Even if you don’t believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it can absolutely set the stage for a day’s worth of healthy eating. Some experts even suggest prioritizing your morning meal since your willpower is strongest just after you rise. With so many nutritious breakfast foods on the market, starting the day off right seems almost inevitable. But you might want to be a little more skeptical of the products you toss into your shopping cart.
Marketing departments at food companies already know we’re all looking to eat a little better, so they appeal to our desires by using certain buzzwords on packaging. Just because a box says the food is healthy doesn’t make it so. If your grocery list includes these five foods, your morning meal could use a makeover.
1. Flavored instant oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is a favorite breakfast food for the health-conscious crowd because it’s a quick and easy way to start your day with fiber-rich whole grains. The problem comes when you reach for the flavored options. One popular version of this breakfast staple contains a whopping 12 grams of sugar per serving. In fact, sugar is the second ingredient on the nutrition label.
You don’t have to give up a warming bowl of oatmeal, just stick with plain oats. You can add a drizzle of maple syrup or honey to add a touch of sweetness to your bowl without going overboard. But make sure it truly is a drizzle and not a bath. Another option? Savory oatmeal. Try adding salsa and avocado or sautéed veggies and a sprinkle of goat cheese.
2. Juice drink blends
With so many high-profile celebrities and nutritionists giving juice the green light, it’s tempting to load up on fruit-based beverages. But not so fast. Take a closer look at that carton or jug and be wary of anything that has the word blend, drink, or cocktail because many of them aren’t 100% juice.
Let’s take a closer look at cranberry juice cocktail. The fresh berries are brimming with nutrients like vitamin C and low in sugar, but a typical cranberry drink from the store contains a lot of sweetener to make the product more palatable. How much? Enough to give an 8-ounce serving 28 grams of sugar.
Going for real juice is a better option, especially if you make your own. Nutrients begin to diminish immediatelyafter you liquefy the produce, so freshness is key. You’re even better off sticking with whole fruit, which provides fiber to help keep you feeling full. You’ll also be more likely to stick to a reasonable portion since chewing takes more time than guzzling a drink.
3. Turkey bacon
Very few people would argue bacon is a healthy choice for everyday eating, but turkey bacon is another story. Because the plain poultry is so lean, many automatically assume the same is true when you turn it into a substitute for your favorite morning meat. According to Cooking light, turkey bacon varies quite a bit and some varieties contain just as much fat and even more sodium than pork varieties.
Instead of trying to turn bacon into something you feel good about eating all the time, go for the real stuff every so often. Ham and Canadian bacon are better choices for keeping the fat and calorie counts lower, but you still need to be wary of how much sodium these products contain. Try buying ground turkey or chicken, then season it yourself to make a healthy homemade sausage.
4. Fiber-added baked goods
Breakfast pastries usually contain sugar, fat, refined flour, and not much else. Several years back, though, food companies began toying around with certain types of food additives to boost the fiber content of their baked goods. Suddenly, a chocolate muffin that sounds more like a dessert than breakfast was able to boast 6 grams of fiber. The secret ingredient in this case is polydextrose, which is made from glucose and sorbitol. Other common additives used to boost fiber include inulin, maltodextrin, and soy fiber.
While some studies have suggested these additives may be useful for improving satiety and promoting regular bowel movements, the long-term effects are unknown. NPR pointed out that while fiber has been linked to reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, no one is sure why. In the story, John Swartzberg, a public health professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “I don’t want people to think that by adding things to unhealthy foods, it somehow makes them healthy.”
The takeaway is to eat plenty of fiber, but from sources that naturally contain it. That means fewer fortified muffins and more fruits and vegetables.
5. Egg substitutes
Egg whites have been adored by dieters and bodybuilders for decades thanks to high levels of protein and almost no fat. The downside comes when you realize skipping the golden center means skipping many vital nutrients like lutein and carotenoids, plus more of that beloved protein. As a way to work around the nutritional shortcomings of only whites, companies started crafting egg substitutes fortified with vitamins as well as a bunch of additives in an attempt to recreate the same flavor, color, and texture of whole eggs.
While these egg imposters may not exactly be bad for you, they’re not an adequate replacement for the real thing. Sharon Palmer, RD, told Today’s Dietitian, “Many benefits associated with micronutrients and phytochemicals are related to the foods they come from, not the individual nutrients. We do not fully appreciate the synergy or bioavailability of these nutrients when they are consumed in a food in their natural state versus a pill.”
We may not fully understand the science yet, but research indicates this is largely true. Consider one 2013 study that found those who consumed three whole eggs per day experienced a favorable shift in HDL cholesterolwhile those who ate the equivalent amount of egg substitute didn’t score the same benefits.