What you eat for breakfast can set the tone for your entire day. It's been shown that it's easiest to make healthy choices in the morning before our willpower is depleted, which means that it's easy to set yourself up for success with a nutritious choice. But what does "healthy" even mean? It's easy to get confused in an era of over-information when it comes to nutrition, especially when a lot of the advice out there seems to contradict itself. Should you be eating plant-based? Drinking butter coffee exclusively? Going for a high-protein meal? The options can be overwhelming and may tempt you to just grab a sugary muffin and a latte and call it good. Luckily, there's one thing that experts all seem to agree on when it comes to diet and health, and that's keeping inflammation low.
Why It's Smart to Keep Inflammation Low
"[Inflammation] is a response from your immune system that occurs when your cells have been damaged, explains Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition. "This causes the body to release chemicals, antibodies, and proteins, which increase blood flow. For chronic inflammation, this response lingers, eventually causing damage to organs or tissues."
It's important to note that not all inflammation is bad. In fact, inflammation is our body's natural way of protecting against harm. The important distinction lies in the difference between the two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. "Acute inflammation is what happens with a cut or scrape, but chronic inflammation is inflammation that is present for a longer period of time," says Rhyan Geiger, RD, owner of Phoenix Vegan Dietitian. "Having chronic inflammation can lead to fatigue, pain, and GI issues. Dealing with chronic inflammation for a long time can make the body's inflammatory response damage healthy cells and potentially lead to additional chronic diseases like heart disease or arthritis."
According to Shapiro, chronic inflammation can also lead to smaller (but important) day-to-day issues such as fatigue, weight loss or gain, and mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Needless to say, no matter what dietary philosophy you may subscribe to, chronic inflammation is something that we all want to avoid.
The Benefits of Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast
When it comes to managing inflammation, food can play an important role. "Foods can help to decrease inflammation based on the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals they contain," says Shapiro. "They can also increase inflammation if they are full of sugar, processed ingredients, chemicals, and more."
Both dieticians agree that breakfast is an important place to start when trying to eat in a way that supports a healthy lifestyle and helps fight inflammation. In addition, Geiger notes that having a nutrient-dense meal in the morning increases your energy levels, promotes cognitive function so you stay alert during the day, and can lead to making better food choices throughout the day. "Starting the day out with refined carbohydrates like added sugar can cause an increase in your blood sugar and a 'crash' shortly after," she explains. This can lead to the desire to snack throughout the day, reach for another sugary option, or take a midday nap.
If you're looking to avoid the crash, as well as steer clear of inflammation-promoting foods, Shapiro recommends watching out for hidden sugars, which are often lurking in many "healthy" breakfast products like yogurts, granola, and cereals. Both nutritionists also recommend limiting the amount of white bread products and baked goods, as they quickly turn into sugar in the body. The constant blood sugar roller coaster that comes with eating foods high in sugar can cause hormonal fluctuations and inflammation—pretty much the opposite of starting off your day on the right foot.
The good news is that by making smart breakfast choices, you can manage your energy levels, promote overall health and wellness, and prevent inflammation. Here are some fantastic, anti-inflammatory breakfast ideas to start your day off right.
Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Ideas
Oatmeal With Walnuts and Goji Berries
"This gluten-free grain is high in fiber to help decrease cholesterol levels and balance blood sugar. The walnuts slow down digestion and provide a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory. Goji berries add sweet flavor without a lot of sugar and have a lot of antioxidants," Shapiro says. Don't have goji berries on hand? Geiger recommends adding berries like raspberries or blueberries to your oats. "Berries have anthocyanins that reduce inflammation and risk of disease," she says.
Fruit With Almond Butter
For an on-the-go breakfast, grab an apple or banana with a packet of almond butter for a satisfying and portable meal. "Whole fruit is full of antioxidants that prevent free radicals from creating damage and disease in our bodies, and contain fiber, which helps to flush toxins through our body," says Shapiro. Pair that with nut butter that contains protein, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, and minerals, and you'll keep disease at bay."
Greek Yogurt and Fruit
The protein and healthy bacteria strains in Greek yogurt serve anti-inflammatory roles, aid with digestion, and keep you satiated. "Pair that with antioxidant-rich berries and you have a power breakfast full of protein, fiber, and nutrients," recommends Shapiro.
Eggs and Greens
"Eggs are rich in nutrients including vitamin D, protein, omega 3, and choline," according to Shapiro. The protein is powerful in managing blood sugar levels, which, as mentioned before, helps temper inflammation. Add in greens for a true superfood rich in nutrients, void of sugar, and high in fiber.
When it comes to inflammation-fighting superfoods, this is your chance to blend them all together for the ultimate anti-inflammatory breakfast. "I recommend adding organic fruit, veggies, a plant-based protein, water or an unsweetened nut milk, and chia seeds to ensure a balanced breakfast that will maintain energy levels," Shapiro says. This combo packs in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Geiger recommends adding frozen avocado to your smoothie for a creamy, nutritional boost. "Avocados have carotenoids and tocopherols both help reduce the risk of chronic disease."