A festival of heart- and waist-friendly fiber, steel-cut oatmeal is a whole grain that everyone (gluten-intolerant or not) can benefit from adding into their daily diet, says Vandana R. Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. After all, in one 2015 Harvard University study of more than 100,000 people, those who ate at least 33 grams of whole grains daily—the equivalent of a single bowl of oatmeal—cut their risk of early death by 9 percent compared to those who rarely, if ever, ate whole grains.
"A single cup of steel-cut oats contains about 12 grams of protein as well as beta-glucan, a viscous fiber that helps promote a feeling of fullness," adds Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia. "It's also very rich in antioxidants to help protect heart health and reduce blood pressure." As if all that weren't enough of a selling point, oatmeal is the perfect canvas for healthy breakfast mix-ins like milk, seeds, nuts, berries, and antioxidant-packed cinnamon.
How do you like your eggs? Scrambled? Poached? Sunny-side up? It doesn't matter. They're all great. Every egg provides about 6 grams of muscle-building, fat-quashing protein. (Did you know that eggs are the number-one bioavailable source of protein, meaning that your body can absorb and use protein from eggs more easily than it can protein from any other food? Boom!)
Meanwhile, egg yolks are one of nature's best sources of choline, a nutrient that is vital to brain and liver health and is typically contained in prenatal vitamins because it is so important to neurological development, says White. In case you're still leery of yolks, don't be. Research published last year in the American Heart Journal shows that eating as many as three eggs per day doesn't have any effect on heart health, even in people with existing coronary artery disease.
Berries (of all kinds—blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries) are the perfect morning fruit, thanks to their low glycemic loads—meaning they won't spike your blood sugar and insulin levels like that glass of OJ will. "A cup of berries contains only about 50 to 85 calories, but tons of anthocyanins, antioxidants that been shown to reduce inflammation and protect the heart, says White. For instance, in one Circulation study of 93,600 women, those who ate at least three servings of anthocyanin-rich blueberries and strawberries had a significantly lower risk of heart attack compared to those who ate less.
Berries not in season? Go for frozen. Research from the University of Chester in the U.K. shows that frozen berries actually tend to have higher antioxidant levels than fresh varieties because they are picked, packed, and sealed at their peak ripeness.
A muscle-building powerhouse, cottage cheese contains 25 grams of protein per cup. In a 2015 University of Missouri study, dieters who ate a high-protein breakfast (35 grams of protein) ended up being less hungry and eating fewer calories throughout the rest of the day compared to those who ate low-protein breakfasts. Opt for full-fat, grass-fed varieties to get the most conjugated linoleic acid per spoonful. White explains that the fatty acid has been linked to weight loss, muscle development, and even a decreased risk of colorectal cancer in women.
Greek yogurt is another protein-rich option that pairs perfectly with several other foods on this list: berries, nut butter, even eggs (your scrambled eggs just got so much creamier). It's an obvious breakfast choice for its bone-protecting calcium and immunity-bolstering probiotics, explains Kimberly Gomer, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., nutrition director at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Florida. But it has a slew of other health benefits such as keeping your digestive system running smoothly, helping you feel full longer, and giving you a low-fat choice that doesn't sacrifice other nutrients.
"This is a quick and easy option for when you don't have a lot of time," says Sheth. Spread it on some toast (more on the best pick for bread later) or mix it into your Greek yogurt or oatmeal. A spoonful provides a perfect blend of protein, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats. In fact, people who eat nuts every day are 29 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 11 percent less likely to die of cancer, according to a 30-year-long New England Journal of Medicine study. (Did you know you can make your own nut butter at home?)
All hail, avocado toast! These green goddesses have it all—omega-3s, protein, fiber (half an avocado contains a quarter of your recommended value for the day), vitamin E, and more potassium than you'll find in a banana, says White. Those nutrients come with a big payoff: New research published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology found that eating one to one and a half avocados per day (in place of other foods high in saturated fat) significantly reduced levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
This is the perfect bread to feed your avocado-toast habit, says Gomer. Baked goods made from sprouted grains—meaning they have been allowed to germinate—actually have a lower impact on blood sugar levels compared to other whole-grain bread with the same amount of carbs, according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. Plus, researchers found they triggered a greater post-toast increase in GLP-1, a powerful satiety hormone that's linked to maintaining a healthy weight.
"These little seeds reduce blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and have been found to protect against breast cancer," says White. Research published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that the compounds contained in flaxseed may be behind the seeds' protective effect. Use these little guys as a staple breakfast ingredient, like in this Strawberry Banana and Flax Smoothie.
Coffee really does get your brain going, says White, noting that a blend of caffeine and antioxidants may be to thank. So strong are the anti-inflammatory compounds in coffee that research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that when patients with memory problems drink three cups of coffee per day, they delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease by an average of two to four years. Basically, with that and all the other health benefits of coffee, you can feel better about your daily java habit.