If you want to ramp up your metabolism to drop some pounds, research shows that your morning meal is the place to start. Indeed, while breakfast may not be the most important meal, it has the power to set the tone for the rest of your day. And what you choose to eat in the a.m. may have important ripple effects.
In fact, a June 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating breakfast not only helps you lose weight, but is key to helping make sure you don't regain it, either.
"It's like recharging your cell phone — if you go more than 11 or 12 hours without eating anything, your body depletes all its energy stores and your metabolism tanks," explains Los Angeles-based dietitian Yasi Ansari, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
More evidence of the meal's metabolism-boosting, belly-whittling benefits: Women who ate a big a.m. meal not only lost more weight and abdominal fat after 12 weeks than those whose largest meal was dinner, but they also had lower blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as lower levels of hunger hormones such as leptin, according to a December 2013 study published in the medical journal Obesity.
The key, of course, is choosing the right foods. Here's what to put on your plate — and what to push off — to get your metabolic furnace going at full blast.
How to Build a Better Breakfast
Pile on the protein. "Your body uses more energy to digest protein [than other types of food] — this is called the thermic effect of food — so it increases your metabolism," says Ansari.
Another bonus: Protein can also help keep you feeling full for longer, so you're less likely to attack the vending machine come 11 a.m. A November 2017 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate a high-protein breakfast had better blood sugar control than those who ate a high-carb or high-fat one.
Aim for about a third of your breakfast plate to feature healthy sources of protein such as eggs and egg whites, Greek yogurt, lean meats like turkey or low-fat cheese.
"You can literally eat any kind of healthy food for breakfast, whether that means leftovers from the night before or some rotisserie chicken and frozen veggies."
Focus on healthy fats. While heart-healthy fats such as plant-based oils, avocados and nuts won't necessarily boost your metabolism per se, they are key to weight loss — or simply staying at a healthy weight — because they leave you feeling full and satisfied, stresses Ansari. People who regularly consume avocados, for example, have less belly fat, according to an April 2017 review of 129 studies published in the journal Phytotherapy Research.
Choose your carbs carefully. Refined carbs, found in processed breakfast foods like bagels, sugary cereals and white bread, create a surge in insulin that promotes fat storage while driving down your metabolic rate, says Louis Aronne, MD, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. Instead, focus on carbs that are rich in fiber, such as fruit, veggies and whole grains. These take longer for your body to digest, which not only ramps up your metabolism but keeps you feeling fuller for longer (sensing a theme here?).
Avoid what Samantha Presicci, RD, lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen, dubs "naked carbohydrates." "When you eat carbs without accompanying fat and protein, you'll find yourself hungry a couple hours later," she explains.
3 Easy Breakfasts to Try
If you're stumped on what to eat in the a.m., Ansari recommends these three easy options that provide you with a good mix of lean protein, fiber and healthy fats:
- An egg omelet (one egg + two egg whites, plus unlimited veggies of your choosing) paired with a cup of fruit and half of an English muffin topped with two thin slices of avocado
- A cup of plain Greek yogurt topped with a cup of fresh berries and ¼ cup slivered almonds
- Instant quinoa oatmeal (look for it at Trader Joe's) made with skim or almond milk and topped with ½ cup of berries and ¼ cup of chopped pecans
Keep in mind that you don't have to stick to "breakfast food" for your morning meal, though. Any healthy food will do the trick, so long as it's a good mix of lean protein, high-fiber carbs and good-for-you fats. So feel free to think outside the proverbial box. "You can literally eat any kind of healthy food for breakfast, whether that means leftovers from the night before or some rotisserie chicken and frozen veggies," says Presicci.
What Not to Eat
Some breakfasts may seem healthy on the outset, but they can backfire, dragging down your metabolism and weight-loss efforts, says San Francisco-based wellness coach Elizabeth Morales, a certified personal trainer and nutritional therapy consultant. These include:
- Processed breakfast bars. These may seem like a good choice, but they can be loaded with sugar and low on satiating ingredients such as protein and fiber. If you're in a pinch, look for one with at least 2.5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein per serving.
- Plain oatmeal. While it's not a terrible choice, you really should add some sort of healthy fat (like nuts) and some protein like almond milk in order to make sure you won't crash and burn later, says Morales.
- Fruit smoothies. "I often see clients drink smoothies made of only fruit and a little bit of milk, so they're consuming mostly carbs," explains Morales. "Adding some fat like nut butter or avocado, some greens for fiber and either a protein powder or high-protein Greek yogurt will balance the meal, keep energy steady and help them avoid blood sugar lows."
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Breakfast consumption and weight-loss maintenance: results from the MedWeight study"
- Obesity: "High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Supplementing Breakfast with a Vitamin D and Leucine–Enriched Whey Protein Medical Nutrition Drink Enhances Postprandial Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Mass in Healthy Older Men"
- Phytotherapy Research: "Effects of Avocado (Persea americana) on Metabolic Syndrome: A Comprehensive Systematic Review"