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For the Best Breakfasts, Look to Our Neighbors

The benefits of breakfast are almost too numerous to list. I find that more and more people now know that they should eat breakfast -- but they still ask me what to eat. My advice is to eat traditional foods.
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I've helped more than 2,000 clients in the San Francisco Bay area, and one thing I tell them all is the importance of breakfast. From speeding up your metabolism to regulating your mood, breakfast is key. I find that more and more people now know that they should eat breakfast -- but they still ask me what to eat for breakfast. My advice is to eat traditional foods.

The benefits of breakfast are almost too numerous to list. Breakfast wakes up your metabolism after sleep and starts you burning calories. It reduces stress hormones and improves your mood.[6] It improves your memory and your alertness, and gives you energy for work.[1][4] And for reasons that are still not entirely understood, it is widely demonstrated that people who eat breakfast are slimmer, and find it easier to keep weight off once they lose it.[2][3][5] So it's not hard to see that breakfast is an easy win. Yet many people are almost afraid of this simple meal because they're unsure what they're supposed to eat. Eggs? Cereal? Yogurt? Is there a magic recipe?

Let's think about what people eat in other cultures. When I was growing up in Peru, I don't remember opening a box of cereal. We ate fresh, whole foods -- like whole-grain bread with marmalade, fruit, and eggs. On the weekends we often ate a sort of beef stir-fry (lomo saltado), served on a sandwich, or even tamales. If you had a hangover, breakfast was ceviche. (That's raw fish cured with lime juice!) When I look at other cultures, I see something similar -- traditional breakfasts involve whole foods that mix protein, carbohydrate and fats. In Japan, for instance, rice, fish and miso soup come together for the morning meal. In Israel, it might include eggs, bread, cheese and a tomato/cucumber salad.

What all these breakfasts have in common is that they are not made of processed foods (other than breads -- but even then, these are whole-grain breads) and they are not all from one food type (carbohydrates or proteins). They have the same qualities that make up a good dinner: fresh ingredients and a blend of protein, fat and carbohydrates. In fact, in many countries a typical breakfast is composed out of the leftovers of what was used to make traditional dinners! So if you stock your refrigerator with fresh ingredients, and keep on hand basic, healthy staples like eggs, meats, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, you will always have the makings of a superb breakfast.

Here are my four principles regarding breakfast:

1. Any breakfast is better than no breakfast. Eat something, even if it's little.

2. Eat what you like. This is a corollary to #1. If you don't like it you won't eat it, no matter how much you think you should.

3. Be guided by moderation. A bagel is not a great breakfast because it is all refined carbohydrates, but it isn't going to kill you if you eat it once a month. Try to create balance across a week, rather than be perfect every day.

4. Diversify your food types. What makes a good dinner makes a good breakfast -- that is, a mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Just eggs? Not great. Eggs with tomatoes and some fruit? Not bad.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning weight loss center in San Francisco. He is a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the founder of Eating Free and author of his new book Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good!


1. Dye, L., Lluch, A., & Blundell, J. E. (2000). Macronutrients and mental performance.
Nutrition, 16, 1021‒1034.

2. John M. de Castro (2004). The Time of Day of Food Intake Influences Overall Intake in Humans. J. Nutr. 134: 104-111, 2004.

3. Jakubowicz , D. Froy, O. Wainstein, J. Boaz, Mona (2012). Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Steroids 77, 323-331

4. Lieberman, H. R. (2003). Nutrition, brain function and cognitive performance. Appetite, 40, 245‒254.

5. S.A. Gibson and P. Gunn (2011). What's for breakfast? Nutritional implications of breakfast habits: insights from the NDNS dietary records. British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, 36, 78-86

6. Wurtman, R. J. (1986). Ways that food can affect the brain. Nutrition Reviews, 2‒5.

For more by Manuel Villacorta, click here.

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