There’s a major problem with most typical American breakfasts.
They’re absolutely loaded with sugar. Often times, more sugar than found in dessert!
Now of course, this is probably obvious for certain breakfast options like pancakes and waffles.
But what about the seemingly “healthier” options like yogurt and granola bars? Certainly those are healthy, right?
Even many breakfast foods marketed as “healthy” are packed with sugar.
As a recent Vox article pointed out:
Yoplait and Chobani have built yogurt empires in America by saturating their products with sugar. Yoplait recently lowered the sugar in its classic 6-ounce strawberry yogurt from 26 grams to 18 grams (4.5 teaspoons), but that’s still more than the 15 grams you’ll get in a standard brownie.
Wh-wh-what!? Yes, the now reduced-sugar Yoplait still has more sugar than a brownie!
Let’s take a look at some other popular “healthy” breakfast options:
- Luna Protein Bar, Chocolate Peanut Butter — 13 grams sugar (3 teaspoons)
- Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bar — 12 grams sugar (3 teaspoons)
- 1 cup Quaker Oats and Honey granola — 16 grams sugar (6.5 teaspoons)
- Chobani blueberry yogurt — 15 grams sugar (6.5 teaspoons)
[I personally like to see the conversion of grams to teaspoons since it’s much easier to conceptualize just how much sugar is really in a product. If you’re looking to do this simple conversion yourself, simply divide the number of grams of sugar by 4.]
But just looking at “sugar” is not enough. We must take simple carbohydrates into account.
Regarding this topic, someone recently asked me, “How about regular Cheerios? They only have 1 gram of sugar per cup.” And this is really a great question. Because if you’re just looking at “sugar” on the Nutrition Facts label, you would certainly think that this is a low-sugar option. BUT it’s actually quite the opposite.
High-glycemic simple carbohydrates might as well be table sugar to your body since they’re so quickly converted to glucose once digested. This means that you can and will experience the same blood sugar spike, insulin surge, and subsequent blood sugar rollercoaster from a meal filled with simple carbs as you would from straight sugar.
Back to the regular Cheerios: they have 21 grams of carbohydrate per serving/cup. If you look at the ingredients label, it’s clear that these mostly come from “whole grain oats” and “corn starch.” Don’t be fooled by “whole grain” here: it is still extremely refined and high glycemic (I’m sure it’s clear that there’s a HUGE difference between a true whole grain like quinoa and the “whole grain” found in a product like Cheerios; it’s a matter of real food versus a highly-processed food-like-product). For this reason, Cheerios have a glycemic index of 74, which is very high. Higher than 2 teaspoons of table sugar, actually!
Remember: sugar and simple carbohydrates do not keep you feeling full for very long.
Since sugar and simple carbohydrates are so rapidly digested and converted to glucose, they provide a quick shot of energy that is quickly burned off, causing blood sugar levels to spike and then plummet. While a quick shot of energy may seem like a good thing first thing in the morning when we need to get dressed and out the door on time, it really means that your 7:00 AM breakfast will have you feeling hungry and exhausted again by 8:00 AM.
And since sugar is addictive (literally) and your body wants help getting blood sugar levels back up again, what will your body crave? More sugar and/or refined carbs! It’s an endless cycle that most Americans are trapped in each day, starting with breakfast. And it is so much more detrimental than just bouts of “hanger” and mid-afternoon crashes: it is without a doubt one of the biggest culprits behind our nation’s soaring rates of obesity, type II diabetes, and inflammatory disease (since the blood sugar rollercoaster creates systemic inflammation). Simply put, our bodies were never designed to handle being perpetually inundated with sugar, and it’s causing a public health crisis (not to sound too dramatic!).
Breakfast is the most important meal for keeping blood sugar levels balanced.
Studies have shown that if you are able to keep blood sugar levels balanced in the morning, steady levels will continue on to lunchtime. And if you are able to keep blood sugar levels balanced at lunchtime, it will continue on to dinner!
This means that you won’t be experiencing blood sugar highs and lows, energy crashes, “hanger,” or even crazy sugar cravings. Instead, you will experience steady blood sugar, constant energy, a steady mood, and fewer cravings between meals.
So how do we keep blood sugar levels balanced at breakfast?
Rule of thumb: breakfast should be heavy on protein and healthy fats.
[Remember: fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet. It’s a nutrient, not a monster!]
While it can certainly include carbs, it should do so in the form of complex carbohydrates from whole fruits and vegetables, as well as gluten-free whole grains (preferably properly soaked and sprouted to aid digestion) if you can tolerate them.
So out with the:
- Taster pastries
- Sweetened, non-fat yogurt
- Granola bars
And in with the:
- Sausage (nitrate-free and from humanely-raised animals)
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole fruits and vegetables
- Whole fat, plain yogurt
- Gluten-free whole grains (preferably properly soaked and sprouted to aid digestion)
- Healthy fats (avocado, coconut, olive oil, grass-fed ghee, raw grass-fed butter)
- Smoked salmon
My personal go-to breakfast is 2 soft-boiled eggs (with some mineral-rich pink himalayan sea salt) and a scoop of collagen peptides (for extra protein) in a few ounces of water. I know it doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s super convenient (I batch boil the eggs at the beginning of the week), pasture-raised eggs are extremely nutrient-dense, collagen peptides are fantastic for your skin and hair, and it keeps me full until lunch time. I do typically snack on some fruit and veggies between the two meals though to get a couple servings of produce in.
When I want to switch things up and get a little fancier, my go-to breakfast is chicken, sweet potato, and asparagus with some grass-fed ghee and coconut oil for breakfast. Yes, it sounds like dinner and it’s amazing! Definitely don’t shy away from eating certain foods for breakfast just because they don’t seem like typical breakfast foods. If it fits the bill of high protein, high healthy fat, and low sugar and refined carb then go ahead and enjoy.
My husband is a recovering Chobani and granola lover. He typically eats whole fat, plain Greek yogurt from gras-fed cows with a grain-free, sugar-free granola (Paleonola — Thrive Market has the best price I’ve found). Do keep in mind that many people can’t properly digest dairy, and that it contains lactose, a natural sugar. However, the specific one he eats has 22 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat to temper the 7 grams of sugar (per serving). Homemade chia pudding is a great dairy-free alternative to yogurt that’s super easy to whip up quickly.
So what do you say? Time to put dessert back in its place and raise the bar for breakfast?
Do you have a favorite healthy breakfast option that’s low in sugar and refined carbs? Please share with us!