Ways to Upgrade Your Breakfast & 6 Healthy Recipes

Walking through the breakfast isle in the store, I can’t help but think, this is what America is serving our youth…breakfast cereals laden with sugar, artificial flavors and colors, and highly processed white flour with virtually no nutritional value aside from the vitamins and minerals added back in after the fact. Unfortunately even those are minimally beneficial as fortified vitamins and minerals are rarely added in a form our body can easily digest.

Granola bars, toaster waffles, brown sugar and cinnamon instant oatmeal — these are all in the same category. They are highly processed “franken-foods” (thanks Dr. Mark Hyman) with little to no fiber, healthy fats, or protein. When protein, fat and fiber is removed, foods become less filling, resulting in a higher than desirable intake. This process also increases the speed of digestion, resulting in higher blood glucose levels.

Growing up I would live off these foods for breakfast (though add toaster strudel into the mix). Now, with the obesity rates rising and over 52% of the U.S. adult population having either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, I am here to provide you some better options!

I will start off with some things to keep in mind.

Choose Protein

Starting your day off with a healthy source of protein will help balance your blood sugar right off the bat and keep you full though the morning. Eggs are an obvious and nutrient dense choice; if able, choose organic pastured eggs for the highest quality. Full-fat cottage cheese and plain yogurt are also great options if you tolerate dairy.

Add Healthy Fats

Like protein, fats are very filling so will help keep you full until lunch. Also, fat will not impact your blood sugar at all, so replacing a portion of your carbohydrates with healthy fats will greatly lower the overall impact on your blood sugar. Grass-fed butter, olive oil, avocados and nuts are some of my favorite options.

Ditch the Sugar

Has anyone noticed how after you eat a big bowl of cereal you are starving an hour later? That is likely either 1.) Your body telling you you need actual nutrition because your Cocoa Puffs aren’t cutting it OR 2.) Your body telling you to eat something because your blood sugar is tanking. Replacing sugar with whole grains will help prevent both of these issues. Whole grains are minimally process and higher in fiber and nutritional value. Steel cut or rolled oats are a great example of this. Quinoa is a wonderful high protein option to make into a breakfast bowl. You can even roast some sweet potatoes with butter and cinnamon as a healthier alternative to fried hash browns.

Recipes!

Now on to the exciting part…recipes! Here are some of my favorites:

I call this “veggies with fried egg”

This is so simple and probably what I eat most often. I also like to do this when I have left over vegetables that I need to use up before they go bad because you can literally put anything in there. Some of my favorite vegetables to eat with eggs are: spinach, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions, kale, and asparagus. I also like to buy that huge box of organic mixed greens from Aldi — I’ll put an over easy egg on top with 1/4 to 1/2 avocado, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and Everything But The Bagel seasoning. Is your mouth watering yet?

2 ingredient banana pancakes

This is another favorite of mine. Just like typical pancakes, they are very diverse. All you need for the base is 2 eggs and 1 ripe banana (I make this when our bananas are about to go bad)! From there, you can add anything from cinnamon to cacao, berries to coconut flakes. I also love to top them with a scoop of peanut butter. Check out my 2 Ingredient Banana Pancakes blog post for the full recipe!

overnight oats

This is a great grab-and-go option for busy mornings. Prep 2-3 servings Sunday evening to save you time during the week. This is also extremely versatile. Just start with this simple base: 1/2 cup dairy-free milk + 1/2 cup rolled oats + 3/4 Tbs chia seeds. Mix in your jar of choice — wide mouth mason jars work great for this.

From there you can go wild! Some personal favorites are frozen berries, cocoa and cinnamon. Or, if you prefer, just keep it simple. Let the mixture sit overnight and vua-la! Breakfast! For a protein boost, add a scoop of peanut butter or top some nuts in the morning. It can be served cold or you can feel free to heat it up to enjoy warm.

chia seed pudding

For all you low carb lovers, this is a tasty and filling option that also works best when prepared the night before. Chia seeds are a good source of essential fatty acids, fiber, and protein as well!

ingredients
  • 2 cups nut milk
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
instructions
  1. Add milk, chia seeds, vanilla extract and maple syrup (if using) to a jar. Mix well.
  2. Let sit for 15 minutes and stir again to prevent seeds from settling at the bottom.
  3. Store in refrigerator for at least an hour.
  4. Before serving, stir yet again and then top with berries!

Note: Makes 2 servings

zucchini and tomato fritata

This is a kid friendly, figure-food option to help sneak in some extra veggies! Check out the recipe here!

