By Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
For many years I have recommended oatmeal as the ideal breakfast food. It is filling, does not cause a high rise in blood sugar and is an excellent source of soluble fiber. You can enhance the flavor and nutritional value of your oatmeal by adding your choice of nuts, raisins or other dried fruits, fresh fruits such as blueberries, and spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. The soluble fiber in oatmeal and in fruits helps to keep blood sugar from rising too high and to control cholesterol (Curr Atheroscler Rep, Dec 2016;18(12):75).
Although oatmeal ranks highest for soluble fiber content, other whole grains can be cooked into a porridge and eaten like oatmeal, with similar nutritional benefits: wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, barley, quinoa and so forth. Experiment with cooking times to get the consistency you like and add your choice of fruits, nuts and spices.
How About Eggs?
Eggs are a good source of protein and other nutrients, but nobody really knows whether or not eating eggs is safe. We have studies showing that people who eat more than five eggs a week have increased risk for heart attacks, diabetes and breast and colon cancer, but the studies show only that eating eggs is associated with these conditions. We have no studies that show that eggs cause disease in humans.
The data show that the risks are nonexistent or very low at three or fewer eggs per week, but as people eat more eggs, their risk for cancers and heart attacks appears to increase also (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb 2016;103.2:474-80). I think that research on the chemical called TMAO justifies my recommendation to limit eggs to no more than a few a week. Note: All of the potential concerns about eggs come from the yolks; there is no known problem with egg whites or products made from them such as EggBeaters.
How to Cook Your Eggs
The most healthful cooking methods for eggs are water-based: poached, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, steamed or microwaved. If you choose to cook your eggs with butter or oil, do not heat the pan to the point where the oil smokes or the butter turns brown, which indicates that toxic products are forming. Once the raw eggs are added to the oil or butter, the temperature will go down to a safe level.
Breakfast Foods to Avoid
I recommend avoiding the traditional breakfast meats: bacon, fried ham and sausages. These highly processed meats are frequently associated with increased rates of heart attacks and cancers, particularly colon cancer (The Lancet Oncology, October 26, 2015).
Current research shows that added sugars and refined grains may put you at higher risk for heart attacks and premature death than eating meat or eggs, which means that most of the “traditional” breakfast foods in the Western diet should be avoided or used only as occasional treats:
- pancakes, waffles or French toast covered with syrup
- most dry breakfast cereals that are made by grinding grains into flour, removing most of the fiber and often adding sugar
- bakery products made with refined grains, such as bagels, pastries, muffins and biscuits
Breakfast is a good time for one or more servings of fruit. However, you should avoid all fruit juices because they cause the same high rises in blood sugar levels as sugared commercial soft drinks do and they are associated with increased risk for diabetes and heart attacks.
Breakfast is also a good opportunity to eat various types of plant protein. Many studies show that plant protein is far less likely than animal protein to be associated with increased risk for heart attacks (JAMA Intern Med, 2016;176:1453-63). Try scrambled tofu or the many vegetarian versions of the traditional breakfast meats.
If you don’t like oatmeal or want more variety, experiment with foods that are not typically associated with breakfast. There’s no rule that says you can’t eat healthful “lunch” or “dinner” foods at breakfast time. My wife, Diana, eats black beans for breakfast almost every day.