No matter how you feel about eating in the A.M., there’s no denying that a morning meal can do great things for your health—and weight. “Breakfast is the perfect opportunity to start your diet off correctly for the day,” says Brooke Alpert, a registered dietitian and founder of B Nutritious. Problem is, we often make mistakes that can turn the meal into an unbalanced sugar, fat and calorie bomb. Here’s how to fix the 10 most common blunders.
1. You skimp on protein.
Ordering a creamy, sugary coffee drink and a muffin from the coffee shop is “like having a milkshake and cupcake for breakfast,” says Alpert. “You’re starting your day with sugar, and more sugar.” Instead, focus on fiber and protein, twohunger-taming nutrients, says Alpert. Spikes and dips in blood sugar trigger cravings, and a 2014 University of Missouri study found that higher protein breakfasts lead to lower insulin spikes than high-carb, low-protein meals. Alpert recommends upping your morning protein intake with two hardboiled eggs and an apple or a Greek yogurt sprinkled with chia seeds.
2. You load up on juice.
A glass of OJ is not the same as a piece of fruit. An orange contains only 62 calories and packs 3 grams of fiber, whereas an 8-ounce cup of juice has 112 calories and 0 fiber. “All you’re doing with fruit juice is giving yourself a sugar fix,” says Alpert. Plus, a new study in the journalAppetite found that daily fruit juice drinkers had higher blood pressure than those who said they sipped it occasionally or rarely. That may be because juice ups your sugar intake, which has been linked to higher blood pressure.
3. You’re not “spending” your fat wisely.
Recent research concluded that natural sources of saturated fats (like meat and dairy) don’t increase your heart disease risk. Still, that’s not a license to cover your English muffin in gobs of butter, load up on bacon and fill up on full-fat dairy, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants in New York City. For example, have nonfat Greek yogurt and mix in chopped walnuts for a filling source of fat with extra crunch. Being choosy with your fats at meals leaves room for true splurges, like a small cookie.
4. You order a sugar-free latte.
Unfortunately, just because something is calorie-free doesn’t mean it has zero effect on you. One study in the journalNature found that sugar substitutes can scramble the balance of bacteria in your gut, which can cause glucose intolerance and up your risk for metabolic disease. They may even mess with your body’s sweetness signals, so you need to add more sugar to feel satisfied. Ditch sweet coffee drinks for unsweetened cold versions. “Plain coffee is more palatable when you drink it iced,” Alpert says. Adding vanilla extract and a few shakes of cinnamon can also enhance the flavor for zero calories and sugar.
5. You wait too long.
When you forgo eating until your stomach growls, “you have the same attitude about food as if you were tired or drunk—'whatever,’” says Taub-Dix. That’s why you might end up with a cream-filled doughnut in hand. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how soon you have to eat—the most important factor is that you’re hungry, but not starving. But Alpert recommends having a bite within two hours of getting up.
6. You go all out on vacation.
Sure, you deserve wiggle room—after all, there’s an omelet station. And pancakes! The key is to splurge a little, but not all at once. Taub-Dix recommends reining it in and only eating one of those things every day. “I don’t have pancakes that end in an ’s;’ I have a pancake,” she says. So grab one and pair with a protein source like a scoop of cottage cheese or a scrambled egg. Or have an omelet with fruit. You’ll feel happy and satisfied without feeling weighed down for pool time.
7. You’re eating only fruit for breakfast.
The problem with that fruit cup is that it won’t supply you with lasting energy. “At 10 A.M. you’ll want to lay on your desk. And some people think that if they’ve had ‘only’ fruit, it’s an invitation to have a huge lunch,” Taub-Dix says. Pairing protein and/or fat with fruit will slow digestion to keep you satisfied longer. Try a mini Babybel cheese with some cubed watermelon or a small handful of nuts with berries.
8. You’re not watching your portions.
Do you pour cereal into your bowl until it looks like the right amount? The smaller the flakes/grains/squares, the more you’re probably eating, suggests research from Penn State University. While people consumed around 286 calories of bigger flakes, they ate 358 calories when the flakes were smaller. Measure out one serving of cereal into your bowl so you get an eyeball for the proper pour next time.
9. You’re eating an enormous breakfast.
Remember that this is one of three meals (plus one or two snacks)—not the main event. “It doesn’t need to be huge; it just needs to be balanced to give you the energy and strength you need to get through the morning and not look at the vending machine at 9:30 A.M.,” says Taub-Dix. Balanced means a source of carbs, protein and fat, like oatmeal with a spoonful of almond butter, or a toasted whole-grain waffle topped with a scoop of ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.
10. You think you can skip it.
A recent study had breakfast ditchers cheering everywhere: People who ate breakfast were no more likely to lose weightthan skippers. But breakfast is a chance to fuel up to tackle what’s ahead of you. Even though your “stomach can be tricky in the morning,” says Alpert, she recommends eating something small, like an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. And if you say you’re not into breakfast but you snack at 10 A.M. and indulge in a big lunch, you should be eating that ever-important first meal of the day.