Give your breakfast a make-over

Danette McPherson

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it can sabotage your efforts to eat healthy if you’re eating foods that only appear healthy.

“It’s always the healthy choice to eat breakfast in the morning,” said Danette McPherson, RD, LDN, of Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital. “However, many breakfast foods that are marketed as healthy are actually very high in sugar.”

Here are some of the breakfast foods that aren’t as healthy as you might think, and what you should eat instead.


Fruit is healthy, so fruit juice must be healthy, too, right? Wrong.

“Just because the bottle or carton of juice says ‘natural’ or ‘100 percent juice’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” Danette said. “Many fruit juices typically contain a lot of sugar, some of it even added by manufacturers.”

Although fruit naturally contains sugar, fruit juice lacks the fiber real fruit contains.

“Since most fruit juice lacks fiber, the fruit’s natural sugar doesn’t have any regulators to slow down the rate at which it enters your bloodstream. Without fiber slowing down sugar’s trip through your bloodstream to the liver, some of it can turn into fat,” Danette said.

Instead of pouring a tall glass of juice at breakfast, rehydrate with water and slice up whole fruit for its essential fiber and nutrients. Plus, whole fruit’s fiber will make you feel full longer.


Grab-and-go yogurt seems like a win-win in the hustle and bustle to get ready for work and school – it’s quick and healthy. But it’s actually not as healthy as you may have thought, even the reduced fat variety.

“Some single-portion containers of yogurt contain upwards of 18 grams of sugar – talk about a sugar rush!” Danette said. “A miniature Snickers bar contains the exact same amount of sugar as some yogurts.”

Yogurt is loaded with sugar. And some yogurts that are low-fat have even more sugar in them. Plus, most yogurts don’t contain much protein. Instead of sugar-laden yogurt, swap it out for Greek yogurt.

“Greek yogurt has nearly double the amount of protein as regular yogurt, containing an average of 15 to 20 grams of protein. Regular yogurt contains an average of 9 grams of protein,” Danette said. “Greek yogurt is significantly lower in sugar too.”


If you thought instant oatmeal was a healthy start to your day, it’s not. While some oatmeal can be a great choice for breakfast, instant flavored oatmeal simply isn’t.

“Like fruit juice and yogurt, instant flavored oatmeal is bursting with sugar,” Danette said. “On average, flavored instant oatmeal contains 3 to 4 teaspoons of added sweeteners.”

One teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams of sugar – that means your instant flavored oatmeal that contains about 3 to 4 grams of sugar or sweeteners comes out to as much as 16 grams of sugar. Additionally, some brands add sodium to your instant oatmeal as a preservative.

“Make a healthy oatmeal breakfast by looking for plain instant oatmeal with no added sugar, or steel cut or old fashioned rolled oats. This kind of oatmeal provides you with a hearty dose of vitamins, protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber,” Danette said.

Your plain or old fashioned oats are still part of a healthy meal plan if you sweeten them yourself with 1 teaspoon of real maple syrup, brown sugar, sugar substitute or fresh fruit, which will increase the fiber content. Oatmeal toppings will add extra calories, so be careful!


Granola has always been considered a healthy breakfast food, but not all granola is created equal.

“Grains, dried fruit and nuts mixed together sounds healthy, but that’s not always all that’s in your morning granola,” Danette said. “Sugar is hidden in a lot of granolas as molasses, evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, and oat syrup solids.”

Make sure your granola is healthy by carefully reading the nutritional facts and ingredient list, paying particular attention to fiber and sugar. Make sure that you won’t be consuming more than 8 grams of sugar per serving – otherwise you could wind up eating a sugary carb-heavy meal topping around 400 calories per serving.


Danette McPherson is a registered and licensed dietitian at Geisinger Jersey Shore Hospital and can be reached by calling 570-398-5142.