Seeking a Not-so-Sweet Breakfast

sugar breakfastI am currently a little more than halfway through Michael Moss’s fascinating book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. If you’re at all interested in food issues, this one is worth checking out.

The first third of the book – and the one part I’ve completely finished so far – deals with sugar. One of the concepts that Moss discusses is the “bliss point” for sugar. This is the point where the sugar level in a food is perfect for you. Take sugar out, and it won’t taste as good. Add more sugar, and it won’t taste as good. The bliss point is, well, blissful, and it varies from person to person. I can pretty much tell you, without even subjecting myself to any testing, that my bliss point is very, very high. I am the sort of person who will eat a sugar cube straight up, and then still want more.

I’m somewhat concerned about my gigantic sweet tooth, because I don’t believe sugar is all that good for you. If you’re eating it in moderation, that’s one thing. But given studies that show a link between drinking sugary beverages and diabetes, and added sugars and heart disease, for example, I’d rather not be eating it in excess. And yet, the truth is that I do. I know this for sure because some time ago I signed up for My Fitness Pal, a free app that tracks food and exercise. While I come in below the recommended amounts of fat and salt, I regularly consume two to three times my personal daily recommended allowance of sugar.

In fact, I generally consume my entire daily allowance of sugar with my first meal of the day – a bowl of cereal and a banana. Breakfast cereals are high in sugar. Plain milk is surprisingly high in sugar. And banana, being a fruit, has rather a lot of sugar. When you add it all up, my day is off to a really sweet start. But it’s not just my day that’s super-sugary – my kids are eating the same sorts of food that I do.

I’ve given up sugar before, and didn’t notice any particular difference in how I felt. But the truth is that I only gave up sugary treats, like candy, ice cream and baked goods. I didn’t stop eating fruit or all breakfast cereal. Knowing what I know now, after reading Salt Sugar Fat and tracking my own sugar consumption, it’s a pretty safe bet that I was still getting plenty of sugar in my diet. Probably more than I needed, in fact.

I’m not about to go completely sugar-free. I love carbs entirely too much for that. However, I really would rather not eat so much. I’d really rather that my kids didn’t eat so much. But I’m also torn. Our mornings are not exactly what you would call leisurely. Cereal or granola is just so easy. And my go-to easy alternative of sweetened yogurt with fruit is really high in sugar, as well. I know lots of people swear by smoothies, but smoothies gross me out, so I’m not going there, especially not early in the day. The only non-sugary breakfast my family regularly enjoys is scrambled eggs, but I just can’t see making those every day. And so, I’m facing a conundrum.

I’d like to reduce the amount of unintentional sugar I consume, but I’m not sure how to do it in a way that won’t make my mornings difficult. I’m hoping that you can help. Do you have any easy breakfast options that are low in sugar, and that your kids will happily eat? I need suggestions.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on sugar. Are you concerned about how much you – and your kids – consume? Have you ever tried to give it up? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Great topic. I am going to check out that book, because I definitely eat too much sugar. I am otherwise healthy! And super-fit! But I get those sluggish super-low-energy feelings most days and I just know it’s because of sugar. I don’t have great suggestions for breakfast – I eat plain greek yogurt with blueberries and that “Skinny B” stuff (chia seeds, hemp seeds, something like that). And some plain almonds. Meh, it’s ok. I mainly want to commiserate on smoothies – everyone talks about how great they are! I think the residue in the glass is gross, and they just don’t leave me with the same satisfaction as eating real food at all. That said, I have made some with apple, banana, green leafy veggies, pear and water that have been…ok. But not a ritual I’d want to bother with every day at all!!

