5 Things you should eat for breakfast and 5 you should always avoid

How many times have you been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It's been pounded into our heads by everyone from nutritionists to cereal commercials to our own beloved moms. Recently, however, that theory has been called into question, with some researchers warning breakfast may not be the miraculous metabolism-boosting meal we once revered it as.    

That said, even if breakfast isn't the most important meal of the day, most nutritionists agree that it is indeed important. As with other meals, the majority of the benefits reaped from breakfast come from what you eat, and not when you eat. Make the wrong choice, and your morning meal could end up doing more harm than good. 

While some foods will deliver the energy you need to kick butt at work, school, the gym, or wherever your day takes you, others can leave you sluggish, bloated, and worse off than if you'd eaten nothing at all.

So what should you eat to harness the rewards of breakfast? To help you supercharge your day with a powerful breakfast, here are five things you should eat for breakfast and five you should always avoid:

Eat: Steel-cut oats

The humble oat is among the most versatile and healthiest of whole grains. Packed with nutrients and dietary fiber, oats leave you feeling full and promote healthy gut bacteria, which aid with digestion and help protect your immune system. Oats are also associated with a huge array of other health benefits, including lower cholesterol, reduced blood pressure, and improved digestion.

You can typically find oats in one of three forms: instant oatmeal, rolled oats, and steel-cut oats. While all three varieties are born from the same grain, instant, rolled, and steel-cut differ in how they're processed

Because steel-cut oats are less processed than rolled or instant oats, they have a lower glycemic index. As a low-GI food, steel-cut oats can help you feel fuller, longer and prevent the spike in blood sugar and insulin that leads you to crave more sugary foods later on.

To maximize the nutritional power of a steel-cut oat breakfast, skip the sugar and try topping your oats with cinnamon, sea-salt, almonds, and fresh fruit.

Eat: Greek yogurt

Yogurt has long been touted as a health food, so what makes Greek yogurt so special? This tart treat is crafted by straining out the extra whey found in traditional yogurt, resulting in a creamier, thicker, slightly sour concoction with more protein and less sugar.

Greek yogurt is loaded with probiotics to promote healthy gut bacteria, and it's rich with minerals like calcium and potassium. Greek yogurt also delivers a ton of iodine, which optimizes the function of your thyroid hormones and helps to boost your metabolism.

With proper portioning and toppings, eating Greek yogurt for breakfast can leave you feel satisfied and energized all morning. Try whipping up a Greek yogurt bowl with berries and honey or unsweetened cherries with vanilla extract. In the mood for a savory morning meal? Top an avocado with a scoop of Greek yogurt, herbs, salt, and extra-virgin olive oil.

Eat: Eggs

For decades, eggs were villainized as a high cholesterol-causing food. Years later, scientists realized it's the saturated fat we eat, not the dietary cholesterol, that has the biggest impact on our blood cholesterol. In fact, eating an egg a day may even help boost your good cholesterol. Eggs also provide complete proteins to help develop muscle.

After ditching their undeserved bad rap, eggs today are lauded as a "nearly perfect food," brimming  vitamin D, B6, and B12 and minerals like zinc and copper. Perhaps the most eggselent thing about this mighty breakfast food is their ineggspensiveness: Eggs are one of the cheapest sources of high-quality protein in town. 

Wonderfully versatile, you could eat an egg every day without getting bored. Poach 'em, boil 'em, fry 'em, or cook them into omelets and frittatas. Just avoid loading them down with unhealthy ingredients like butter, bacon, or heavy cream—stick to olive oil and veggies instead.

Eat: Avocado

The avocado rose to the status of Instagram's trendiest toast topper when nutritionists started spreading news of their impressive nutritional benefits. The term gets tossed around a lot, but avocados are a "superfood" if ever there was one.

To start with, they're bursting with close to 20 vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium and vitamins C, E, K, an B-6. They're the only fruit that packs a hefty punch of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of "good fat" that helps keep your blood sugar levels stable and curbs your appetite. They're associated with a range of attractive health benefits, from increased energy to healthy complexion to cancer prevention.

Best of all, they taste amazing—and not just on avocado toast. Blend them into a smoothie with banana, mango, and coconut milk. Or slice one in half, crack an egg into the hollow, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and bake up an avocado egg cup.

Eat: Salmon

So healthy is the superb salmon, super smart Harvard scientists recommend eating the protein-packed pink fish at least once a week, if not every day.  One 3.2-ounce portion of salmon delivers more than 20 grams of protein, along with other coveted nutrients like vitamin B12, potassium, and selenium, an essential mineral that boosts immunity and is associated with the prevention of cancer and thyroid problems.

But where salmon really shines is in its content of omega-3 fatty acid, an essential fat that is believed to strengthen joints, protect the heart, and provide a whole range of other health benefits. Omega-3 is even thought to enhance brain power and improve memory, and may help prevent depression and Alzheimer's.

