The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 24, 2013

Tips to starting the day off right

By Elaine Gordon
Special to The Washington Post

— We are almost a month into 2013, and whether you've resolved to get to the gym, try belly-dancing or to sit down to dinner as a family more, I have a bonus resolution for you. It's an easy one: Eat a complete breakfast each morning.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who skip breakfast, you could be sabotaging your health goals. Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism and gives your body energy to think more clearly while preventing overeating later in the day. Plus, it provides an excellent opportunity to consume foods high in vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting antioxidants and heart-healthy fiber.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, breakfast helps with brain function, attention span, concentration and memory. It can also reduce irritability and tiredness. So, forget the caffeine and opt for a complete meal packed with the nutrients your body needs.

Start the day right

So what makes a nutritious breakfast that will fill you up and give you the energy to get through your morning?

Your breakfast should contain:

— Lean protein to help you stay full longer and prevent overeating later in the day. Lean protein options include low-fat or fat-free milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, turkey sausage, egg whites, nut butters or a handful of raw nuts.

— Fiber-filled whole-grain carbohydrates for lasting energy.

— Antioxidant-packed produce to increase your daily fruit and veggie intake. For produce, opt for seasonal varieties. This winter you can count on fresh fruits such as pears, kiwis or citrus. Year-round you can enjoy apples, bananas, papayas and rutabagas. Or, if you don't mind veggies in the morning, go for these year-round options: mushrooms, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, avocados or potatoes.

Putting it all together

Combining lean protein, whole grains and fruits or veggies makes a complete breakfast. Here are some powerful breakfast combos to try:

— Smoothie: 1 cup frozen berries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, ¼-cup old-fashioned oats and 1 tablespoon raw, unsalted almond butter.

— Scrambled egg whites with diced mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and spinach on a toasted whole-grain English muffin with a slice of low-fat cheese and/or avocado

— Greek yogurt topped with granola, banana slices and raw nut pieces

— Oatmeal made with milk and topped with seasonal fresh fruit, a handful of raw nuts and a sprinkling of ground chia seeds

— Lean turkey bacon or lean chicken sausage with sliced fresh fruit and whole grain toast with a glass of low-fat milk

Take it to-go

Not a morning person? No time to sit down and eat? Try a nutrition-packed muffin; you can make them in advance and take them with you. A healthful Banana-Berry Nut Muffin (see accompanying recipe) contains key ingredients that make it a complete breakfast.

A muffin can also make a good snack to hold you over until lunch. If done correctly, snacking can help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping your blood sugar levels steady. In order to maintain your energy levels and avoid binging, aim for planned, healthful snacks. The best snack will contain complex carbohydrates and lean protein. With a little planning, you can avoid settling for quick, high-calorie foods or ending up ravenous at your next meal.

These muffins contain whole grain flour and oats, calcium-rich almond milk, heart-healthy walnuts (which contain protein, omega-3 fatty acids and essential fats that may promote heart health), nutrient-packed chia seeds and fresh fruit from the banana and blueberries.

They also contain canola oil, which is a monounsaturated fat. These fats (also found in nuts, avocados and olives) keep blood sugar levels steady for appetite control, improve cholesterol levels and decrease your risk of heart disease.

The muffins are slightly sweetened from the cinnamon-flavored applesauce and agave syrup, but don't expect a cupcake — this is still breakfast, after all!

Elaine Gordon, a master of public health professional and a master certified health education specialist, is creator of the healthy recipe site EatingbyElaine.com.