Eating healthy can take on many different meanings, and sometimes even take us by surprise, especially when a recent review in the Chicago Tribune states that many breakfast cereals could be worse for you than pizza. Not that both are the pinnacle of health per se, yet pizza may have slightly higher nutrient value than most of the cereals out on the market.
Why Breakfast Cereals Are A Poor Way to Start Your Day
Unfortunately, choosing pizza over a bowl of cereal may be an upgrade for many even though both tend to be prevalent as part of the Standard American Diet, ironically abbreviated ‘SAD’. Studies demonstrate that SAD rates about 11 out of 100 in nutrient value, and if we changed a few lifestyle factors including consuming healthier eating such as consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and less meat (usually in reference to poor quality meat), we could diminish our risk of heart disease by 80-90%, and reduce cancer risk by more than 33% (nutrition facts).
Why Are Breakfast Cereals So Unhealthy?
Commercials tell us that breakfast cereals are a complete breakfast, but we’re really one of the only nations who have it for breakfast. Nutritionally, it’s a bunch of sugar, processed grain flours, food dyes (e.g. red #3 linked to Alzheimer’s disease), preservatives (many linked to cancer), and even milk is comprised of sugar, all of which are one of the worst choices in the morning because it causes your body to store fat (a risk factor for many chronic diseases).
Fat cells are their own organ system so when we want to lose weight, for example, we now need to work harder in making the right nutritional and lifestyle choices. Further, starting your day off with carbohydrates tends to increase carbohydrate and sugar consumption for the rest of the day, adding in other processed foods like bread, pasta, dessert, and soda.
These can all increase our risk for common chronic diseases like hormone imbalance, weight gain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Recent studies have shown that cereals fortified (not naturally occurring) with vitamins and minerals like iron and folate can be consumed in excess and toxic when not monitored (Whittaker, Tufaro, & Rader, 2001).
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Okay, But Does That Mean You Should Eat Pizza For Breakfast?
People also take supplements on their own, also leading to greater risk. Therefore pizza can seem slightly more nutritionally appealing as it is lower in sugar, higher in protein, and have vegetable toppings. However, topping choices tend to be unhealthy ingredients such as poor quality meat (linked to cancer) and cheese.
Healthier toppings may contain vegetable toppings, or even using vegetables as the ‘crust’, like sliced eggplant or portabello mushroom, tomato sauce or garlic and olive oil, and can even choose with or without cheese (cashew based cheese is a nice vegan option, and easy to make at home).
Healthy (And Convenient) Breakfast Ideas
Varying foods in one’s diet is always nutritionally favorable, though sometimes we need assistance in getting creative. Paleo based cereal is made mostly from nuts and seeds (no grains), and sometimes honey as a sweetener, a good source of protein and fats to help avoid energy spikes and feeling hungry shortly.
Oatmeal can go either way because it is still carbohydrates, though it is high in fiber- consider adding in nuts and coconut oil (healthy fat) to help sustain your energy. However, listen to your body as many people don’t do well with anything carbohydrate based in the morning, so a vegetable omelet topped with avocado, for example, is a great balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates (yes, vegetables are carbohydrates).
Consider your leftover dinner for breakfast too. Smoothies (e.g. pea protein, hemp protein) can be another option if you’re on the go, though definitely prioritize whole foods (why we have teeth). Other combinations and suggestions include quality meats for protein like organic nitrite free back bacon (higher protein and leaner than traditional bacon), turkey sausage or tempeh (vegan version), and combining beans and avocado (or quinoa to make complete protein, also a grain highest in protein, fiber rich, and complex carbohydrate so won’t spike energy).
Consider over a bed of greens or steamed kale or chard, for example. Healthful sources of fiber include ground chia or flaxseed (great for liver health, reducing cholesterol, and feeding good gut bacteria), and nuts and seeds (e.g. walnut, almond, pumpkin) also include good protein and healthy fats, as well as avocado.
The key components to balanced meals are fiber, quality protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates (e.g. complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables). Many choices can seem overwhelming, so I would recommend checking out sites here and here. Consider working with a knowledgeable healthcare provider too who knows how to advise based on nutrition and conventional medicine, and potentially supplements (even working around potential herb/drug/nutrient interactions) to really empower you about your health and prevention.
This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Whittaker, Tufaro, & Rader, 2001 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11444421
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