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Breakfast is often dubbed as the most important meal of the day, and rightfully so. Many people on weight loss diets skip breakfast thinking that it will save calories and boost weight loss, but actually, it does the opposite. Skipping breakfast increases your hunger, which can lead to cravings and overeating throughout the day. On the flip side, eating a healthy breakfast can jump-start your metabolism and set you up to be a lean, mean calorie-burning machine. But it’s not just about weight. People who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, calcium, carbohydrates, and antioxidants. Eating breakfast can also increase energy, improve concentration, boost athletic performance, and improve grades (for all you students out there!).

How Breakfast Increases Energy

When you sleep, you’re essentially going through a fasting period, and if your body is functioning as it should, your blood sugar levels drop. When you skip breakfast, your blood sugar levels drop even further. Low blood sugar levels can trigger hunger and cause a drop in energy. Low blood sugar levels can also lead to intense cravings, especially for unhealthy foods like pizza, bagels, sweets, and other refined carbohydrates. When you give in and eat these types of foods, your blood sugar levels spike, which gives you a quick boost of energy. While it’s nice at the time, this quick boost of energy is ultimately followed by a crash that leaves you feeling drained and even worse than before.

How Breakfast Improves Your Mood

In addition to making you feel hungry and fatigued, low blood sugar levels can also leave you feeling cranky and irritable. Your body uses healthy carbohydrates to produce serotonin – a neurotransmitter in your brain that improves mood and can have a calming effect on your body – so when you eat breakfast, and include some healthy carbohydrates, your mood becomes more stable throughout the day.

Meeting your Nutrient Needs

When you skip breakfast – or any meal for that matter – you miss out on an important opportunity to get in essential vitamins and minerals. Including a serving of fruit or vegetables at breakfast increases the likelihood of not only meeting your fruit and vegetable recommendations for the day, but also your needs for certain vitamins and minerals.

What Should I Eat?

Eating SOMETHING for breakfast is better than skipping it altogether, but of course, some choices are better than others. For example, eating a carbohydrate-dense breakfast, like a bagel, gives you energy for a couple hours, but can lead to that resulting energy crash. It’s best to have a complete breakfast that contains a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Combining all the food groups will not only optimize the nutrient content of your breakfast, but it will help keep your blood sugar levels stable, which can make you feel fuller longer.

Incorporate whole grains, such as mini whole-wheat bagels, oatmeal or whole-wheat toast, as well as lean proteins, like almond butter, eggs, or even chicken (think outside the box!). Include a low-fat dairy product, like Greek yogurt or cottage cheese and don’t forget to complete the meal with some fruits and/or vegetables.

Examples of balanced breakfasts include oatmeal topped with blueberries and a handful of almonds, an egg omelet with mixed vegetables and low-fat cheese and a smoothie made with fruit, leafy greens, yogurt and flaxseed.

What about Cereal?

Because of its convenience, dry cereal is a go-to breakfast choice for many people. While some breakfast cereals can be a healthy choice, others are loaded with sugar and calories and can do real damage to your weight-loss journey. If you like eating dry cereal for breakfast, look at nutrition labels diligently and choose cereals with 120 or fewer calories per serving, at least 3 grams (but ideally 5 grams) of fiber per serving, and fewer than 5 grams of sugar per serving.

Need some more healthy breakfast ideas? Check out these 34 ideas from Greatist.

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