Your whole day starts with breakfast. If you’re not intermittent fasting, you’re making a choice that sets you up for 24 hours of healthy eating—or 24 hours of surging and crashing blood sugar, hanger pangs, and more. We reached out to the country’s top nutrition experts to find out what foods are sabotaging your morning efforts, and they all universally agreed on a single main culprit: cereal.
"What you eat for breakfast sets you up for the day, and if you start out with a high-carb, high-sugar meal, you will find that you crave sugar all day," explains Courtney Swan, R.D., founder of Realfoodology. "People love it because it is quick and easy and the front of the box label wants you to believe it is healthy, but don't be fooled," says Kimberly Evans, R.D., founder of Whole Health Nutrition.
The problem has to do with keeping your blood sugar steady. When your blood sugar spikes and crashes, you're left feeling hangry, with your hormones in a state of stress. Your inflammation levels rise, and you reach for more sugar or carbs to feel better, causing the whole cycle to start again. Cereal is typically eaten unaccompanied by blood-sugar-balancing fat and protein—especially if you, like so many people, accompany it with skim milk.
"Many of us grew up eating a bowl of cereal with skim milk. What we didn’t realize was that this added a huge amount of sugar to the beginning of our day—to the tune of 15 to 20 teaspoons of sugar. That’s what just 2 cups of cereal (not even the high-sugar flavors!) turn into in your body. Add that cup of skim milk, and you have 4 additional teaspoons of sugar," says Melanie Beasley, R.D., of Nutritional Weight and Wellness. "Breakfasts like this lead to a sugar crash about two to three hours later. On top of that, sugar has been linked to obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance."
If you can't live without your bowl of daily cereal, fear not—there are easy solutions. "If cereal is your thing, try to find one that is truly whole grain, and then add some nuts to it for some protein to balance out those refined carbs or choose something like muesli, which is less refined," says Evans.
While Swan recommends clients go with a high-protein, high-fat meal like an omelet or avocado scramble in the morning, she also suggests treating cereal or granola as a side if you truly love it. "Pair it with some high-fat organic coconut yogurt and nut butter for added protein and fat," she says.
Better yet, try out one of these hangry-proof breakfasts, designed to keep your blood sugar stable all day long.