Refined vs. unrefined carbohydrates
Most traditional American breakfast options center around the wrong type of carbohydrates. Donuts, pancakes, waffles, muffins, toast, and bagels are mainstays of any continental breakfast, coffee shop, and most family breakfast tables. Not only are they filled with added sugar, but they are primarily composed of refined carbohydrates. More and more of us are aware that these refined carbohydrates (bread-like options made from refining and processing grains like wheat into flour and then baking them) are not the healthiest choices for a balanced breakfast. In fact, many of us claim to be on “low carb” or “no carb” diets, and what we really mean is that we are avoiding these refined, bread-like options.
But did you know that beans, fruit, and even vegetables are all primarily composed of carbohydrates? These healthier, unrefined carbohydrates have many health benefits (so any diet that truly restricts carbohydrates would not even permit vegetables, and in my opinion, would not be the healthiest choice).
Which carbs should be included in breakfast?
Now that we understand what foods are carbohydrate-heavy, we can discuss the role of carbohydrates in a healthy breakfast. When we have only (or mostly) carbohydrates at breakfast, our blood sugar spikes quickly, making a hormone called insulin spike as well. Not only does excess insulin promote fat storage (a negative for most of us), but this rapid fluctuation in blood sugar leaves us susceptible to sugar cravings and feelings of blood sugar instability all day. You’ll have more energy and better control of your hunger later in the day if you resist this morning insulin spike. Who doesn’t want that?
All we need to do to achieve this is to choose healthier (unrefined) versions of carbohydrates, and to balance out any carbohydrates we do choose to consume with protein, healthy fat, or both. We don’t need to remove carbohydrates all together, but even healthier carbohydrates like fruit and oatmeal may be setting us up for breakfast failure when they’re not balanced out appropriately. So when you include carbohydrates of any type at breakfast, be sure that you’re also including protein, healthy fat, or ideally, both.
Healthy breakfast options
Here are several healthy breakfast combinations, focusing on protein, healthy fat, and unrefined sources of carbohydrates:
- Crustless quiche. I firmly believe that eggs (a great source of protein and healthy fat) and vegetables (a great source of unrefined carbohydrates and an abundance of micronutrients) are the best breakfast option for many people. Simply scramble up a few eggs with some spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes, or if you’re in more of a time crunch, make a crustless quiche on the weekend to enjoy all week. Find the simple recipe here.
- Oatmeal. If you’re a die-hard oatmeal fan and can’t imagine doing without, at least balance out this grain with some protein and healthy fat. Stir a whole egg or half-cup of liquid egg whites into your serving of oatmeal before cooking, and stir every 45 seconds either in the microwave or stovetop. You’ll be amazed by how fluffy the egg makes the oatmeal, and your body will thank you for the addition of protein. Top your bowl with two tablespoons of slivered almonds or one tablespoon of peanut or almond butter for some healthy fat, and sprinkle with cinnamon and berries for flavor and extra nutrients.
- Green smoothies. Green smoothies are increasingly popular, and for good reason – they are a great way to get in vegetables in the morning, and a tasty on-the-run substitute for a complicated sit-down breakfast. However, if you toss in five types of fruit and don’t balance those carbohydrates with protein and healthy fat, your blood sugar will still be on a roller coaster from the get-go. I recommend sticking to one cup of fruit, adding in one source of protein (a scoop of healthier protein powder like the one here, or half-cup plain unsweetened Greek yogurt), and one source of healthy fat (half a small avocado, two tablespoons of chia seeds, or one tablespoon of almond butter). One of my favorite smoothies (which I call “Sweet Cinnamon Delight”) mixes two giant handfuls of spinach, half a small frozen pear, half a small avocado, one scoop of vanilla protein powder, a hefty dash of cinnamon, one cup of unsweetened almond milk, and enough ice to bring to your desired consistency. Want tons more info on smoothies, including my favorite 20 recipes? Here you go!
Even more healthy, balanced breakfast recipes!
And here are 15 other recipe links that I recommend frequently to clients!
- Avocado egg cups
- Leftover spaghetti squash pancake
- Egg muffins
- 2-ingredient pancake
- Savory quinoa breakfast bowl (depending on your goals, I’d use 1/4 cup uncooked quinoa instead of 1/2)
- Vegan, soy-free breakfast scramble
- Grain-free English muffin (or Mikey’s frozen version)
- Paleo Breakfast Casserole
- Simple chia pudding: add 3 Tbsp. chia seeds, 1 packet Juice Plus+ Complete vanilla, and 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk to a mason jar. Stir and keep refrigerated overnight. Enjoy pudding in the morning!
- Zucchini oatless oatmeal
- Herbed quinoa breakfast wraps
- Brussels sprout and sweet potato hash with bacon
- Chia yogurt power bowl
- Paleo crepes (feel free to use stevia instead of coconut sugar for an even lower-carb breakfast!)
Eat up, and feel the benefits all throughout your day!