If you’re trying to eat clean, breakfast can be a minefield. Standard fare is often grab-and-go choices like bagels and muffins, or sugary options like waffles and doughnuts. The bad news is these processed, starchy foods can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and metabolism.
That’s why it’s important to eat a wholesome meal packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats to start your day. “It literally breaks the fast of not eating overnight,” says registered dietitian Emily Kyle. “Eating a high-quality breakfast helps to jump start your metabolism in the morning, while nourishing your body for the day’s activities,” she says.
Sarah Koszyk, registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, adds that people who consume a well-balanced breakfast tend to have “increased energy, better regulation of their blood sugars, increased consumption of important vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, and better hunger control throughout the day.” Need help cleaning up your breakfast options? We asked Kosyzk and Kyle for simple and healthy swaps to rethink your first meal of the day.
Breakfast Ideas to Make Clean Eating Easy
1. Instead of waffles or pancakes…
Sure, waffles and pancakes are the picture-perfect idea of Sunday brunch. But they are packed with simple carbohydrates, so your blood sugar levels will crash fast — and hard — soon after consuming them. Plus, they lack protein and heart-healthy fats that help keep you full longer, says Kyle.
Go homemade. While pre-made mixes are convenient, skip them. “Make your own at home using whole-wheat flour. This will increase the dietary fiber and offer more nutrients than traditional white flour,” she says. “Consider topping your waffles or pancakes with fresh fruit and a dollop of Greek yogurt. This will help you to consume more nutrients, heart-healthy fats, and protein without sacrificing flavor or satisfaction.”
2. Instead of a yogurt parfait…
While yogurt may be a healthy choice, a parfait can be a sugar bomb in disguise, especially if you buy one from the store. When you add a sweetener on top of fruit, granola and jam, the sugar content quickly adds up.
Grab Greek yogurt. Construct your own parfait using plain Greek yogurt, Koszyk suggests. “This will cut down on the added sugar from flavored yogurts and provide you with extra protein than regular yogurt,” she says. For one-half cup of yogurt, add one cup of fresh fruit for natural sweetness, not to mention vitamins and fiber. And granola? “Choose one with less than six grams of sugar per serving,” she says. Just don’t overdo it — sprinkle a handful on top.
3. Instead of cereal…
Cereal can be a tricky breakfast choice. While convenient, it’s often highly processed and packed with sugar — not exactly the ideal clean breakfast. But if you can’t give up your Snap, Crackle and Pop, be sure read the nutrition label, says Kyle. “Choose an option that has less sugar and more protein. Then pair that cereal with a serving of fresh fruit and a glass of your favorite milk, plant-based or traditional dairy, for a more wholesome meal,” she says.
Opt for overnight oats. Simply mix some dried oats with some milk or water in a jar and allow them to soak overnight in the fridge. Letting the oats sit in the liquid allows them to soften and become a pudding-like texture. Flavor with vanilla extract and spices, and top with some fruit for natural sweetness. For a warmer choice, oatmeal or oat bran bowl topped with cinnamon and fresh fruit.
4. Instead of an egg sandwich…
From the corner deli to your greasy spoon diner to McDonald’s, egg sandwiches are a breakfast staple. But typical ones may be overloaded with fat from butter and oil. Then, there’s the bread, which is usually an oversized sub, bagel or croissant.
Make an English muffin sandwich. Prep your own sandwich with a high-fiber English muffin, says Koszyk, which offers five or more grams of fiber per serving. Cook one egg with olive oil cooking spray and skip the butter. “Since cheese and bacon are both higher in fat, choose one or the other to add to the sandwich,” she says. Add a side of fruit for extra fiber, vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
5. Instead of bagels…
OK, we love bagels, too. “The challenge with bagels is the portion size and quantity of carbohydrates. One entire bagel has the same amount of carbohydrates as four slices of bread, about 60 grams of carbs,” says Koszyk.
Stick with half a serving. To cut down on your carb intake, enjoy half of a high-fiber bagel. “Add lox or smoked salmon for protein and tomato for vitamins and nutrients,” she says. You can also top with sprouts, capers and radishes for more fiber.
6. Instead of scones or muffins…
“Most traditional baked goods come in extra large serving sizes these days, which can add a lot of carbohydrates and refined sugar to your morning,” says Kyle.
Bake your own batch. Kyle suggests swapping out heavier ingredients like butter or eggs for applesauce, chia seeds, pureed bananas or Greek yogurt. “A simple swap like this can help you save up to 100 calories and add in some additional nutrients as well,” she says. “Add in fruits or veggies for your fillings instead of nuts or chocolate chips.”
And remember, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a scone or muffin for breakfast once in a while, even if you’re eating clean.