Poor nutrition is the cause of more deaths worldwide. What you eat for breakfast sets the stage for the rest of your day, and your diet sets the stage for the rest of your life.
That’s why it’s so important to choose the right foods for breakfast (and avoid those that could shorten your life in the long run).
“Your food is a huge part of what becomes your brain, bones, and muscles,” says Dane Fruge, MD, medical director of the Pritikin Longevity Center. “If you’re not eating right, you’re trying to fill a race car with junk and you can’t expect it to perform well.”
According to a study by The Lancet published in April 2019, poor nutrition is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other health risk, including tobacco use. in fruits, low in nuts and seeds, low in vegetables, and low in omega-3 fats.
There are many things you should add to your diet to live a long life. But cutting out a few of the main offenders can also be helpful.
Here are the breakfasts that longevity experts recommend skipping to live a long life.
Yogurts with high sugar content
Yogurt tends to have a reputation as a breakfast food, but it can be high in added sugar – aka sugar that is added during food processing, foods packaged as sweeteners such as table sugar, sugars from syrups and honey, or sugars from concentrated juices, according to the USDA. It does not include natural sugars found in milk, fruits, or vegetables.
Over time, manufacturers have created more dessert-inspired yogurt flavors that can contain more than 40 grams of sugar per serving, according to a February 2014 report in the journal Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology.
This could be bad news for your life expectancy: Over 15 years, participants who consumed 17 to 21 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar were 38 percent more likely to die from heart disease than those who consumed less than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar, according to an April 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Aim to keep added sugars to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One good way to add healthy yogurt to your breakfast is to choose unsweetened Greek yogurt.
“Just 3/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt has 18 grams of protein and is low in sugar,” says Karin Kreutzer, RDN, associate professor and coordinating program director of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Keck School of Medicine. “You can add nuts and seeds to it to get protein and fiber.”
Granola with a high sugar content
Similar to yogurt, granola may seem like a healthy choice at first glance, but it can be filled with tricky ingredients that act as flavor enhancers.
“A lot of granola can be not only high in sugar, but also high in salt and fat,” says Dr. Fruge.
Consuming too much sodium is associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is the leading cause of stroke and heart disease. What’s more, eating too much fat can lead to a host of problems that affect your life expectancy, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
What you add to your cereal or muesli also matters. “If you only have oat milk, you’re going to get hungry later,” says Dr. Kreutzer. Dairy or soy milk will provide you with plenty of protein to keep you full all morning (and prevent overeating, which can lead to weight gain and associated health risks).
Ultra-processed frozen meals
In the frozen foods section of the supermarket, you can find many simple and quick meals, such as breakfast burritos, vegan egg sandwiches, and more. But keep in mind that even if something is a “replacement” for junk food (think: plant-based frozen bacon), it’s not always a guarantee that it’s healthy.
“For longevity, we know to avoid anything that’s really processed because it doesn’t contain the nutrients we need to thrive,” says Fruge. “Things that are high in sugar, salt, and fat – whether it’s breakfast food or not – are not good for longevity.”
In addition, processed foods are the main source of sodium in the diet, as salt is often used to preserve foods and extend their shelf life, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“The calories in food may seem normal, but high salt content can contribute to high blood pressure and other problems that can affect life expectancy,” says Dr. Fruge.
Breakfast bars may be a quick and easy option when you’re on the go, but they won’t do you any good for the rest of the day (or necessarily for the rest of your life). One of the main reasons is that breakfast bars can be high in calories, but not very satisfying, which can lead to bad eating habits.
“Some bars can be high in fat,” says Dr. Fruge. “Psychologically, it doesn’t feel like you’ve eaten that much, when in fact you’re eating too much.”
If you overeat at the end of the day, it can ultimately lead to weight gain, which will affect your life expectancy.
“We know that anything that causes weight gain and obesity, especially on average, causes metabolic syndrome, which is associated with blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more,” says Dr. Fruge.
Delicious pastries such as pancakes, waffles, and donuts are often the worst choice for your longevity.
“Not only can they have a lot of processed ingredients that cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, but they can also tire you out at the end of the day and make you crave foods that aren’t good for you,” says Dr. Fruge.
Of course, you can make your own versions of these foods in a healthier way.
“Usually these foods are processed unless you make them at home,” says Dr. Fruge. “But there is a way to make healthy homemade pancakes or waffles. If you do it with whole wheat flour and don’t add sugar, it can be healthy – it’s all about the quality of the ingredients and the portion size.”
It also depends on what you pair the pastries with. Processed baked goods may not be rich in nutrients, so if they are a staple in your diet, you are missing out on important vitamins and minerals that can help you live a longer life (and getting too much of something that can shorten your life).
“For me, the worst breakfast is one that lacks nutrients,” Kreutzer tells us. “If I drink coffee with non-dairy creamer, which has no protein, with two or three sugar packets and eats a croissant, I’m not getting enough fiber and protein and I’m getting too much-refined sugar.”