Breakfast. Some say it’s the most important meal of the day. Indeed, it can jump start our day. A healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber, protein and healthy fats can boost your mood and give you energy all day long.
But, an unhealthy breakfast can leave you feeling sluggish, tired and irritable.
Somewhere along the line, “healthy” became an advertising buzzword. As did “natural”, “gluten-free” and “whole-grain”. The problem is, although they may not be lying to us – sugar is indeed natural, and gluten-free contains no gluten – we are still being deceived.
The biggest enemy in breakfast foods today is hidden sugars and sugar is a key contributor to a whole host of health issues ranging from obesity to diabetes and heart disease. 1,2
Here are 6 popular breakfast foods that are heralded as “healthy” that you should avoid. Plus, what you should be eating instead.
Somewhere along the line, granola came to be regarded as a natural, wholesome food. Every hip cafe in town now serves their own brand of “homemade” granola. But truth be told, Dr. James Caleb Jackson, who invented granola in 1863 would probably turn in his grave if he knew what we’d done to it.3
Dr. Jackson’s original granola was a simple, dense dish of unsweetened bran nuggets, soaked in milk. Today, commercial granola blends are loaded with so much sugar that you’d be better off just eating a candy bar! Even the U.S. government has officially categorized granola as a “grain-based dessert” alongside cookies and cakes.4 Homemade granola is not much better, using just as much refined sugar but under the guise of “healthy” sugars, such as maple syrup, agave and honey. But sugar is sugar and your body reacts the same to it—be it from a natural or processed source.
Want a simple guideline? If granola contains more than 6g of sugar per serving, walk away.
Eat this instead: To fill your granola cravings, try a bit of DIY at home. Toast a big batch of oats in the oven with your favorite nuts and seed, and no more than 2 tablespoons of honey. Then add cinnamon, coconut and some plain yogurt. Store in an airtight container and you’ll have breakfast all week.
The bagel is as American as apple pie—certainly if you’re from New York City. But don’t be fooled by the bagel image as “low-fat”.
A bagel is basically a supersized serving of bread. In fact, one large bagel from your local bakery could contain the equivalent of 6 servings of bread. In one bagel!
Understandably, this make bagels very high in carbs. But most people don’t realize that bagels are also incredibly high in sodium. One bagel can contain 460 mg of sodium, or 19% of your daily recommended intake.
Bagels have no protein to speak of, and can cost you a whopping 245 calories. Add cream cheese, as we’re all want to do, and that’s another 34 calories and 32 mg of salt.
You’d be better off eating a donut! A plain one has around 195 calories.
Eat this instead: If you really need a bagel fix, try buying a bagel “thin” which is less than half the size of a standard bagel and then smearing it with good fats and proteins like mashed avocado or almond butter. Or, scoop out the bready insides before adding your toppings.
3. Sweetened non-fat yogurt
Yogurt is today heralded as a superfood and rightly so. It’s rich in calcium and full of probiotics that balance our gut flora and keep us healthy from the inside. Studies have shown that probiotics are a weapon in the fight against everything from the common cold to colon cancer to obesity.5
So how did yogurt make this list? Unfortunately, yogurt has been taken from its simple beginnings and undergone a sugar bomb makeover in an effort to make it fat-free and more “tasty”.
The problem with “non-fat” is that in order to keep fat low, sugar content is increased. So your light, low-fat, strawberry yogurt actually has about twice as many calories and SIX times the amount of sugar than a standard tub of plain Greek yogurt. (Not to mention the added “fruit” flavors which are rarely even real fruit and more likely syrupy imitations.)
Eat this instead: Stick to plain yogurt, with no added flavors (including seemingly harmless ones, like vanilla or honey). Read the labels. If the sugar is under 6 grams per serving, you’re good to go. If you find plain yogurt too tart for your tastebuds, add some fresh fruit.
4. Orange Juice
Orange juice is still the go-to drink, besides coffee, in the morning. Many people still view it as a fresh, healthy serving of fruit to start the day. However, orange juice (like all fruit juice) is full of sugar. Natural sugar, but sugar nonetheless. In fact, a single serving of OJ could set you back 6 teaspoons of sugar (21g /100 cal) which the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend as the total amount that women should have in an entire day.
Fruit itself isn’t bad and we should include more of it in our diet. But when you drink fruit juice you lose all of the healthy fiber from the fruit, which actually helps you absorb sugar in your diet.
Eat this instead: So, pass on the OJ and have an orange, or another piece of fruit instead. A whole orange has only 45 calories and 9g of sugar—plus all the good-for-you fiber.
5. Breakfast Bars
Breakfast bars, otherwise known as granola bars, have become a crutch in our busy lifestyles. You grab a breakfast bar, throw it in your pocket and eat it on the way to work. Easy and good for you, right?
Much like granola, manufacturers love to tell us that breakfast bars are made from healthy whole-grains and fruits. What they neglect to tell us is that they’re also loaded with sugar, contain little to no protein or fiber and are often filled out with icky additives like high fructose corn syrup. Most brands are about as nutritionally healthy as a cookie or chocolate bar.
There are healthy alternatives on the market, however, if you’re prepared to put in the research. Look for products with whole grains as the first ingredient (not sugar), that have fewer than 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of protein. Fewer ingredients, all of which you can pronounce, is another good indicator of a decent breakfast bar.
Eat this instead: If you’re in a rush, grabbing a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit is a much healthier alternative—and cheaper too!
6. Instant Oatmeal Sachets
Oatmeal has been a family favorite for generations, but it’s always been a rather slow process. However, with the introduction of quick-cooking oats, followed by the advent of single-serving packets, a quick breakfast of oats is now the norm.
But instant oats are more finely milled than standard oats (enabling them to cook quicker) which gives them a higher glycemic index. This in turn makes blood sugar levels rise quicker and tends to keep you from feeling full.
Add to this the onset of “delicious” artificial flavors—such as apple cinnamon oatmeal or maple and brown sugar—and your ‘healthy’ bowl of instant oatmeal contains around 10 grams of sugar (almost 3 teaspoons!) compared to zero from a standard bag of traditional oats.
Eat this instead: Oatmeal is still a good breakfast choice but return to the slow cooking process of yesteryear. Cook up a big batch for the week ahead and come morning, you can easily heat up your pre-cooked oatmeal in no time and top with your choice of nuts, seeds, yogurt or fresh fruit.
Want more healthy eating tips? Read more on the blog here:
1.”Sugar Is Toxic, Says New Study”. Time.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
2. Corliss, Julie. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases The Risk Of Dying With Heart Disease – Harvard Health Blog”. Harvard Health Blog. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
3. O’Connor, Anahad. “Why Your Granola Is Really A Dessert”. Nytimes.com. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
4. Publications, Harvard. “Top 10 Sources Of Calories In The U.S. Diet – Harvard Health”. Harvard Health. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 May 2017.
5. Clemente, Jose C. et al. “The Impact Of The Gut Microbiota On Human Health: An Integrative View”. N.p., 2017. Print.