Happily, salmon is one of those magical foods that is socially acceptable to devour for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snack time (Ever heard of salmon jerky? Drool.) A bagel with lox might be the most popular manifestation of a salmon-y breakfast, but it's hardly the only (or healthiest) one. To go the healthy route and pack three power foods into one breakfast, try stacking a poached egg, avocado, and smoked salmon on whole wheat toast.  

Avoid: White toast

Compared to a slice of whole-wheat toast, white toast is more likely to leave you feeling hungry. The refined flour in white bread is made by removing the outer and inner layers of the grain, removing the fiber and a good chunk of protein. Without high levels of fiber and protein, white bread is digested quickly and causes a spike and subsequent plummet of blood sugar levels. This, in turn, can cause mood swings, fatigue, and cravings for sugary foods.

White bread has been linked to weight gain, not only because of its tendency to leave you with junk food cravings, but because of the refined starch it contains. Consuming refined starches can lead to an increase of sugar in your bloodstream, which the body tends to store as fat.

Skip the white toast, and go for whole grains like whole-wheat toast or an English muffin. Bonus points if you top it with a poached egg or avocado.

Avoid: Sugary cereal

We love scarfing down a box of Captain Crunch while watching cartoons as much as the next 6-year-old. Tragically, the beloved breakfasts of our childhood are not, as commercials assured us, "part of a balanced breakfast."

Much like the white toast we mentioned earlier, cereals are generally made from highly process grains, stripped of their vitamins, nutrients, proteins, and fiber. Many cereals are drowned in added sugar, a chief cause of America's obesity epidemic and arguably one of the most underestimated threats to our health. Excessive consumption of sugar is not only associated with obesity, but cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other ugly health problems. The most prevalent type of sugar in cereals is high-fructose corn syrup, but it also shows up under disguise names like "dextrose," "fructose," and "lactose." 

We could go for pages and pages about the perils of cereal, but we'll keep it simple: go for real breakfast foods like oatmeal and eggs and save cereal for special occasions and bad breakups. 

Avoid: Muffins

That reduced fat blueberry muffin may be masquerading as a health food, but don't let it fool you. Even reduced fat blueberry muffins can exceed 400 calories, and include the same monstrous amount of sugar and even more sodium than traditional muffins. And those might not be even real blueberries

The deceptively healthy sounding "bran muffin" is no better. The bran muffins found at most coffee shops and bakeries are typically packed with calories, sugar, and high amounts of fats.

It doesn't matter if they claim to be made from zucchini, pumpkin, carrots, walnuts, or other healthy ingredients: most commercially sold muffins are loaded with sugar, sodium, and fat. It's time to be honest with ourselves: muffins are little more than cupcakes that are socially acceptable to eat for breakfast. Next time you're in line at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts, do not fall victim to the siren song of the Zucchini Walnut or Honey Bran Raisin muffin. Instead, may we suggest Starbucks' Classic Oatmeal or Dunkin's Turkey Sausage Flatbread?

Avoid: Orange juice

Orange juice was once celebrated as a health food, capable of extending life and healing everything from scurvy to acidosis.

But here's the thing: Orange juice, like other fruit juices, is actually about as healthy as soda. Orange juice is packed with sugar, delivering the same whopping nine teaspoons of sugar in a 12-ounce glass as a 12-ounce can of coke. Also, the average carton of orange juice you find at the grocery store is highly processed and loaded with synthetic flavoring.

Fruit juice you make at home isn't much better. The main problem with orange juice and all other fruit juices stems from the process of juicing. When you juice a fruit, you remove the insoluble fiber needed to slow and reduce the absorption of sugar. By juicing your oranges, you turn a healthy, fibrous fruit into sugar and calories. Next time you're craving citrus, do your blood sugar levels a favor and eat a real, un-jucified orange. 

Avoid: Flavored yogurt

Remember when we were raving about Greek yogurt for breakfast? Well, those health benefits don't apply to all yogurts. In fact, some flavored yogurts are just as bad as ice cream in terms of sugar and artificial ingredients. Commercial yogurts can contain as much as 36 grams of sugar—to give you some context, the American Heart Association recommends limiting yourself to 25 grams of sugar per day if you're a woman and 36 grams if you're a man.  

Yogurt naturally has a tart, sour flavor, which is why yogurt manufacturers pump them with sugars and artificial sweeteners. By now, you know that added sugars are the devil's seasoning, but artificial sweeteners come with their own health concerns. Recent research has found that artificial sweeteners can make natural foods taste worst, cause cravings, and even be addictive.

While you should avoid sugar-laden yogurts for breakfast, you should by all means continue to enjoy plain or Greek yogurt. If you aren't crazy about the tart taste, try mixing in fruit, nut butter, or cinnamon.