By Sarah Toland for Men's Journal
Think you're eating healthy by adding agave to your Greek yogurt and unfiltered maple syrup to your oatmeal? Yeah, well, not so much. These and other add-ins for yogurt and oatmeal only boost blood sugar and work against the inherent health advantages of both -– yogurt is high in protein and healthy gut bacteria, while oatmeal is loaded with soluble fiber, which may help lower bad LDL cholesterol, and helps you feel full. So what should your stir into yogurt and oatmeal? Here, seven healthful options, according to holistic nutritionist Lisa Turner of InspiredEating.com.
Chocolate in yogurt? Absolutely, says Turner, if you use cacao nibs. These crunchy bits are actually fermented pieces of cacao beans -- also used to make chocolate -- and have a subtle dark-chocolate flavor. But unlike dark chocolate, "these are a true superfood," says Turner. Cacao nibs have more antioxidants than even the darkest chocolate, which loses potency during processing, and contain no sugar. Turner likes nibs in yogurt and oatmeal because they add a hefty crunch, along with 9 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per ounce.
Ground flax seeds may be popular with the health-food set, but as an add-in to yogurt and oatmeal, they aren't the most healthful. "Why would you use flax when you can use chia?" Turner says. Chia has double the amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fat
, nearly twice the fiber and even slightly more protein than ground flax. Better still, you don't have to grind chia seeds, says Turner -- unlike flax, they can be digested whole. Chia is also a neutral flavor. "If I'm going to be pouring this stuff in my oatmeal, I don't want it to taste like a flax," Turner concludes. Don't like chia? Try hemp seeds: Although they don't have quite the gold-star nutrition as chia seeds, they're still high in protein, fiber, and omega-3s, and add a slightly nutty taste to yogurt and oatmeal.
Forget dried fruit, which is too high in sugar, and opt for fresh fruit, like diced applies, sliced bananas and even tropical varieties like pineapple and mango, which are especially tasty in yogurt. But Turner's fruit of choice? "Blueberries. I've just read too many studies on how good they are for you," she says. Among blueberries' many benefits, research shows they can help fight heart disease, improve memory
, combat oxidative stress of exercise and even thwart cancer cells.
Every guy should be eating these healthful seeds, says Turner. "They're just so beneficial for prostate health," she says. "Nobody's exactly sure why, but studies suggest pumpkin seeds have properties that block the growth of cancer tumors." Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc, vitamin E and tryptophan, an essential acid that helps regulate mood.
Chances are, you didn't even know powdered carrot juice existed. And you're not alone. "It's the best-kept secret," says Turner, who loves swirling this subtly sweet powder into yogurt. The highly concentrated extract is rich in beta-carotene -- an antioxidant that helps support eye health -- and high in vitamin C. "And it just adds such a beautiful color to plain yogurt," Turner says, and studies suggest that visually attractive food helps increase satisfaction. You can find powdered carrot juice online or at some vitamin or natural-foods stores.
Many already swirl this into oatmeal, but a dash of cinnamon is a great flavor addition to yogurt, too. And there's another reason to add this spice to dairy: It lowers insulin levels
, which helps balance blood sugar. That's even more important in yogurt, Turner says, which is high in milk sugars. "You don't want too much sugar in the morning -- it just spikes your blood sugar for the day," she says. "And cinnamon is a great way to offset the sugar content of yogurt. Turner also uses cinnamon in oatmeal when she wants to make a savory morning porridge, adding the spice along with anti-inflammatory turmeric and a dash of curry or red pepper.
If you're looking for the healthiest nut to crush into your breakfast bowl, opt for almonds. According to Turner, almonds have the best fatty-acid profile of all nuts, meaning they have the right amount and right type of fat shown to help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and prevent heart disease. Almonds are also high in essential nutrients like vitamin E and magnesium, and even relatively high in stomach-filling fiber.
More from Men's Journal:
The 30 Healthiest Cereals You Can Eat
6 Healthy Foods That Get a Bad Rap
The Best Healthy Smoothie Recipes