E-News Exclusive


Healthful Breakfast Makeovers
By Juliann Schaeffer

Dietitians share ideas on how to transform high-fat, high-calorie breakfasts into more healthful fare.

The many benefits of eating a regular breakfast is likely old news to dietitians, but the meal’s significance for clients’ overall wellness is worth restating. “It’s been shown that eating breakfast is a key habit of a healthful lifestyle,” says Connie Guttersen, RD, PhD, author of The Sonoma Diet and Kraft Foods' spokesperson. “Breakfast not only gives you a jump-start on getting the energy you need to start the day but, depending on your food choices, it also can provide key nutrients for health, such as calcium from dairy, B vitamins, iron, and fiber. Studies also show that those who eat breakfast have a better overall diet quality.”

Yet, despite these and other advantages, a regular breakfast routine is hardly commonplace for many families in the United States today. Guttersen notes that more than 50% of Americans report skipping breakfast regularly.

Topping the list of excuses for why clients can’t seem to get on the breakfast bandwagon include time and lack of money. But John Bosse, MS, RD, CD, NSCA-CPT, a senior scientist in product innovation for USANA Health Science, Inc, takes issue with that line of thinking.

“One of my biggest gripes is that people feel time is a limiting factor, yet they’ll go to a drive-thru on a busy morning,” he says. “On the surface, this is a quick option, but upon closer inspection, prepping multiple breakfasts at one time, ahead of time, is most likely faster. It can be challenging to convince clients of this, but with some multitasking tricks, preparation time can go almost unnoticed.”

Whether it’s high-fat fast-food fare, such as a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit; carb-loaded pancakes smothered in butter; or kids’ favorite pick of sugar-laden cereal, when breakfast does land on families’ daily schedules, it can be anything but healthful. However, according to a survey released recently by Kraft Foods, more than one-half of Americans can be convinced to up their breakfast intake if it’s nutritious and provides energy for the whole morning.

To help clients adopt the morning meal—in a more meaningful way—nutrition and food experts offer their advice for making over what are typically less healthful morning options into more nutritious fare. Consider it Extreme Makeover: Morning Edition, minus the extreme. These tips are meant to be useful and useable for the average clients RDs counsel every day.

Better Breakfast Options New to Grocery Shelves

As consumers demand more healthful fare, companies are getting better at bringing whole grain, higher-fiber, and more nutritious options to the market. Here’s a sampling of some of the newest healthier breakfast products that could be gracing store shelves near you:

belVita Breakfast Biscuits: Containing nohigh-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, or artificial flavors or sweeteners, these individually portioned packs are baked with 18 to 20 g of whole grain per serving and offer a good source of fiber and four B vitamins.

Nature Valley Protein Chewy Bars: With 10 g of protein and 5 g of fiber in every bar, these will only set clients back 200 kcal per serving.

Bear Naked granolas: Minimally processed and containing no preservatives, artificial flavors, trans fats, cholesterol, hydrogenated oils, or high-fructose corn syrup, these granolas come in a variety of flavors (from Banana Nut to Maple Pecan) and can be mixed with low-fat soymilk or yogurt.

Great Grains Pancake & Waffle Mix: A healthier alternative to Bisquick, this mix is made with wholesome grains and whole wheat flour.

Earnest Eats bars: These baked whole food bars, in flavors like Ginger Apple and Vanilla Blueberry, lean on whole ingredients instead of spray-on vitamins or protein powders.

Noosa Yoghurt: This line of Australian-style whole milk yogurts (with a thickness similar to Greek yogurt) are sweetened with honey and fresh fruit and come in six flavors: Blueberry, Honey, Mango, Peach, Raspberry, and Strawberry Rhubarb.

Purely Elizabeth Ancient Grain Granola: This granola option, available at Abesmarket.com, incorporates ancient grains, oats, and seeds along with organic coconut oil and organic coconut sugar. It’s free of dairy, sugar, wheat, and gluten.

— JS

• Rethink the egg. Eda Vesterman, MS, a culinary arts instructor at The Art Institute of California, Los Angeles, believes eggs have gotten a bad rap as of late. Noting that eggs aren’t inherently bad for you, she says, “The larger problem is that Americans eat too many at one time. The latest 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend eating no more than three to four eggs a week—and not all in one shot.”

She recommends revising the egg scramble by scrambling 1 whole egg with a 1/2 cup of egg whites. “Add some favorite veggies and sauté them into the scramble, frittata, or omelet,” she says.

• Choose a bagel alternative. Instead of one of the many super-sized bagel options at today’s supermarkets with a side of cream cheese, Marlo Mittler, MS, RD, a nutritionist at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, part of the 15-hospital North Shore-LIJ Health System, offers her suggestions for making this typically high-fat, high-carb meal easier on the waistline: “A light English muffin with cottage cheese, melted low-fat cheese, or even peanut butter. This will give you the same mouthfeel of a carb but adds whole grains for long-lasting energy and protein to feed your brain,” she says.

• Consider more nutritious oatmeal options. Oatmeal is another ingredient that’s not inherently unhealthful but when topped with brown sugar or made with whole milk can overwhelm the calorie scales. To lighten this option, Mittler suggests more nutritious oatmeal toppings of slivered almonds and cinnamon and adding low-fat milk.

• Add nature’s sweetness. Swapping out a higher-sugar cereal for a higher-fiber variety may be the best makeover, but if clients aren’t willing to sacrifice their frosted bites, they may respond better to the law of addition rather than substitution. Add fresh berries to your cereal, pancakes, or waffles, Vesterman says. “If berries are out of season, no problem—use frozen berries. Either way, they are a great source of antioxidants and fiber.”

• Build a better pancake. Noting that at least one-half of your grain intake should consist of whole grains, Vesterman says clients can easily meet this goal when making pancakes. “Simply substitute the flour portion of your favorite pancake recipe with whole wheat flour,” she says. “While you’re at it, cook your pancakes with extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil. Delicious and a perfect way of decreasing your cholesterol.”

• Make breakfast sandwiches sans bacon. Breakfast sandwiches typically handed out at drive-thru windows can be some of the worse breakfast offenders in fat, calories, and overall nutrient content. But Bosse says a make-your-own variety can turn this item into a nutritious meal. “Breakfast sandwiches can be quite healthful when Canadian bacon or ham is chosen instead of sausage or bacon,” he says. “A single egg or a serving or two of Egg Beaters or egg whites cooked with cooking spray or olive oil is a significant step above full-fat liquid eggs cooked with butter or margarine.”

The next time clients find themselves sitting at a fast-food drive-thru, suggest they ask for these alternatives as well. “If a whole wheat English muffin or bagel can be [ordered], even better,” Bosse says. 

• Shake up high-sugar smoothies. It’s easy for clients to order a fruit smoothie at their favorite coffee shop when they’re not looking at the nutritional content. But if they knew how much sugar these smoothies often contain, they might take the time to make them at home. If they choose to do so, Bosse says fresh fruit juice can be a great addition to add just a hint of sweetness (and likely one-half the number of grams of sugar) to a more healthful smoothie or protein shake.

“If your client loves their morning glass of juice, adding a little 100% fruit juice can put a fresh spin on vanilla or fruit-flavored protein and meal replacement shakes, such as USANA’s Nutrimeal,” he says. “If using a blender and mixing in real fruit isn’t realistic, fresh juice isn’t a bad option. New research shows that contrary to popular belief, the thermic effect of a liquid meal may be larger than a solid meal.”

— Juliann Schaeffer is an associate editor at Great Valley Publishing Company and a frequent contributor to Today’s Dietitian.