7 International Breakfast Foods That Are Healthier Than Typical American Fare
Breakfast is not America’s forte — because our society favors the busy, grab-and-go breakfast food (or no breakfast at all) is often favored instead of a sit-down morning meal. Since most grab-and-go food options tend to be empty calorie items like donuts, muffins or bagels and cream cheese, many of us aren’t doing justice to what is essentially the most important meal of the day.
Why is breakfast so important? For starters, it should technically be the most substantial meal of the day. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that participants who made breakfast the largest meal of the day were less likely to be overweight or obese than those who ate the most at lunch or dinner. This makes sense since you need more fuel to get you through the rest of your day in the morning than you do mid-day or at night. But it’s not just about how much you eat, what you eat matters just as much — if not more. A healthy breakfast is one that includes a balance of all three macronutrients: carbs, fats and protein. Low glycemic unrefined carbs — like oatmeal or 100 percent whole wheat toast — should be prioritized instead of white bread and pastries, and a substantial amount of filling fiber should be included.
When it comes to putting a healthy morning meal together, many of us who reside in the United States could learn a thing or two from our friends overseas. In numerous parts of the world, breakfast is still considered sacred and people make sitting down for a nutritious meal in the a.m. a priority. Here are seven traditional breakfasts from around the world that are healthier the American staple of cereal, donuts, bagels and frappucinos.
1. Russia — Kasha
This breakfast food is a staple in Russia and other Eastern European countries. Kasha is a porridge made from oats, millet buckwheat or semolina boiled in water or milk. It is often topped with dried fruit, spices and occasionally butter or jam. This breakfast favorite is a great source of complex carbs — the kind that give you sustained energy, keeping you awake during those long morning meetings.
Kasha is also filled with fiber — just one cup contains about five grams. Eating your recommended daily dose of fiber (25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men) can help reduce your cholesterol levels and regulate your blood sugar, decreasing those mid-morning sugar cravings. In the U.S., Kasha is commonly called buckwheat groats, you can buy this health food at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
2. Japan — Steamed Rice And Grilled Fish
Japanese tradition usually calls for a more savory breakfast than a sweet one. Foods that locals enjoy during their morning meals are often similar to ones that we’d expect to eat for lunch or dinner. A traditional Japanese breakfast often includes a bowl of steamed rice, miso soup, protein in the form of grilled fish and various vegetable side dishes — talk about a complete breakfast! Some nutritionists have found that eating a savory breakfast instead of a sweet one can help you avoid sugar cravings later on in the day. What’s more, many savory breakfasts — like this Japanese staple — contain more protein than your typical carb-based breakfast like cereal or bagels. Eating a high-protein breakfast can help keep you full for longer.
3. Switzerland — Müesli
This traditional Swiss-German breakfast dish is based on raw rolled oats and other ingredients like grains, fresh or dried fruit and seeds and nuts. It’s typically served with milk or yogurt. Müesli is often compared to granola, but it typically has less sugar and more filling fiber. The nuts in this breakfast concoction give you your daily dose of healthy fats — think heart-healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The fruit portion, on the other hand, packs a punch of essential vitamins like vitamin E, C and folate. In the United States, there are plenty of store-bought Müesli options, but consider making your own at home so that you have better control over the ingredients.
4. Israel — Shakshuka
You’ll be sure to find this protein-packed dish at most Israeli breakfast tables and restaurants. Shakshuka consists of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers, onions, cheese and topped with plenty of herbs and spices — it gives your morning muffin a run for its money! This Israeli staple is especially healthy because it puts eggs on center stage. Eggs are a great source of the B vitamins — the group of vitamins that are responsible for keeping your hair shiny, your skin glowing and your nails strong AF. If you own a cast iron skillet, you can easily make your own Shakshuka at home.
5. South India — Upma
Upma is a thick porridge made from dry roasted semolina. Various seasonings — like cumin, green chilis, cilantro and turmeric — and vegetables are often added to the concoction during cooking. The semolina in this Indian breakfast staple is full of filling complex carbs and contains approximately 5.3 grams of protein per serving. The addition of spices makes it even more nutritious — both cumin and turmeric are powerful antioxidants known to help fight the onset of diseases associated with aging. And we don’t have to explain the benefits that you’ll reap from the veggies in this dish — your mom already told you how important it is to get your daily dose of vegetables!
6. Iceland — Skyr
It’s no surprise that the country that was ranked second healthiest country in the world (according to Bloomberg’s 2017 Global Health Index) also includes this healthy food as part of its traditional breakfast. Skyr is made from skim milk minus all the dairy cream. Once the cream is removed, the milk is warmed and live cultures are added. When the dairy product has thickened, it is strained to remove the whey. The result is similar to yogurt, but with a slightly thicker consistency.
One typical eight-ounce serving of Skyr has 100 calories, zero grams of fat, six grams of carbs, six grams of sugar and a whopping 20 grams of protein. Skyr is traditionally served alongside milk and a little sugar and topped with fresh fruit. You can find a bunch of packaged versions at your local grocery store — popular brands include Icelandic Provisions and Siggi’s. If you’re going to eat store-bought Skyr, stick to the plain varieties to opt out of unnecessary added sugar.
7. Costa Rica — Gallo Pinto
The last healthy breakfast staple that we’ve chosen to spotlight is Costa Rica’s gallo pinto. This traditional dish is a mixture of rice and red or black beans. If you’re a vegetarian, you should include gallo pinto into your breakfast prep ASAP — eating a combination of rice and beans is one of the best ways for strictly plant-based eaters to get complete protein in one meal. For an even healthier version of this breakfast staple, cook your own gallo pinto at home using brown rice instead of white. White rice has been stripped of its bran and germ whereas brown rice contains all parts of the grain and therefore is richer in nutrients.