Cranberry juice, which may help limit bacterial growth, is best known for warding off urinary tract infections (UTIs. But its healing powers may not stop there. The tart juice appears to promote cardiovascular health, too.
As with OJ, though, you're better off sticking with small servings. Cranberry juice—not to be confused with cranberry juice cocktail—isn't as sugary as other fruit juices, but its high acidity can sometimes contribute to bladder problems besides UTIs.
"Cereal can be tricky, because there are so many different kinds out there," warns Giovinazzo. "Something with at least 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar is probably your best bet."
You'll find this winning combo in many whole-grain or bran cereals (such as shredded wheat), which as an added bonus are often fortified with riboflavin, folic acid, and other essential nutrients.
Top off your bowl with skim milk and fruit for the complete package: whole grains to fill you up, protein to supply all-day energy, and antioxidants to keep your immune system humming.
Raspberries contain ellagitannins, a type of antioxidant that is thought to have cancer-fighting properties. They're also high in fiber (8 grams per cup), vitamin C, and vitamin K, which helps build strong bones.
Although you can buy fresh raspberries year-round, during the off-season you'll find them cheaper (and with equal nutritional value) in the frozen foods aisle. They're perfect as an addition to cereal or yogurt, or mixed into a smoothie for a quick, drink-on-the-go breakfast.
Carbohydrates are a breakfast mainstay, but the type of carbs you choose can make a big difference in the overall health of your meal. The simple rule to remember is that whole wheat and other whole grains—whether they're found in bread, toast, or English muffins—contain more fiber and nutrients than their white, refined counterparts.
What you put on your bread matters, as well. "Slathering your toast with butter or jelly just adds empty fat and calories," says Giovinazzo. "Instead, get some protein by adding an egg or some almond butter."
RELATED: The 15 Best Vegan Protein Powders