  2. Traditional breakfast food in my old neck of the woods is filo pastry filled with feta cheese. But that is, traditionally, sky-high on fat. Besides, there are no early-morning stores that sell pieces of this pie on every corner. So I looked for other options. I did not like to eat sweet for breakfast, so I looked into my childhood for inspiration:
    – cooked (in lots of water, like pasta) hotdogs
    – cream cheese on bread, sometimes with some thin ham
    – scrambled or boiled eggs (runny yolk is big attraction in my house)
    – bruschetta (or any tomato/pepper based “dip”) on bread, some crumbled feta cheese
    More modern:
    – croissants (frozen, store bought) or healthier alternative (my favorite) giant pretzels and lightly sweetened tea.
    – (my husbands invention) humus on slice of bread, some roasted turkey ham
    – (my husband’s again) steel cut oats that have been soaked night before (you control sweetness, we are hooked into maple syrup as only additive).
    – frozen mini-brioche from store or mini-quiche from farmers market, just reheated.

    My kids don’t like smoothies (even sugary/fruity ones), so unfortunately not our regular go-to. We are big on crepes, but that takes good chunk of weekend morning to prepare (so there are easy-to-reheat leftovers) and it is eaten sweet (rolled with ground walnuts and maple syrup). Neutral crepes with some savoury filling could also be quick option, but we are “stuck” in equating crepes with sugar that we never tried it.

  3. Delora

    My family likes provolone cheese melted on a ricecake. 20 seconds on Medium in the microwave so it’s super-quick.

  4. kirsten

    Traditional Finnish breakfast is buttered toast with cheese, ham, cucumber, pickled beet and more as optional toast-topping. Also with boiled eggs, yogurt and sometimes rice pudding as options too. And the full spread out, every morning. With lots of dark coffee, of course.

  5. Definitely a concern, considering my grandmother had Type 2 diabetes. And my kid is a candy freak. As for me, I have seem to have a built in alarm system for warning me off too much sugar, especially on an empty stomach. Basically, too much sugar (even just a small ice cream cone or slice of pie) makes me feel horrible. I have to quickly reach for some almonds or other protein to try to counterbalance it. Then if I don’t brush my teeth soon after eating sugar, I feel like something died in my mouth. I guess I should consider myself lucky in a weird way. Despite that, I have never gone off sugar completely except for a couple of weeks on the South Beach Diet.
    Alyssa’s last post … Grass is Always Greener for the Other MotherMy Profile

  6. I make steel cut oatmeals in the morning. I simmer it for about 15 minutes then throw in lots of frozen blueberries and sprinkle in some cinnamon. Wait about 3 minutes and the blueberries are melted and it cools the oatmeal so you can eat it right away. It’s a great breakfast food and my toddler loves it =)
    amy lee’s last post … learning to let go…My Profile

  7. Obviously you can’t give up sugar and carbs completely, because that’s what your body lives off. I personally thing that fruit are important, but should be eaten in moderation, and as a pudding after a meal, or as part of a balanced meal. I think it’s all about getting your sugars to be low-gi, and then also to limit the amount of calories to what you know your body needs. And then every now and then on special occasions, a few extra calories and treats are not a bad thing. It is a problem if you consume high-gi sugars on a daily basis, and definitely if you eat high-gi foods on an empty stomach (That includes most breakfast cereals) That might well set you on a path towards diabetes. Actually everyone should eat a diabetic diet most of the time.
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  8. It pisses me off that there is so much hidden sugar in seemingly savory foods. Disgusting! I was eating a fast food burger today and trying not to think about it. Eating tons of sugar without even tasting it is pretty scary. I read somewhere that meat and vegetables in restaurants are often glazed in sugar to make them look and taste more appealing, although they add salt and spices so they don’t TASTE sweet.

    Sugary breakfast is just so convenient! My favorite for myself is just a banana, although cereal has turned into a guilty pleasure. I notice that I feel better after a more savory breakfast though, like eggs and potatoes. I definitely feel the crash if I start the day with cereal. My 2 year old tends to ask for more savory stuff in the morning, which makes me think it’s normal to crave fat and protein and the sugar addiction is completely learned. Although part of it is also that I don’t love eating anything right when I get up, and the sugary stuff feels like a lighter choice.

    • Yeah, the hidden sugar really is annoying. The one that gets me is jarred pasta sauce. Most of them are super high in sugar – but you don’t think about it because it’s pasta sauce.

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