JJ Virgin Breakfast smoothie

I absolutely love this smoothie! I first found it in JJ Virgin’s book The Virgin Diet. If I make a smoothie in the morning, this is what I make because it is filling, get’s things moving (if you know what I mean), and is quick to throw together. Plus it has a full cup of dark leafy greens to get those veggies in first thing. Greens help with detoxification and are loaded with folate, magnesium, potassium and vitamin K. Spinach and kale are great options because you will barely notice the taste! Often times individuals will load smoothies with multiple servings of fruit which can cause blood sugar spikes. Berries are low in sugar and loaded with antioxidants.

ingredients
  • 1-2 scoops protein powder**
  • 1-2 Tbs fiber (fiber blend, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds)
  • 1/2-1 cup organic* frozen berries
  • 1 cup liquid (unsweetened almond or coconut milk)
  • 1/2-1 cup organic* leafy greens
instructions
  1. Add liquid of your choice, followed by choice of fiber, berries, and protein powder.
  2. Add choice of leafy greens.
  3. Blend.
  4. Top with some cinnamon and serve!

*Choosing organic leafy greens and berries when able is important because both foods are listed on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of most highly sprayed items.

**Many protein powders are low quality and sneak in unhealthy ingredients. Avoid types with fructose and other sugars, maltodextrin (corn), artificial sweeteners and artificial flavoring. Optimal vegan sources are pea, chia, brown rice or chlorella. Sunwarrior is a high-quality brand that tastes great. If you opt for a paleo option, the protein should be organic and 100% grass-fed. Both Vital Proteins and Ancient Nutrition make excellent protein and collagen powders.

Do you struggle with eating a healthy breakfast? If so, what can you improve? If you have any healthy breakfast go-to’s, tell me about them below!

Eating Healthy: Lessons From Serbia

I recently had the opportunity to take an impromptu one week trip to Belgrade, Serbia. Prior to leaving I knew nothing about Serbia aside from it being directly north of Macedonia, the country my maternal grandma was born. As a dietitian and professional food connoisseur, of course I wondered what the food would be like. I was also curious about the chronic health issues typical of the country. Were they experiencing diseases associated with obesity, such as type two diabetes and heart disease, as frequently as the USA? Surely not. 

Turns out I was right. During my stay I was able to pick the brain of several Serbians, specifically doctors! They told me overall their food is processed with very few additives. There are no GMOs (genetically modified organisms); in fact, they are “against” them. The use of herbicides and pesticides is very minimal, and only when absolutely necessary. They are extremely proud of their country and culture, and pride themselves on eating high quality, authentic food (though albeit, a lot of it!), especially meat and cheese. They do have fast food, including multiple McDonald’s within Belgrade, but it is not a regular part of their diet as it is seen as unhealthy and lower quality. These thoughts definitely correlated with my own experience and observations. Although bread and potatoes were often served with the meal, additional simple carbohydrates such as pasta, corn or rice, were uncommon. Beans, mayo-free coleslaw, grilled vegetables and cucumber-tomato salad were common alternatives. 

We quickly learned how uncommon it was to see an overweight Serbian (or one shorter than 5’5” for that matter), and joked that if we did see someone overweight, they were probably American. 

I recently read a statistic stating 117 million Americans (about half of American adults) have one or more preventable chronic disease, and over 71% are overweight or obese. It is evident the disconnect is multifactorial — culture, lack of education or awareness, stress, minimal access to healthy food, or the “well I’ve got to die of something” non-caring mentality, all play a part. 

The United States is starting to suffer the consequences of this impending obesity epidemic through obscene health care debt, decreased quality of life, and a growing population that are non-contributing members of society, despite being of working age.

Nutrition and health can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve heard the following quote many times, and I think it summarizes basic dietary advice well. In the words of journalist Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”  

The following are some of my favorite resources and local organizations I personally use that you may find inspiring to help stay motivated at whatever point you may be on your health journey:

  • Cleveland Roots: Offers free gardening and cooking classes.  Also has a community garden and weekly food stand. I’ve been to them — they are excellent!
  • North Union Farmers Market: Farmer’s Markets around the Cleveland Area
  • Joyous Health Blog: For excellent recipes!
  • VA Whole Health Library: Great handouts on a variety of nutrition topics 
  • The MindBody app: View all the different fitness and wellness resources in your area. Also shows when the businesses are having a promotion
  • The Blue Zones: Book on the commonalities of the “Blue Zones” of the world, or areas with the largest number of centenarians

You can also refer to my Resources page for a more comprehensive list.

What wellness resources have you found that have been helpful for you? Share below!

11 Food Swaps For Better Health

Improving your nutrition starts by making simple changes, particularly with items you tend to use on a daily basis as these changes will have a more significant impact on your health. If you’re looking for inspiration to make heathy swaps, I’ve got 11 here for you!

