To say that we care about metabolic health here at mbg would be a vast understatement. We’ve written extensively on its impact on overall well-being—from cardiovascular health to immunity and beyond—as well as ways to measure its markers and support it through nutrition. But the fact remains: Only 12.5% of Americans are considered metabolically healthy. Yes, you read that right.
Metabolic health is complex (another understatement), and there are myriad ways to optimize your own. However, Stanford-trained physician and co-founder of Levels, Casey Means, M.D., shares her go-to tips on the mindbodygreen podcast—starting with a blood sugar-balancing breakfast.
Below, she offers a morning hack to avoid blood sugar spikes, as well as a few nourishing substitutes for some classic breakfast favorites.
A breakfast hack to keep blood sugar balanced.
According to Means, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially when it comes to metabolic health. “I think breakfast is the key [meal] I would focus on optimizing if you’re new to this [blood sugar balancing] sort of space,” she says. “And the biggest shift I would say is switching from a sweet breakfast to a savory breakfast. That is one of the best life hacks.”
See, the best meals for balancing blood sugar include more protein, fiber, and fats, less refined carbs and sugar. Generally, it’s easier to incorporate the former in savory lunches and dinner recipes, whereas traditional sweet breakfast food (pancakes, waffles, etc.) typically calls on the latter. Even a hearty bowl of instant oatmeal (topped with mounds of brown sugar) can spike some people’s blood sugar, she told us.
Of course, not all sweet breakfast foods are inherently “bad” for blood sugar—but by swapping sweet items for savory, you may have a better chance of incorporating healthy fats, fiber, and protein.
Means shares some of her favorite savory recipes that fit the bill: “Things like a free-range egg scramble with avocado and some sautéed greens—that would be a really good breakfast,” she says. “Maybe some smoked salmon with eggs and some greens. I [also] love to do a tofu scramble with some nutritional yeast and a bunch of veggies and maybe even some beans. It’s really about leaning into that savory, lower carbohydrate, less sweet [option].”
Her favorite breakfast swaps.
Now, if you’re someone who loves something sweet to start the day, not to worry. Means also gives us some quick substitutes for those breakfast classics, like pancakes and instant oatmeal: “If you are someone who loves [instant] oatmeal or pancakes and you do want something sweet, I think the best option is chia pudding with some berries, almond butter, and walnuts,” she notes. “Chia pudding as an alternative to cereal or oatmeal is an awesome life hack.” With a hefty amount of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, she deems the mighty chia seed a breakfast superfood.
She recommends preparing it by combining two tablespoons with your choice of milk and leaving it in the fridge overnight. For extra flavor, she includes raw cocoa powder, and for a pinch of sweetness, she’s partial to monk fruit. Then to top if off the next morning, she likes to throw in berries and almond butter.
And for our pancake lovers, another simple swap is to switch up your batter of choice: “There are so many great non-grain alternatives these days,” Means says. “There are amazing keto pancakes on the market that are made with tigernut flour, coconut flour, almond flour, and they taste delicious.” (Check out these pre-made pancake mixes for inspo.) For toppings, “You can put blueberries in them, and instead of using syrup, use almond butter,” she notes.
Finally, she recommends low-sugar yogurts that contain healthy fats (flavored options typically come laden with extra sugar): “I love Forager organic cashew yogurt,” she says. “Throw a bunch of chia seeds, walnuts, almond butter, and some berries on there. That’s a great low-spiking breakfast.”
According to Means, swapping your breakfasts from sweet to savory is a helpful way to avoid a blood sugar spike, as savory dishes typically include a healthy balance of fat, fiber, and protein. That’s not to say it’s impossible to find these components in a sweeter morning meal; Means’ top substitutes above are a great place to start.