If you want to start off the day making your gut happy, there's one breakfast gastroenterologists recommend making: A yogurt parfait.
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All you have to do is add one cup of Greek yogurt to a bowl and top it with a half-cup of berries and a tablespoon of seeds (like chia or flax). If you need a bit more, add a side of whole-wheat toast topped with almond butter, peanut butter, olive oil or avocado.
"Having a well-balanced, nutrient-dense breakfast such as this one sets you up for a day full of energy," says Niket Sonpal, MD, a gastroenterologist and adjunct professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. "Greek yogurt, berries, seeds and a side of whole-wheat toast is very unlikely to leave you hungry afterward and reduces the chances of overeating at lunch or dinner."
This breakfast boasts an array of benefits for your digestive system and gut health, which can, in turn, improve your overall health. Gut health refers to the function and equilibrium of bacteria in many parts of your gastrointestinal tract, and it's only with a healthy digestive system that your food can be broken down and delivered as nutrients throughout your body, per UC Davis Health.
A healthy gut also contains good bacteria and immune cells that fight infectious intruders like viruses, bacteria and fungi, and helps your health by communicating with your brain through nerves and hormones, according to the university.
There's no better place than breakfast to set yourself up for a healthy day of gut-friendly foods. Here are five benefits of a yogurt parfait breakfast.
1. It’s Rich in Both Probiotics and Prebiotics
This breakfast will provide both probiotics and prebiotics — the perfect recipe for a healthy gut.
Greek yogurt is a great source of probiotics, which maintain balance in your body by fighting off "bad bacteria" that enters (say, when you're sick), according to the Cleveland Clinic. Probiotics deliver healthy bacteria to the gut and help with digestion, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhea, Dr. Sonpal adds.
"The combination of foods that has prebiotics and probiotics together is best for your gut."
"Yogurt is made from the fermentation of lactic acid in milk by Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus," says Elena Ivanina, DO, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are specialized plant fibers that fuel the growth of your gut's healthy bacteria and are found in many fruits and vegetables, per the Mayo Clinic.
This is particularly true of produce that contains complex carbohydrates like resistant starch and fiber. Because your body can't digest these carbs, they pass through your digestive system and serve as fuel for bacteria and other microbes, according to the Mayo Clinic. In particular, you can find prebiotics in chia seeds, ground fax and blueberries, per the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
"The combination of foods that has prebiotics and probiotics together is best for your gut," Dr. Ivanina says.
2. It’s Packed With Gut-Healthy Fiber
Seeds and berries are filled with beneficial fiber, and whole-wheat toast also provides about 2 grams of fiber (before toppings are added).
"Fiber helps keep water in the colon, allowing for more effective and efficient bowel movements, and can reduce symptoms of IBS," says Michael Papper, MD, a gastroenterologist at Florida Digestive Health Specialists. "Fiber can even help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol."
"One benefit of starting the day with a high-fiber breakfast is that it keeps you feeling fuller longer, helping someone trying to lose weight," Dr. Sonpal adds.
Fiber often moves easily through your digestive tract, helping keep your digestion humming along properly, per the Mayo Clinic. A high-fiber diet can also help reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. You should get at least 14 grams of fiber per every 1,000 calories you eat; however, on average, most Americans get less than half of that, according to Harvard Medical School.
"When the microbiome is starved of fiber, good bacteria can start to feed on the protective mucus lining of the gut, which can lead to inflammation and disease," Dr. Ivanina says.
3. It’s Low in Added Sugars
When you opt for unsweetened Greek yogurt in this parfait, you can enjoy a breakfast that's totally free of added sugars.
"Not all Greek yogurt is good for you," Dr. Sonpal says. "Many mainstream yogurt brands available at the grocery stores have added flavors and sugars, which feed on the gut's bad bacteria." This, in turn, could cancel out the delicious benefits you get from the Greek yogurt's probiotics.
Added sugar is often hidden in products like Greek yogurt, which is why people tend to eat more sugar than they realize, per the American Heart Association (AHA). A serving of vanilla yogurt, for instance, might contain around 21 grams of sugar — nearly twice as much as a chocolate doughnut. And taking in too much added sugar is linked to weight gain and heart risks.
If you need some sweetness, it’s better to add your own ingredients: “Adding natural maple syrup, honey or even chopped fruit is still a much better option than having sweetened yogurt,” Dr. Sonpal says. “This way, you're able to control how much sugar and calories are going into the food.”
4. It’s a Great Source of Satiating Protein
Greek yogurt is often considered a nutritional powerhouse because it's high in protein, a macronutrient that's important to eat throughout the day for cell creation and repair, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Protein plays many essential roles in your body, including helping to clot blood, fight infection, keep body fluids balanced, build and contract muscles and carry fats, vitamins, minerals and oxygen throughout the body.
"Greek yogurt has a very high protein content, keeping you full until lunchtime and reducing feelings of hunger later on in the day," Dr. Sonpal says. "Not to mention, you get a higher increase in metabolism after eating protein compared to fat or carbs, which is why you want to start your day with protein."
Even though Greek yogurt is high in protein, it has less saturated fat than many other high-protein breakfast staples (like sausage or bacon) — aim to buy milk and dairy products that are low in fat, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Greek yogurt has a naturally delectable flavor that won't make you feel like you're missing out even though it's a lower-fat option. "Unsweetened Greek yogurt is creamier than normal yogurt, which can be more favorable to some people," Dr. Sonpal says.
5. It’s Filled With Vitamins and Minerals
Eating whole foods like berries and seeds is a fantastic way to load up on the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
"Berries are packed with antioxidants and fiber, as are seeds, which aid in digestion and reduce blood sugar levels," Dr. Sonpal says. "Seeds like chia seeds, hemp seeds and flaxseeds are rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium and manganese. Starting your day with a breakfast full of vitamins and minerals (all necessary for optimal body functioning) will keep you energized for hours."
In fact, berries are among foods that contain the most versatile sources of phytonutrients, and their antioxidants can help fight cell damage, per Johns Hopkins Health.
Tips for Making a Gut-Healthy Parfait-and-Toast Breakfast
- There should be more Greek yogurt than toppings, Dr. Sonpal says. "When it comes to seeds, only add between 1 to 2 tablespoons. Seeds are very high in fiber, even though they look small. For example, chia seeds have 10 grams of fiber per ounce."
- Skip the whole-wheat toast if the Greek yogurt parfait is satisfying enough on its own.
- If you do opt to add a side of toast, remember to keep the toppings simple, because you'll already have plenty of fiber in your parfait. Dr. Ivanina recommends dipping the toast in olive oil, spreading a zero-added-sugar nut butter or mashing avocado on it. "Avocado is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat and can be very beneficial for heart health," Dr. Papper says. "It is a great fat alternative to butter and mayonnaise."
Greek Yogurt Parfait Recipes
- UC Davis Health: "What is 'gut health' and why is it important?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Probiotics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Prebiotics, probiotics and your health"
- University of Massachusetts Medical School: "Prebiotics: what, where, and how to get them"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "How Much Protein Should I Eat?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fats: How to make healthy choices"
- Johns Hopkins Health: "Berry Good for Your Heart"
- Food & Function: "Dietary berries, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes: an overview of human feeding trials"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and healthy eating"
- Harvard Medical School: "Should I be eating more fiber?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Improving Your Health With Fiber"