  1. SWAP JIFF FOR A MORE NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER Peanut butter is one of those foods manufacturers tend sneak in unhealthy ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose a nut butter with only one ingredient: the nut. Freshly ground is even better (and it tastes better)!
  2. SWAP MARGARINE FOR BUTTER OR GHEE This previously deemed “healthier option” has nothing healthy about it as it is a highly processed product made with low quality vegetable oils. It initially gained popularity as it is lower in saturated fat but we now know saturated fat is not as bad as it was made out to be. Try butter, ghee or even coconut oil instead. FUN FACT: The more yellow the butter the higher the nutrient content!
  3. SWAP BREAKFAST CEREAL FOR ROLLED OR STEEL CUT OATS Dessert for breakfast anyone? Breakfast cereals are typically loaded with sugar and lacking in fiber and protein, leading to spikes in blood sugar and sugar cravings later in the day. Plain oatmeal is a much healthier option as it is a whole grain and higher in fiber and protein, meaning it will help to stabilize blood sugar and keep you feeling full for longer. Add berries, cinnamon and a spoonful of peanut butter for some flavor.
  4. SWAP CANNED FOR FRESH FRUIT Although any fruit is better than none, canned fruit often contains added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners (when in light syrup). BPA, a known hormone disrupter, from the cans can also leech into the syrup and fruit. Choose fresh fruit when possible. Frozen fruit is also a great option,  especially when a particular fruit is not in season.
  5. SWAP POP FOR KOMBUCHA It is nothing new that pop contains up to 40 grams of refined sugar, carcinogenic caramel coloring, and toxic artificial flavors. Swapping pop for kombucha is a great switch because it is similar in taste and fizziness but without the added sugar. Kombucha is also a healthful beverage plentiful in polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that help boosts digestion and immunity.  It is also simple to make if you don’t want to spend $3-4 for it in the store.
  6. SWAP TABLE SALT FOR SEA SALT Salt is a vital mineral that I feel often has a bad reputation, most commonly due to its connection to elevated blood pressure and fluid retention. However, this is typically only and issue when consuming it in excess from process foods such as lunchmeat, fast food, canned soups, and potato chips. Table salt is a manmade product that highly refined and contains anti-caking agents. During the refining process the salt is heated to high temperatures, a process which removes any existing minerals and makes it behave differently in the body than other unrefined salts.  On the other hand, sea salt, especially Himalayan pink salt, is an unrefined product containing a wide profile of 50+ trace minerals! Its lower sodium profile and high mineral content allow it to be assimilated more easily by the body. FUN FACT: Its pink color comes from its iron content!
  7. SWAP ICEBERG FOR DARK LEAFY GREENS If your go-to lettuce is iceberg, it time to make an upgrade. While iceberg lettuce has a mild flavor and provides a satisfying crunchy texture, it provides very little nutrition. Try switching it up with spinach, arugula, kale or spring mix.
  8. SWAP SPORTS DRINKS FOR COCONUT WATER It is important to stay hydrated during exercise, especially as summer starts to approach. Unfortunately, some of the most popular go-to beverages marketed for this are loaded with refined sugar and are artificially flavored and colored. Products such as Gatorade and Powerade do help replace beneficial electrolytes that are lost through sweat, but coconut water is a much healthier alternative. It naturally contains electrolytes (potassium and sodium) providing all the same benefits as sports drinks without the artificial ingredients. It naturally contains sugar but you will want to look for brands that don’t contain added sugar.  
  9. SWAP WHITE OR WHEAT BREAD FOR 100% WHOLE GRAIN OR SPROUTED BREAD Sometimes there is nothing better than an egg sandwich or avocado toast. White and wheat bread is highly processed which removes the majority of the nutrients. Some micronutrients are fortified back into the bread but will be in a poorly digestible form. If you are looking to upgrade your bread, choose a high fiber, multigrain loaf or sourdough bread. Even better, choose a sprouted brand, such as Ezekiel bread. When wheat is sprouted, it makes the gluten more digestible and the nutrients more bioavailable, so you’re getting more bang for your buck!
  10. SWAP CANDY FOR DARK CHOCOLATE (75% COCOA OR HIGHER) Dark chocolate is lower in added sugar and high in polyphenols. Cacao has long been promoted for its cardiovascular and mood enhancement properties. Cacao may also help decrease inflammation and control appetite.
  11. SWAP WHITE PASTA FOR CHICKPEA OR LENTIL PASTA White pasta is void of nutrients and fiber while chickpea or lentil pasta varieties are high in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. This makes for a more balanced and filling meal. Lentil or chickpea pasta will also not cause spikes in blood sugar like regular white pasta will. Note: For those that are hesitant to try it, I have served it to multiple friends and family members – they all loved it and could barely taste a difference! 

What healthy swaps have you made recently to improve your health?