I’m always on the hunt for the perfect breakfast. Eating a good breakfast makes it much easier to keep making good choices throughout the day. If I eat an unhealthy breakfast I start the day already behind.
We only have so much willpower each day, and use it up as the day progresses. If a good breakfast is easy, we don’t need to use any willpower to make it happen and can save it for later in the day when cookies often beckon.
So what makes a great breakfast? A whole grain, a fruit, some flax, and maybe some nuts or seeds.
Whole grains give us fuel that lasts without spiking up our blood sugar. Flax is a superfood that fights inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. Fruit gives us a boost of antioxidants to fight free radicals through the day. Nuts and seeds provide healthy fat, antioxidants and protein.
If you’ve been reading for a while you know I am a lover of oats. If you think you don’t like them, please give them another try. We need variety in our grains, and oats are a great way to get a whole grain that’s not the same old wheat. They are also great friends with flax, fruit and nuts. The combination just works.
Oats are our only real source of a type of anti-inflammatory compounds called avenanthramides. These compounds work hard to relieve inflammation throughout our body, and even have cancer fighting properties. In a test tube, oats were effective at killing cancer cells that were resistant to several types of chemotherapy. Oat-based lotions (like Aveeno) are the only treatment proven effective for some of the skin rashes caused by chemo.
I make my oats once and eat all week, so they are easy, Here’s how to do it:
For 4-5 servings (can be easily doubled for two people):
1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups water
pinch of salt
Place in a pot with a lid, and bring to a boil. Give it a few good stirs, turn off the heat and cover the pot. Leave overnight. In the morning, give it a good stir.
Dish out a serving, add 1 TBS flax meal (ground flax) and fruit (usually frozen berries for me, sometimes peaches) and heat in the microwave. You don’t have to worry about it boiling over since its already cooked. You can also chop up an apple and add it with some cinnamon for a terrific bowl of apple-pie oats.
Pumpkin seeds or sliced almonds are a great topping. They are crunchy and give us a little boost of healthy fat and protein. If you are in the mood for a little indulgence, the Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pumpkin Seeds from Trader Joes are delicious. 1-2 TBS of these are plenty for a bowl of oats – they are pretty potent.
You can spice the oatmeal however you like. Cinnamon and vanilla are great options. So is that bottle of pumpkin pie spice that sits around lonely and unloved after Thanksgiving. Spices give us a boost of anti-inflammatory compounds too.
A quick note about oatmeal: several of you have told me that you feel hungry a few hours after eating a bowl of oats for breakfast. For the fiber in oats to do its work it needs water. I find that when I feel hungry shortly after eating oatmeal, what I really need is a glass of water rather than a snack.
I grew up with toast for breakfast, and its still one of my favorites. To make it healthy and fuel me for the day I use a whole grain bread. Look for one with 5 grams of fiber per slice and the first ingredient is a whole grain.
I top the toast with a layer of hummus for a bit of protein. Then avocado, which I smash with lemon juice, salt and flax. Whole grain, fruit (avocado) and flax – the perfect combo. I sometimes have a banana or other fresh fruit on the side too.
Another option is toast with nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, sesame seed, etc.) sprinkled with flax and some sliced fruit on top. Banana is the obvious choice, but berries can be good too. Or have the fruit on the side. If you are in a hurry just make this a sandwich and eat it on the go.
There are a lot of new whole grain cereals out there if you get tired of the oats. Quinoa and millet both make great hot breakfast cereals, and so do grits.
The millet and quinoa cereals you can treat like oatmeal, with flax and fruit added in when heating the cereal. They are both hearty and delicious, and keep will in the fridge for several days. I haven’t tried the overnight method above, but both work well in a rice cooker.
Grits are whole grain corn, and can make a great sweet or savory breakfast. Cook them in water with a little salt. You can add flax and any fruit you like, or have fruit on the side. Blueberries and corn are a great combination, they need just a touch of sugar to bring out all of the flavors.
What about protein?
All of these options give us a good amount of protein for a breakfast. We need whole-food carbohydrates for energy more than we need protein first thing in the morning. This idea that protein gives us energy is false. We use mostly carbohydrates and fat for energy, not much protein. Protein can help us feel full though, just like fat.
Protein if often used as we repair our bodies during the night, and that’s why traditionally dinners are based around a protein source. Eggs in the morning may help us feel full, but if you try a whole-grain breakfast you’ll find that you have more energy throughout the day. Without all of the saturated fat that comes with eggs, sausage and bacon.
Frozen fruits are just as nutritious as fresh, and so easy to use in the morning. Now that its Fall, its getting harder and harder to find good fresh fruit in the market. Feel free to use frozen fruit, especially when heating it in a cereal. It will be just as good and save you lots of time.
Dried fruits are another option. Raisins are delicious in oatmeal, so are dried cranberries. Research shows that dried fruit and nuts do not end up stored as fat on our bodies. Its very hard to gain weight eating those foods, so do not be afraid to use them! They are quick, easy and nutritious.
These breakfasts are all quick to make and deeply nourishing. I hope you give them a try. Let me know how it goes!