How to Build a Balanced Breakfast- Tedi Nikova, MPH, RD

Sep 13, 2021

Benefits of having a morning meal

 Why does breakfast play such an important role in weight loss and weight management? Breakfast sets you up the rest of your day and can aid in preventing excessive food intake later in the day. I notice many of my patients skipping breakfast and having their first meal around 1-2 pm; this leads to excessive hunger, consuming larger portions in the evening, and continuous snacking in the afternoon, and post dinner. I always like to tell my patients “You cannot save calories; your body will try to make up for missed calories later in the day”. It is important to note that breakfast does not have to be at 6 am, breakfast time may be different for everyone, you may not feel hungry until 11 am, however this can still be your later breakfast that is ideal for your hunger cues.  

Skipping breakfast, and having a heavier lunch and dinner also leads to the ‘backloading of food’ aka- having the majority of food intake later in the day. An additional reason why breakfast may play an essential role in weight loss, is that it aids in front loading food intake to earlier in the day. Research shows our cells are more insulin sensitive earlier in the day and become more insulin resistant later in the day.1 This means that you are more likely to use food for fuel during the day, as compared to later in the day where your body may favour fat storage. A new popular area of research is eating based on your circadian rhythm. Eating in line with your circadian rhythm suggests that external factors including light exposure, physical activity, and sleep impact our metabolic activity, therefore front loading our calories in the daytime, may serve a benefit in our digestion, and ability to use food as energy instead of storing food into fat.1 This research was sparked by humans’ primal evaluation of daily rhythm in food availability and environmental factors to enable our ancestors to anticipate daily changes and to optimize fitness.1 However, more research is needed in this area of research. But, there is no denying with our  busy work schedules, electronics, and Netflixing at night, our food intake is being pushed way past our natural circadian rhythm.

 Some of you may be thinking… well what about Intermittent Fasting (IF)? It is important to note, that individuals following Intermittent Fasting may skip their breakfast meal and go straight to lunch. There is compelling research for the benefits of IF, however this may not be the ideal strategy for all and may cause backloading of calories. If choosing to do  IF speak to your dietitian about the right eating window for you, that is aligned with your eating schedule. IF requires proper planning with a dietitian to aid in ensuring you are consuming adequate nutrition throughout your day, as a smaller window of eating may lead to a lack of proper nutrition.

Building a balanced breakfast

 There are three main components to consider when building a balanced breakfast, protein, healthy fats, and fibre. Let’s break it down even further: 

Protein: This is a key nutrient I see my patients, especially women skimping out on all the time! However, it is essential to ensure your breakfast contains a source of protein. Protein plays an essential role in weight loss and weight management in three main pillars:

1) Increased satiety: Protein increases satiety to a greater extent as compared to fats and carbohydrates. 2

2) Increased thermogenesis: Protein has the highest Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), as compared to proteins and fats. The TEF is s the increase in metabolism after a meal, and accounts for 10% of total energy expenditure.2 Protein requires the largest amount of energy to be broken down by the body. 2

3) Maintenance or increase of fat-free mass: Moderately higher protein diets play a role in muscle anabolism (growth) and muscle maintenance, increasing lean body mass. This can aid in improving overall metabolism, as muscle tissue is a more effective calorie burner than fat tissue, aiding in an improved overall metabolic profile. 2

How much protein: The adequate protein goal for breakfast will vary based on your individual protein goals. Speak to your registered dietitian about your daily protein targets. Generally, you would want to aim for at least 20 g of protein for breakfast. It is important to note that other food components in your breakfast may include small amounts of proteins such as healthy fats (nuts and seeds, cheese), and unrefined carbohydrates (whole grains), that may aid in meeting your breakfast protein goal.

Proteins to include in your breakfast:

✔   Eggs and egg whites

✔   Hemp seeds

✔    Greek yogurt

✔   Cottage cheese

✔   Tofu

✔   Beans and legumes

 Fats: Healthy fats are an essential component to aid in increasing your satiety.3 Similarly to protein, fats in the gastrointestinal tract reduces hunger and impairs food intake by activating satiety signals.1 To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it is recommended to choose more unsaturated fats as compared to saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (example-vegetable oils), they are also found in plant-based foods (nuts and seeds), and fatty fish (Example-salmon). Saturated fats are mainly found in oils that are solid at room temperature (butter, coconut oil), and in animal-based foods (example-fatty meat, cheese).

 How much fats: The adequate fat goal for breakfast will vary based on your individual fat goals. Speak to your registered dietitian about your daily fat targets. A good serving size for healthy fats is approx. 100-200 kcal per meal. This may look like:

✔   1-2 tbsp olive oil, avocado oil,

✔   ¼ cup nuts and seeds

✔   ½ small avocado

Fibre: Dietary fibre is obtained from plant foods in the diet. Fibre plays an essential role in satiety. Fibre, especially soluble fibre, aids in reducing transit time of food aiding in slower digestion, and increased fullness. 4 Additionally getting adequate fibre is essential for regular bowel movements, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and improving the gut microbiota- aka the good microbes in our gut.5

 How much fibre: For women (19+) the Adequate Intake (AI) for fibre is 25 g/day and for men is 38 g/day.5 Therefore, aiming to get at least 4-6 g of fibre for your breakfast meal can put you on track for meeting your fibre goals. The three main sources of fibre in our diets include vegetables and fruit, grains, and plant-based protein rich foods.

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Tips to simplify breakfast

Many of our patients at HMC are busy professionals and/or parents who do not have the time to build a gourmet breakfast every day, and we do not expect them to! Breakfast can be simple, quick, and brought with you on the go. The dietitians’ teams top tips to simplify breakfast include:

1. Prep it the night before: Utilize a recipe that can be quickly prepped in a mason jar or small container the night before. Recipes our patients love that can be prepped the night before including:

✔   Hemp seed pudding

*Recipe inspiration:

✔   Overnight oats

*Recipe inspiration:

✔  Greek yogurt parfait

*Recipe inspiration:

2. Have your ingredients ready: if prepping breakfast in the morning, create an easy flow in the kitchen to promote a quick prep. For example, if you are creating a smoothie, have your blender out, with all of you add ins ready to go. Another tip to save time with smoothies is to place all the ingredients in separated zip lock bags in the fridge, that way you are saving tons of time with morning smoothies.

3. Be flexible with your definition of breakfast: Breakfast does not have to be toast with eggs, feel free to utilize leftovers from the night before.

4. Look online for recipe inspiration: There are many websites to get inspired with for different balanced breakfast ideas that are simple, quick, and convenient. Our go to websites for inspiration include:

Diet doctor:

✔  Ambitious kitchen:

✔   Delish:





1. Poggiogalle, E., Jamshed, H., & Peterson, C. M. (2018). Circadian regulation of glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in humans. Metabolism: clinical and experimental84, 11–27.

2. Paddon-Jones, D., Westman, E., Mattes, R. D., Wolfe, R. R., Astrup, A., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein, weight management, and satiety. The American journal of clinical nutrition87(5), 1558S–1561S.

3. Maljaars, J., Romeyn, E. A., Haddeman, E., Peters, H. P., & Masclee, A. A. (2009). Effect of fat saturation on satiety, hormone release, and food intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition89(4), 1019–1024.

 4. Clark, M. J., & Slavin, J. L. (2013). The effect of fiber on satiety and food intake: a systematic review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition32(3), 200–211.

 5. Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients12(10), 3209.

6. Health Canada. (2006). Dietary Reference Intake tables (DRIs). Retrieved from:

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