Breakfast on the Run: Thinking Outside the Box (cont.)

Heller tells WebMD that the same applies to a bagel breakfast.

"A whole-wheat bagel with some peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese can be a great 'take it with you' breakfast, but it becomes a bad choice if the bagel is something like 7 or 8 ounces," she says. (To put that into perspective, an 8-ounce bagel would measure about 4 _" in diameter.)

Again, if you don't know how much it weighs, eat only half, and embellish it with high-protein toppings like lox, peanut butter, or low-fat cheese.

And what about the classic continental breakfast of toast or an English muffin? Either can be a healthy choice, as long as you follow a few simple rules.

"First, make sure the bread is whole grain and the English muffin contains at least some whole grains," says Somer.

Next, skip the butter and jam and opt for almond, soy or any nut butter, or low-fat cottage cheese for protein (or try low-fat cream cheese).

You can swap out the toast for frozen waffles if you like, Heller says, but look for brands made with whole wheat, and with a minimum of sodium, sugar, and fat.

Breakfast That Tastes Like Dessert

Among the latest breakfast crazes is the smoothie -- usually some combination of fruit, yogurt, and juice whipped in a blender to milkshake consistency.

While smoothies can be a healthy fare, the benefits may come to a screeching halt if you buy certain pre-made versions in a convenience or grocery store.

"Some of these supermarket smoothies have up to 20 teaspoons of sugar in each serving, and many of them have high fat content as well," says Somer.

Even smoothies you buy in a local diner or breakfast bar can be anything but healthy, Heller tells WebMD: "Some of them are made with ice cream -- full fat," she says.

Reading the labels can help you decide whether your smoothie is healthy or a high-calorie treat. But to be absolutely sure of what you're getting, Heller and Somer say, your best bet is to make smoothies at home.

"You can even make it the night before, store it in the refrigerator, and in the morning give it a 10-second whip, and you've got an instant healthy breakfast," says Somer.

Not quite as decadent-seeming as a smoothie, but just as good, is a bowl of yogurt. Grabbing a carton will add protein, calcium, and other nutrients to your diet. And to help lower the fat and calories, Somer suggests, you can buy an unflavored low-fat or no-fat type, then add fruit, honey, or jam on your own.

"There can be up to 9 teaspoons of sugar in a fruit yogurt," Somer says. "You are never going to put in as much as what is done for commercial preparation, so flavoring it yourself is going to be a lot healthier."

When it comes to '"out the door'" breakfasts, perhaps nothing is faster or easier than a cereal bar. But experts say these generally leave a lot to be desired.

"What makes cereal such a good choice is the high fiber, the low sugar, and low fat, and the addition of the milk and the fruit," says Somer. Without all that, she says, most cereal bars just aren't up to speed.

If you must eat them, Klein recommends saving them for an after-dinner treat and selecting healthier fare for your breakfast. If you need a quick, inexpensive fix in the morning, try grabbing a banana as you walk out the door.

Fast and Healthy Breakfast Tips

To help you think outside the box, Somer and Heller offer five additional tips for quick, healthy, and nutritious breakfasts:

1. Night-Before Oatmeal. Put a serving of rolled oats, a serving of hot milk, and a little sugar into a vacuum-sealed thermos bottle and set on the counter overnight. The oats will steam to perfection, and in the morning you'll have an instant hot breakfast.

2. Ultra High-Fiber Smoothie. Into a blender container, put one serving of unflavored, no-fat yogurt; one serving of any whole-wheat dry cereal; a banana; and a tablespoon of orange juice concentrate. Blend into a nutrition-packed, high-fiber smoothie.

3. Restaurant Requests. When dining out, skip the white-flour pancakes and greasy cheese omelet. Opt for whole-wheat or buckwheat pancakes, skip the syrup and butter, and ask for a bowl of fresh fruit instead. When ordering an omelet, ask that it be made with egg whites only and request veggies -- but no cheese -- inside.

4. Cut Coffee Calories. When ordering your favorite '"wake me up'" coffee drink, skip the cream, half-and-half, and whole milk, and go easy on the sugar. Instead, order a "skinny" latte made with skim milk, no whipped cream. Be sure to enjoy your hot drink with some type of fiber (like a whole-wheat English muffin) and some protein (try a spread of nut butter).

5. Really Think Outside the Box. Remember that you don't have to eat '"breakfast' foods" for breakfast. Anything nutritious -- including cold pizza with low-fat cheese, leftover vegetables and whole-wheat crackers, or a grilled cheese sandwich -- can work for breakfast.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Agriculture web site. Miriam Pappo Klein, MS, RD, clinical nutrition manager, Montefiore Medical Center, New York. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, NYU Medical Center, New York. Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet; director, nutrition web site

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Last Editorial Review: 11/28/2005 11:31:55 PM