For millions of people, cold cereal with milk is a go-to breakfast. It’s quick, convenient, and requires no cooking. What’s not to love so much, though? It’s not always the most filling option. High-fiber, low-sugar varieties offer more nutritional bang for your buck so you stay full longer and skip the blood sugar crash you often get after eating a sugary breakfast without much fiber, but even then, sometimes it’s still hard to make it through the morning.
There are lots of easy ways to make that morning meal more filling and nutritious. Following these basic rules will help you make it to lunch.
Skip the Sugar
Sugar adds extra calories and messes with blood sugar control, especially when eaten without much fiber, protein, or fat to buffer the breakdown—this sets you up for a day of stomach grumbling. The insulin spike we get from taking in a big hit of sugar, and the energy crash that follows can wreak havoc on our hunger hormones and makes it hard to regulate appetite throughout the day.
Look for cereals with less than 5 grams sugar per serving. Also, if you’re using a non-dairy milk, check the label to make sure it’s not sweetened.
Make Sure There’s Protein
Protein is key to satiety. It digests slowly and helps buffer the breakdown of the carbs in your cereal so you get slow-burning energy. Cow’s milk provides 8 grams of protein per cup, and soy milk will give you almost as much. Since many other non-dairy milks, such as almond and coconut, have very little protein, you’ll need to get some elsewhere in the meal. You can also swap out the milk for yogurt or kefir. You’ll get at least 12 grams of protein per cup—even more if you use Greek or Icelandic yogurt. Another option: throw a tablespoon or two of nuts on top of your bowl. Some cereals on the market have added protein, but check the label—soy protein isolate is a commonly used source, but it’s a processed form of soy best kept on the “in moderation” list.
Up the Fiber
Fiber also slows digestion by taking up space in the GI tract. Look for a cereal with a whole grain (whole wheat, oats, corn, brown rice, etc) as the first ingredient and at least 4 grams fiber per serving. Just go slow with products with added fiber (inulin is a common source).
Though it does amp up the number of grams on the label, it may not benefit the body as much as foods that are naturally high in fiber. To increase fiber, top your cereal with a high-fiber fruit like blueberries, or sprinkle on a tablespoon of chia seeds or nuts.
Don’t Be Afraid of Fat
Fat is your friend when it comes to staying power. It also aids in slowing down digestion. Just keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Nuts, seeds, coconut flakes, or omega-3-rich chia or ground flax are no-brainers. You can also drizzle a little nut or seed butters on top as well. Again, just keep portions in mind.
Bottom Line: When deciding what to have for breakfast, remember that first meal can set the tone for the whole day. A balanced meal that provides a mix of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat will set you off on a stable foot so you can enjoy a productive day.
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life and a balanced relationship with food. For those in need of some healthy-eating inspiration, Jess created five day's worth of delicious make-ahead lunches to make it even easier to eat well on a busy day. For more information on Jess, check out her website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: baibaz/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: vesna cvorovic/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Paul Brady Photo/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Nika Art/shutterstock.com