Are You Eating the Right Breakfast?

I don’t know if the old saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is true. It may not be the most important meal. But it certainly is an important one.

Starting off with the right breakfast raises your blood sugar gradually and keeps you full for hours. It’s like armour protecting you from the tempting, junky foods that surround us all day.

The great news is that there isn’t just one perfect breakfast. Many foods can make up the “right” breakfast. Here are the 4 important characteristics of the “right” breakfast (and some food ideas):

1. Produce. I highly doubt that you’re surprised at me wanting you to include fruit or vegetables in your breakfast. Most of us could use to eat more produce. So why not get a serving or two in at the start of the day? Eat a piece of fruit, top your oatmeal with berries, add some spinach in your omelet, or warm up last night’s stir-fry leftovers.

2. Protein. Here’s something that toast or cereal eaters often miss. Including protein will help your blood sugar be stable for longer, which means no mid-morning crashes and cravings for donuts. Sprinkle hemp hearts or chia seeds on your cereal, spread nut butter on your toast, or enjoy a couple of eggs.

3. Real whole grains. This one is optional. You may just want to include
protein and produce and you’ll be doing great. Others (me included) do better with some real whole grains at breakfast. What do I mean by “real” whole grains? I mean minimally processed grains. Something that you really have to chew.

There’s a lot of highly processed breakfast foods that claim to be whole grain and/or high fibre. I recommend avoiding anything that’s super light-weight, like a lot of breads and puffed cereals. They digest really fast and your blood sugar starts to drop quickly. Instead look for something that needs a lot of chewing, like steel-cut oats or is heavy to hold, like many sprouted grain breads.

4. Sugar. Again no surprises here (except where it can be hidden). Have as little added sugar as you can (ideally none). Watch out for it in “healthy” cereals, take-out smoothies made with fruit drink concentrates, and in “fruit”-on-the-bottom yogurt.

Start with the right breakfast and enjoy the benefits all day!

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD brings the JOY of healthy eating to adults and picky kids. And, powers us to LOVE our bodies. A registered dietitian, Kristen has 20+ years of experience in nutrition helping find the sweet spot where eating is healthy for your body without giving up enjoying food’s pleasure. Because food is love.

Tips for Reducing Sugar

It’s hardly breaking news that sugar isn’t healthy. You don’t need to eat zero sugar to be healthy. However, the reality is that most people eat too much sugar. I’m all about being practical. And, enjoying what you eat. So today, I’m sharing with you my favourite tips for reducing sugar intake.   

Before I jump in to the tips, I want to clarify a few things. First, today I’m talking about added sugar. I’m not talking about the natural sugar in foods like fruit and dairy. Second, I’m talking about all added sugars – white sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, coconut sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

While there are some differences amongst these regarding their healthfulness, they all contribute calories without adequate nutrients. They also all create a spike in blood sugar that isn’t healthy for our bodies. I’m not using this post to debate which one is the best added sugar.

This post is about practical ways to reduce your overall intake of added sugars.

Another thing that I want to bring up before I share my tips for reducing sugar, is our bodies’ amazing ability to adapt. Including our taste buds. Taste buds are influenced by what we eat. If you eat a lot of sugar, then a highly sweet taste will become your ‘normal’. This gets in the way of enjoying foods that have a less-sweet flavour profile, such as vegetables, whole grains, beans/lentils and plain water.

The key strategy behind most of my tips is to take control over how much sugar you’re eating. Then, gradually decrease the amount of sugar that you add. As you do so, your taste buds will adjust. Eventually, unsweetened foods will taste good to you and you’ll enjoy eating them.

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You will notice that none of my lower-sugar tips involves switching to artificial sweeteners. I don’t take stock in the fear tactics that many people spread about them. However, I’m still not a fan for two reasons:

  1. They allow the continuance of having a highly sweet taste being your norm. Thus, they interfere with enjoying healthy foods that don’t naturally have a sweet flavour profile, such as plain water and vegetables.
  2. History has taught us that foods closest to the way Nature made them are our healthiest choices. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, and real whole grains; these foods, eaten close to their natural state, are the foundation of a healthy diet. Moving from added sugar to artificial sugar is moving further away from Mother Nature. What I recommend is to take steps to move towards foods in their natural state.  

Reducing Sugar Tip #1:

Switch from pop to flavoured sparkling water. Did you know that a can of pop has approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar in it?  Sports drinks and energy drinks have about the same.

If you’re a pop drinker, this is where I recommend starting because it’ll be the biggest bang for your buck. Many people I’ve met who are regular pop drinkers tell me that they find water disgusting. Water isn’t disgusting. It’s neutral. These folks are experiencing a super sweet taste bud calibration. Adding a splash of citrus or fruits or herbs to plain or sparkling water is a great way to get flavour without all that sugar.

Companies are seeing that there is customer demand for flavourful, no added sugar drink options and there are now many flavoured (sugar- and artificial sweetener-free) sparkling waters. The big soda companies make them. As do many smaller companies. It’s a trend that I’m loving.

Reducing Sugar Tip #2:

Fruit flavoured yoghurt may have a touch of fruit, but it’s mostly sugar in there. If you find plain yoghurt too sour, buy plain yoghurt and add your own jam, honey, or maple syrup. Slowly decrease the amount of jam/honey/maple syrup that you add until you’ve gotten accustomed to plain yoghurt. Also, it’s worth trying different brands of plain yoghurt. Some are sourer than others.

Reducing Sugar Tip #3:

Many healthy-seeming cereals contain quite a lot of sugar. Read the labels of your favourite brands and chose the one that has the least amount of sugar. Mix your favourite cereal with one that has zero (or almost zero) added sugar. Slowly alter the ratio until you’re eating a full bowl of the zero sugar cereal.

The same technique works with instant oatmeal. Buy one box of plain and one box of flavoured. Mix one packet of plain with your packet of flavoured oatmeal. Even better, make your own hot oatmeal or overnight oats. Add as much honey/ maple syrup brown sugar as you need. Then slowly cut back on it until you enjoy your oats with just fruit.

Reducing Sugar Tip #4:

I recently learned that Canadians have the highest consumption rate of food bars. Read closely the labels on granola and energy bars. All of them have some sugar. But the amount of sugar can really skyrocket. The sugar content can be highly variable amongst the different flavours by the same brand. So reading labels is the only way to spot lower and higher sugar choices.

Again, be practical. If you don’t like the lowest sugar bars, switch to a bar that you do like that has less sugar than your usual choice. Once your taste buds become accustomed to your new bar, stitch to a bar with even lower sugar. Homemade power spheres can be a great choice because you can control how much added sweetener you use in the recipe.

I hope these tips help you to start reducing your sugar intake today!

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD brings the JOY of healthy eating to adults and picky kids. And, powers us to LOVE our bodies. A registered dietitian, Kristen has 20+ years of experience in nutrition helping find the sweet spot where eating is healthy for your body without giving up enjoying food’s pleasure. Because food is love.