Are You Making This Breakfast Mistake?

For years my breakfast was either dry cereal or toast with jam. As I always ate whole grains, I thought I was starting my day off on a healthy note. I was utterly oblivious to how nutritionally lopsided my morning meal was.

Void of much protein or fat, my carb-laden breakfasts launched my body on a wicked blood sugar roller-coaster ride. The result: one cranky girl with brain fog, sporadic energy, constant hunger and mad carb cravings.
 
Can you relate? If so, it's time to power up your breakfast plate.
 
4 Reasons to Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast

  1. Elevate Your Energy and Mind
    Protein is the only food source of amino acids. Amino acids produce mood-enhancing chemicals including dopamine, our natural energizer and mental focuser. A protein-rich breakfast will give you clear, sharp mental focus and lasting energy. Skip protein and you will feel slow, dull and scattered.
     
  2. Boost Your Mood
    Protein's amino acids also create serotonin, a feel-good chemical that promotes happiness and well-being. Without a protein-packed breakfast, you may feel irritable, anxious or blue.
     
  3. Curb Hunger, Eat Less
    A breakfast with high-quality protein and healthy fats can keep you full for 4 to 5 hours. Eat just a bagel, muffin or cereal and you'll soon be clamoring for a snack. If you're often hungry an hour after breakfast, you're most likely skimping on protein.
     
  4. Tame Your Sweet Tooth
    Protein helps stabilize blood sugar. A hearty dose of a.m. protein will help zap your 3 p.m. candy jar raids and nighttime ice cream binges. 

Balanced Breakfast Ideas
Start your day off right with a breakfast containing 20 to 25 grams of protein, plus some healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs. Here are five high-protein foods with approximate grams per portion and serving suggestions:

  1. 3 eggs (18-24 grams depending upon size)
    Make a veggie omelet, a veggie frittata, or a scrambled egg burrito with a whole-grain tortilla, avocado and salsa. Hard boil eggs or freeze mini quiches for easy workday breakfasts and enjoy with fruit and/or veggies.
     
  2. 4 ounces (about the size of your palm) of lean organic meat, organic poultry or wild fish (20 g)
    Yes, you can eat lunch for breakfast! Layer turkey, chicken, salmon or sardines on whole-grain bread or a sprouted-grain wrap with avocado, tomato, cucumber, sprouts, arugula, spinach--whatever sounds tasty.
     
  3. 1 cup cottage cheese (27 g) or plain Greek yogurt (23 g) - not fat free!
    Stir in fresh or frozen fruit, cinnamon, flaxseed meal or chia seeds, and chopped raw nuts.
     
  4. High-quality protein powder (1-2 scoops depending upon type and serving size)
    Mix into a green smoothie (recipe here) or warm porridge made with protein-rich whole grains (e.g., quinoa, millet, amaranth), nuts, seeds and fruit (or make it savory with sweet potato, Swiss chard, etc.).
     
  5. 2 tablespoons organic nut butter, such as almond, cashew, walnut or hazelnut (7 g)
    Spread on a Food for Life Ezekiel sprouted-grain English muffin (8 g) and follow with protein powder (10-15 g) mixed with water and a green powder or low-sugar veggie juice.

Breakfast Reboot
Experiment with different dishes to find the right combination for your body; one that provides long-lasting physical and mental energy.
 
Don't Forget the Kids!
A protein-deficient breakfast impacts kids too. Sugary cereals and yogurts, refined-flour breads, pastries and fruit drinks will nose dive their mood, energy and concentration. Make sure their brains and bodies are well fueled with a balanced meal of lean protein (amount needed varies by age), healthy fats, fruits and veggies, and whole grains.

Super Green Smoothie

A green smoothie is a yummy, easy way to consume a hearty dose of dark leafy greens and other nutrients.

For a balanced smoothie that will provide lasting energy and sharp mental focus and won't spike your blood sugar level, be sure to include a good dose of protein and fiber, a bit of healthy fat, and use minimal sugar, including sugar from fruit and fruit juice.

Experiment with different combinations of veggies and fruits (fresh or frozen), herbs, and liquids such as kale, spinach, collard greens, avocado, cucumber, berries, apples, lemon, lime, mint, parsley, and unsweetened almond or coconut milk. Include protein such as a high-quality protein powder, nut butter, plain kefir or plain Greek yogurt.

Toss in nutrient-rich boosters such as ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, greens powder and/or spirulina.

Think fresh and be creative! 

Ingredients:

  • 1 packed cup of dark leafy greens (if using kale or collards, remove stems and tough center stalk; if you're a kale newbie, start with a spinach/kale combo for a milder flavor)
     
  • 1/2 banana or 1/4-1/2 avocado (avocado provides a creamy consistency with less sugar)
     
  • 1/2 cup organic berries (fresh or frozen)
     
  • 1-1 1/2 cups water or a combo of water and unsweetened coconut milk (start with less liquid and add more if you want a thinner consistency)*
     
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground flax seed, chia seed or hemp seed
     
  • 1-2 scoops high-quality protein powder
     
  • Few ice cubes (optional, or skip if using frozen fruit)
     

*I recommend avoiding boxed coconut milk beverages as they contain numerous additives. Instead, go for organic coconut milk in a BPA-free can, such as Natural Value or Native Forest.

