By Keri Glassman for U.S. News Health
Spring is finally here, which means tank tops, spring flowers and brunch season! Whether celebrating a birthday, recovering from last night's festivities or simply enjoying the sunshine, everyone seems to have a reason to brunch on spring weekends. Who doesn't love soaking up the sun and drinking mimosas with friends? But with decadent food options like syrup-drenched pancakes, crispy bacon and hash browns, it's easy to overdo it. We've all been there. Let me help you conquer the brunch bonanza.
Eat Breakfast Before Brunch
You wake up late (it's the weekend after all), and you've got two hours before brunch. So you think, "Why eat now? I'll just wait." No! Instead of starving yourself until the reservation time, eat a small breakfast within an hour of waking. Brunch usually happens closer to noon anyway, so treat it like lunch. Start your morning with a simple, small breakfast of an apple and natural peanut or almond butter; or go for plain yogurt with fresh blueberries and a small handful of pecans. Breaking the fast from the night before will rev up your metabolism for the day, keep you feeling satisfied until brunch and help prevent you from over-ordering and overeating at brunch.
Go Easy On The Carbs
Brunch portions have gotten out of control, as giant stacks of pancakes, waffles and French toast are on every menu. And while I'm OK with one pancake (especially if it's whole wheat or buckwheat), you're more likely to be served enough to feed a family of four. Even if you top them with fresh fruit instead of sugary maple syrup and whipped cream, these dishes are pure, refined carbohydrates. These carbs will cause a huge spike in your blood sugar followed by a plummet that will pack on the pounds and leave you hungry soon after eating. Pick a more balanced combination of protein, whole grain carbs and healthy fat, like a veggie omelette with avocado and whole grain toast. Many brunches also offer steel-cut oats topped with fresh fruit and nuts. And if you can't shake that sweet carb craving, split the pancakes with a friend and have one with your omelet instead of toast. This will make for a much better proportioned and portioned meal that will also keep you satisfied.
Many brunch menus now tout an "all you can drink" option, which is recipe for disaster with a capital D! I'm not saying you can't enjoy a bloody mary, mimosa or wine spritzer, but one is more than enough for a mid-day indulgence. These alcoholic drinks are an easy way to go overboard without realizing it. On top of adding their own calories, alcohol can inhibit your willpower to eat wisely; translation: When you're a little buzzed, you are more likely to eat more. Skip the bottomless brunch option and limit yourself to one alcoholic drink, or enjoy tea instead.
Enjoy Your Company -- Not The Bread Basket
The brunch bread basket has evolved way beyond your typical roll. It now includes muffins, scones, cinnamon toast and flavored spreads like Strawberry butter. (By the way, adding fruit flavor to butter does not make it healthier.) These items are typically low in fiber, high in sugar and fat and made with refined carbs. Before you know it, you're stuffed before the meal has been served. Ideally, you'd avoid the basket altogether. If your fellow brunch companions agree, remove the temptation by asking the waiter not to bring the basket at all. If there is no chance your fellow brunchers will relinquish the opportunity to dig in, and you're going to be biting your fingernails while staring at the basket, sit far away and sip that iced tea. You can also ask the waiter to bring a fruit salad for everyone to split. Take a deep breath, stay in control and enjoy your company!
Hash browns, Home Fries, French Fries, Tater Tots -- Eat 'Em Later
The possibilities for a side of potatoes have become endless at the brunch table. I definitely encourage eating spuds, especially vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes. But the variations served with brunch are likely smothered in butter and oil, deep fried and ultimately negating any health benefit they provide in their natural form. You're better off opting for a green or fruit salad as a side to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. Save your spuds for a home-cooked meal in which you can control how they're prepared.
Earlier on HuffPost:
A 2003 study in <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/158/1/85.full">the <em>American Journal of Epidemiology</em> </a>showed that people who skip breakfast are 4.5 times more likely to be obese than those who take a morning meal. The study, which included 499 people whose diets were tracked over a year-long period, also showed that <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/158/1/85.full">eating out for dinner and breakfast</a> are linked with obesity risk.
...Are All-Around Healthier
A study presented in 2003 at the American Heart Association's annual conference showed that not only are breakfast-eaters less likely to be obese, they're also more likely to <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2824987.stm">have good blood sugar levels</a> and less likely to be hungry later on in the day, BBC News reported. "Our results suggest that breakfast may really be the <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2824987.stm">most important meal of the day</a>," study researcher Dr. Mark Pereira, of Harvard Medical School at the time, told BBC News. "It appears that breakfast may play an important role in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease."
...Feel More Energized
Eating a breakfast that's high in fiber and carbohydrates could help you feel less tired throughout the day, according to a 1999 study in <a href="http://www.colorado.edu/intphys/Class/IPHY3700_Greene/pdfs/atkins/Holt.pdf">the <em>International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition</em></a>. Researchers found that when people ate a high-fiber, low-carb breakfast, they <a href="http://www.webmd.com/diet/fiber-health-benefits-11/fatigue-fighters-six-quick-ways-boost-energy">had more energy</a> throughout the day compared with people who ate a high-fat breakfast, WebMD reported. <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> A previous version of this slideshow incorrectly stated that a high-fat, low-carb breakfast was associated with more energy. It has been fixed to say that a high-fiber, low-carb breakfast is associated with more energy.</em>
…Have Better Cholesterol Levels
A study in <a href="http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/2/388.abstract?cited-by=yes&legid=ajcn;81/2/388">the <em>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em></a> showed that breakfast-skippers are more likely to have worse cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity than breakfast-eaters. The study also showed that the breakfast-eaters consume about <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500368_162-673419.html">100 fewer calories</a> a day, compared with people who skip their morning meal, CBS News reported.
Eating high-energy foods for breakfast could help to <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/019700709190042K">boost short-term memory</a>, according to a study of 319 teens (between ages 13 and 20) in the <em>Journal of Adolescent Health</em>. Researchers also found that eating a high-calorie breakfast actually seemed to <em>hinder</em> concentration.
...Consume More Nutrients
People who rarely eat breakfast <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22125684">consume more fat and fewer nutrients</a> -- like calcium, potassium and fiber -- than regular breakfast-eaters and "often" breakfast-eaters, according to a 2011 study in the journal <em>Nutrition Research and Practice</em>.
…Have An Excuse To Eat Healthy Breakfast Foods
Breakfast-eaters have an excuse to consume healthy breakfast-time foods like oatmeal, eggs, grapefruit and coffee. Oatmeal has been shown in many studies to be <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-01/uok-ohc010808.php">good for cholesterol levels</a>, and research has also shown that it could help <a href="http://ase.tufts.edu/psychology/spacelab/pubs/MahoneyEtAl.pdf">improve children's memory</a> and attention skills when eaten for breakfast, compared with ready-to-eat cereals. Grapefruit is high in vitamins C and A, and has also been shown in a <em>Clinical Cancer Research</em> study this year to <a href="http://www.ivillage.com/grapefruit-juice-may-give-boost-cancer-treatment-study/4-a-478748">boost the beneficial effects of cancer drugs</a>, HealthDay reported. Eating eggs for breakfast has been linked to <a href="http://www.jacn.org/content/24/6/510.full">increased satiety </a><em>and</em> less food consumed later in the day, compared with eating bagels for breakfast, according to a 2005 study in the <em>Journal of the American College of Nutrition</em>. (The study was funded by the Egg Nutrition Center.) And coffee, of course, has been linked to a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/coffee-health-benefits_n_1064577.html#slide=440649">whole host of health benefits</a>, from a decreased risk of depression to a lower risk of some cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
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