Q: I’ve made up my mind: I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year by eating fewer calories and exercising more. Cutting down my breakfast calories is one challenge. My typical breakfast is 400 calories: three tablespoons of almond butter, two slices of low-calorie bread and one cup of fresh fruit. I could cut my calories to 200 by opting for a frozen low-calorie breakfast sandwich. Is this nutritional compromise worth the 200-calorie savings?
A: It’s January and the height of New Year’s resolutions season, so let me applaud you for tackling shedding those unwanted 20 pounds for good. It sounds like you realize your effort will take time, persistence and close examination of your current food choices. So true!
Breakfast is an important meal. “Nutritionally, breakfast presents an opportunity to chalk up a serving or two of those hard-to-fit-in foods that most Americans don’t eat enough of — fiber-filled whole grains, fruit, nuts and/or seeds, which are less available once you depart from your doorstep,” says Judy Caplan, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Vienna and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Another plus: Kick-starting your day with a smart breakfast can reinforce your resolve to eat healthfully the rest of the day.
Data from the National Weight Control Registry suggest that most successful weight losers eat breakfast, says Suzanne Phelan, a co-investigator with NWCR and associate professor at California Polytechnic State University.
So let’s dissect your breakfast.
To shed pounds, you say you want to allot 200 calories for breakfast. That’s quite low and might leave you hungry and on a food hunt by midmorning. Although adults vary in their starting weight, height, physical activity and more, most women can lose weight on about 1,500 calories a day (about 2,000 calories for men). Even if you eat a bit fewer than a third of your calories per meal at breakfast, 300 to 400 is a more reasonable target.
You estimate your breakfast at 400 calories. It’s actually closer to 500 calories with two-thirds of the calories coming from the almond butter. Although they’re a healthful source of fat, all nut butters, including almond, peanut, cashew and others, are calorie-dense.
To hit the 200-calorie mark you contemplated opting for a frozen low-calorie breakfast sandwich. Upon inspection, these options ring in at about 250 to 350 calories. They typically contain eggs or egg whites, cheese and/or breakfast meat tucked into an English muffin, biscuit, bagel or tortilla. About one-third of their calories are from fat, including some saturated fat and cholesterol. A big downfall is their sodium count – on average 600 milligrams.
Don’t give this substitution a second thought! It’s definitely a nutritional compromise for you.
Instead rejigger your current breakfast. An easy way to shave a hundred calories is to use two instead of three tablespoons of almond butter. Or use even less and add a layer of all-fruit jam. To shave another 50 calories, eat a half-cup vs. one cup of fruit. Do check that your servings are accurate. It’s a wise idea to use measuring cups and spoons at least initially.
To lose weight and keep it off, tweak your current habits rather than making wholesale changes that don’t please your palate or meet your nutritional goals.
Research suggests that the fewer decisions you need to make about what and how much to eat, the more success you’ll experience controlling your weight.
To put breakfast on autopilot, generate just two or three palate-pleasing options. Try these smarter, quick-to-fix breakfasts:
● “Prepare a large batch of oatmeal or oat bran to last the week,” Caplan suggests. Add chopped apples, raisins or other dried fruit, nuts or seeds. Ditto with quinoa.
● Bake a dozen whole-grain muffins. Stash them in the freezer. Warm as needed. Pair this with fruit and yogurt or fruit and a hard-boiled egg. (Make these in advance.)
● Pour a bowl of dry cereal. Keep a few kinds on hand and combine them. Make at least a couple of them whole-grain and high in fiber. Top with fat-free milk and fruit.
● Create a yogurt parfait with fat-free plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese. Layer in fresh or frozen fruit and chopped nuts.
● Create a healthful breakfast sandwich. Use a whole-grain bagel thin, English muffin or tortilla. Top it with an egg and a slice of reduced-fat (2 percent) cheese. Add slices of tomato or avocado.
● “Blend up a smoothie with fat-free milk or plain or Greek yogurt,” Caplan says. “Add your fresh or frozen fruit of choice.” Banana and berries work well.
● Top whole-grain bread or a tortilla with nut butter (limit to two tablespoons) and sliced bananas.
● Bag up a mix of whole-grain dry cereals, nuts and dried fruit.
Warshaw, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, is the author of numerous books published by the American Diabetes Association and of the blog EatHealthyLiveWell, found on her Web site, www.hopewarshaw.com.
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