Instructions:

  1. Blend the greens with the liquid.
     
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Add protein powder last blending just briefly.
     
  3. Add more liquid if needed.

 Enjoy immediately for maximum flavor and nutritional benefit.

Reaching For Distraction: Smart Snacking

It’s 2:30.

I’m stuck.

I’m staring at my computer chewing on my lower lip.

Trying to write an article, but the words aren’t flowing.

When this happens, I want to bolt. That is, bolt from my desk straight to the kitchen for a rescue-me snack. Yep, I just know some crackers will magically get me unstuck. 

Am I hungry? No.

Seeking relief? Yes.

Looking for a distraction? You betcha.

Trying to solve my problem with food? Afraid so.

Can you relate?

When a Snack is Not the Solution
My clients often ask me for healthy snack ideas. I’m happy to share my list of smart snacks.  Before I do, however, I ask them to pause when a snack attack hits and ask themselves these three questions:

  1. Am I honestly physically hungry?
     
  2. If no, what am I avoiding doing or feeling?
     
  3. What truly would help me solve this problem?

Let me show you how it works:

(Me, standing in front of my open kitchen cupboard)

  1. Get real Renee, are you honestly physically hungry?
    Um, no.
     
  2. Ok then, what am I trying to avoid doing or feeling?
    I’m trying to avoid feeling like a stuck, frustrated, unproductive, crappy writer.
     
  3. What truly would help me solve this problem?
    Well, a walk usually fills my mind with fresh ideas whereas these crackers will just fill my belly.

Snacking often seems like the perfect remedy for frustration, boredom, anger, stress, anxiety, exhaustion, confusion, sadness. Sure, it may provide temporary relief, but then what?

Eating when I’m not hungry but rather trying to avoid something just adds a new problem on top of the original problem. Within minutes, I would have gone from being a writer with writer’s block to an overfed writer with writer’s block. Layer on top of that the guilt I would feel for eating out of frustration and now you have an overfed, guilt-ridden writer with writer’s block. Attractive, eh?

Slaying the Snack Dragon
The desire to snack when we aren’t hungry is an invitation to examine what our mind and body really need to feel nourished and energized.

It might be a walk, a nap, a glass of water, a good stretch or a chat with a friend.

It’s most likely not greasy, salty hands holding an empty chip bag.

As I’ve become a more mindful eater, I’ve been able to recognize my triggers and patterns (like the urge to nibble the minute I come home or when I can’t make a decision). This enhanced awareness has helped me learn to hit the pause button before mindlessly reaching for a snack. Doing so enables me to slay the snack dragon before it has its evil way with me.

Snacks that Sustain, not Drain
Of course, there will be times when you truly are hungry and need a little something to hold you over until meal time. Pick a snack that will sustain rather than drain you, one that will give you energy rather than send you crashing to the floor (think walnuts vs. donuts).

The healthiest snacks are nutrient-dense whole foods that fuel your body throughout the day helping you perform at an optimal level. Below are some smart snacking ideas. But remember, sometimes what you need the most isn’t found in the kitchen, vending machine, coffee shop or checkout line.

Smart Snacks
Here are a few healthy snack options. Be sure to watch your portion size to ensure your snack doesn’t become a meal.

  • Homemade popcorn: A whole grain, popcorn is an inexpensive, filling snack that both kids and grownups love. Jazz it up with a cumin and chili blend, nutritional yeast, curry powder, cinnamon, garlic salt, dried herbs--whatever sounds tasty.
     
  • Avocado or nut butter: Spread on whole-grain crackers, sprouted-grain toast or rice cakes.
     
  • Green smoothie: Blend together 6-8 kale leaves (stems removed), 1/2 banana, a cup of blueberries, scoop of protein powder, 1 1/2-2 cups of water or coconut milk and a few ice cubes.
     
  • Fresh fruit combo: A convenient choice, especially for a sweet tooth. As fruit is high in sugar, pair with fat and protein to lessen the sugar’s impact on your body. Try an apple with almond butter, a pear with cheese, peaches with plain yogurt, or strawberries with a handful of nuts.
     
  • Hummus: Kids and adults alike love to dip. Protein-rich creamy hummus is great with raw veggies or whole-wheat pita bread. Get creative and try a black or white bean hummus.
     
  • Kale chips: The perfect potato chip replacement. Remove the stems and toss the leaves with a 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper (or other seasonings). Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 8-12 minutes at 350 degrees until crispy. Re-crisp leftovers in the oven.
     
  • Indian-spiced roasted chickpeas: Wow your friends with these spicy little nibbles. Get the recipe here.

Have a snacking strategy or smart snack you love? Please share here.