A cheese, spinach and tomato omelet is shown.
Egg yellows are a healthy option for breakfast protein, but don’t overdo it. Aim for egg whites at least some of the time. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

To eat breakfast, or not to eat breakfast?

What’s the healthiest item to eat first thing in the morning?

Is breakfast truly the most important meal of the day?

Such questions continue to inspire much research and debate among health experts. And while they have yet to settle on definitive answers, a Spectrum Health dietitian has offered her tips for how to get your day off to the healthiest possible start.

“Breakfast offers a great opportunity for added nourishment in our day,” Spectrum Health dietitian Jessica Corwin said. “And for many of us, we need that boost of energy to fuel our bodies and minds.”

To put it plainly: Corwin recommends you eat breakfast.

In fact, she thinks the better question to ask is, “What time is the right time for your breakfast?”

That depends on you.

“There are a lot of different options for people,” she said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”

Given the shifting popularity of various diets and approaches to nutrition—intermittent fasting plans, for instance, lead some to skip breakfast altogether—the questions are bound to stick around for awhile.

Healthy heart

In one study, researchers found little difference in the body mass index of people who eat breakfast versus those who don’t.

The American Heart Association, meanwhile, notes that people who skip breakfast are more likely to:

  • Be overweight or obese
  • Have diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol
  • Use tobacco
  • Not exercise regularly
  • Not get recommended amounts of important nutrients
  • Eat more calories and added sugars the rest of the day.

The American Heart Association also notes that breakfast eaters are more likely to have lower rates of heart disease, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

Corwin’s stance? Breakfast is a prime opportunity to pack our day with all the healthy foods we need, kickstart our metabolism and spread our calorie consumption throughout the day.

When she meets with people to help plan healthy meals, she’s most interested in finding an approach that fits their schedule and lifestyle.

“I would be asking a lot of questions to get to know their day,” she said. “If you are overweight or gaining weight, what time of day are you getting the bulk of your calories and how can we space those out?”

What to eat

If you’re a breakfast fan, what should you be eating?

Most definitely not sugary cereal, Corwin said. Or even a carb-heavy bagel.

“That’s not the breakfast that’s going to set you up for success,” she said.

Rather, you’re better off starting your day with a mix of healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and protein.

“Our body has to work harder to break down fat and protein,” Corwin said.

That means steadier glucose levels (so, no sugar crashes) and feeling full for longer.

Eggs are a good choice in moderation, but she cautioned against eating them every day. Seek out plant-based sources of protein and other lean proteins.

“If you’re someone who wants eggs every day, try an egg-white version some days,” she said.

If you like oatmeal, avoid the sugary packets. If you want the ease of them, add a spoonful of peanut butter for protein.

Likewise, if you insist on having cereal in the morning, compare labels to find ones with fewer added sugars. To boost the nutritional value, add a spoonful of nuts or seeds such as almonds, ground flaxseed, hemp hearts or walnuts.

Wherever you come down on breakfast, strive for healthy choices most days.

And always remember: Nobody’s perfect.

“Some weeks we’re just overwhelmed with life,” Corwin said. “We just do the best we can with the knowledge we have. You need to find out what works for you and your family.”