5 Reasons Your Breakfast Isn't Filling—and What to Do About It
If it feels like you're always hungry after you eat breakfast, you may be making one of these mistakes. Here's how to build a satisfying breakfast, according to a registered dietitian.
We've all been there. We eat breakfast only to find our tummy grumbling a few minutes later. What gives? Even if you think you're eating a healthy morning meal, you might be making one of these common breakfast mistakes. Certain nutrients are more filling than others, and—cough, cough—size matters.
If it's been a couple of hours since your breakfast though, you may just need to eat a morning snack. To help you stay full and energized in the morning, here's how to build a breakfast with more staying power.
Related: Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss
Reason 1: It's lacking in protein
So many typical breakfasts are carbs. Oatmeal, cereal, pancakes, toast and bagels (mmm, bagels) are all high-carbohydrate foods. And while I am all for carbs—especially complex carbohydrates—it helps to balance them out with some protein if you want your breakfast to fill you up.
Research points to eating 30 grams of protein to help keep you satisfied throughout the day. Some high-protein breakfast foods to try? Eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and nut butters. Or, get inspired by these healthy high-protein breakfast and brunch recipes.
Related: Are there ″good″ and ″bad" carbs?
Reason 2: There's no fat
I still see so many people who are afraid to add fat to their foods (I blame you, '90's fad diets). Even though, yes, fat has more calories than protein or carbs, it is also one of the most filling nutrients. It takes longer to digest and is very satisfying. How to boost the healthy fat you're getting at breakfast? There's the new classic (or is it still a trend?), avocado toast. Instead of egg whites cooked in cooking spray, try an olive-oil fried whole egg with whole-grain toast. Choose whole milk dairy instead of fat-free. My personal favorite? Peanut butter. I add a scoop to oatmeal, liberally spread it on whole-wheat English muffins and drop a spoonful in my smoothies for more staying power.
Reason 3: You're not eating fiber
Just like protein and fat, fiber helps fill you up. If your breakfast is made with refined grains, like white toast, you're missing a chance to get more fiber from whole grains, like whole-wheat toast and oatmeal. If you only drink juice, instead of eating fruit, you're missing a chance to get more fiber. A cup of orange juice has 0 grams of fiber, while eating an orange gives you 2 grams (and yes, even fancy green juices and celery juice lack fiber).
Don't fret if your current breakfast lacks fiber. There are plenty of high-fiber breakfast foods to choose from. Lots of cereals deliver fiber (check those labels and look for whole grains in the ingredients), whole-grain breads, oatmeal, fruit, nuts and seeds. Chia seeds deliver a high-fiber punch in a small package. So trade up your toast, add fruit and crunch on nuts and seeds to get your fiber fill.
Reason 4: It's too high in sugar
Cinnamon buns. Donuts. Muffins. Definitely delicious—but they have more added sugar than it's recommended you eat in a day. That's probably not surprising to you. But you may be eating sneaky sources of sugar at breakfast. Strawberry yogurt can give you 9 grams added sugar. Top that with granola (with 10 grams added sugar) and a drizzle of honey (4 grams added sugar per teaspoon) and all of a sudden you're close to 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) of added sugar, which is what the American Heart Association recommends women get for the entire day.
Sugar does a lot of things in your body (read more about what happens when you eat sugar here) but one thing it's not great at is keeping you satisfied. That's because sugar is absorbed quickly and can cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then crash.
To limit added sugars at breakfast, you'll have to read labels on packaged foods—think yogurt, cereals, breads—and chose options with less sugar. Savory breakfast dishes, like eggs, are usually lower in sugar.
Reason 5: Your breakfast is too small
That's right—if your breakfast leaves you hungry soon after you eat it, there's a good chance you're just not eating enough. Even if you're choosing a perfectly balanced breakfast of an egg on whole-wheat english muffin or oatmeal with fruit and peanut butter, your portions may be too small. Try eating a little bit more and see if that helps. Or, if you're genuinely full after your meal, you may just need to eat a hearty mid-morning snack.
I see lots of people who try to eat ″perfectly" during the day and focus on counting macros or calories. They end up eating too little in the early part of the day (like breakfast) and wonder why they binge at night. Oftentimes, the answer is that they're genuinely hungry and eating more foods earlier in the day would help them eat a more balanced and overall healthy diet.
One last reason you might be hungry...you skip breakfast all together
Did you see this coming? I know dietitians often harp on eating breakfast, but with the popularity of intermittent fasting and other restrictive eating patterns, I think it's worth repeating. Of course your first meal isn't going to fill you up if you skip it altogether. Maybe you're not hungry first thing. No worries, your breakfast doesn't have to be right when you wake up. There are lots of healthy, portable options if you don't have time and need to eat on the go. You can also try breaking up your breakfast into two mini meals.
Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.