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You know you’re doing breakfast wrong when it makes a doctor want to cry.
Think about your typical morning meal. Does it involve a bowl of cereal, a bagel, a donut or a muffin? To your body, that’s the same as eating dessert, warns Dr. Monique Tello, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Add processed meat like bacon and high-sugar orange juice to the mix, and it makes her want to shed a tear, she recently wrote in the Harvard Health Blog.
The post came about after Tello’s conversations with patients who struggle with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. Many are overweight.
“We try to talk about their diet and people say, ‘Oh, I have a big bowl of cereal in the morning,’” Tello told TODAY. “I tell patients, ‘Would you ever have a bowl of crushed chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?’”
The problem with typical breakfast offerings like muffins, bagels, pancakes and French toast is that they’re made of processed carbs and sugar, she said. You start off with a huge blood sugar rush and insulin spike, and it sets you up to repeat that pattern for the rest of the day. That can be especially problematic for people who are prone to diabetes or weight gain, Tello noted.
Instead, plan your morning meal around food that’s full of fiber, protein and healthy fat to hold your blood sugar stable and keep you satisfied. Tello shared her own daily quick, portable recipe that accomplishes those goals using just three main ingredients. You can eat this breakfast at home or easily assemble it at work:
Step 1: Fruit
Fill a bowl or container with your favorite fruit — Tello’s go-to container holds about three cups. If it's plastic, make sure it’s BPA and dioxin-free, and FDA-approved microwave-safe. Tello is a fan of frozen fruit because it’s easy, less expensive, picked at the peak of freshness and ripeness, and available year-round. You can defrost it in the microwave in minutes.
“Fruit is wonderful. Colorful fruit is going to be high in vitamins and antioxidants,” Tello said. “It tastes good, it’s appealing, and it’s helping us to meet our daily requirement of fruits and vegetables.”
The sweetness comes from natural fruit sugars packaged along with lots of fiber, so you’re not going to get the blood sugar spike that you’d get with added sugars.
Step 2: Yogurt
Yogurt is a great source of protein and probiotics. “Our gut health is really more important than we realized in the past,” Tello said. Top your fruit with a small single-serve container of plain or low-sugar yogurt. Tello skips the fat-free versions: “A little bit of fat is probably good for us,” she said.
Step 3: Nuts
Grab a handful of your favorite nuts or seeds and sprinkle on top. Tello often goes for unsalted cashews or almonds. “Nature has packaged healthy fats and energy for us in this really nice fiber-rich package,” she said. “You’re going to have a nice slow release of energy as that’s digested. It’s going to hold you over a lot longer.”
Don’t force breakfast
Finally, you should know Tello doesn’t feel breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A lot of people just don’t feel that hungry when they get up and that’s OK, she said.
“For most healthy people, their bodies are going to tell them when they need fuel,” Tello noted. “When you do have fuel, it should be healthy, especially your first meal of the day, regardless of what time it is.”