I had no idea my "healthy" breakfasts were actually full of sugar - 6 ways switching has made me feel (and look) better

Eggs are my new go-to.

Savoury healthy breakfasts: Ally's sugar free breakfast
(Image credit: Ally Head)

If you've read any of my articles, you'll know by now that I've been on something of a journey this year. As a Health Editor, I'm always chatting to some of the industry's best personal trainers, nutritionists and health coaches. I'm also regularly reading the latest research papers, which was where I first read about how a daily savoury healthy breakfast can impact your blood sugar, inflammation levels, and more. 

Several studies - including this 2016 paper and 2021 paper - indicate that morning meals that don't spike your blood sugar levels not only boost concentration and energy, but can reduce inflammation and, in turn, improve skin, metabolism and more. 

Not really sure what foods spike your blood sugar and what, well, doesn't? Good question. The main things that make your blood sugar spike are carbohydrates eaten sans protein or fat and - yep, you guessed it - sugar. That said, everyone's glucose levels will respond to food differently, so what might cause a big spike for me may not impact you.

While you might not think there's a lot of sugar in your morning protein porridge, peanut butter toast or fruit smoothie, one thing I learnt pretty quickly is that there's sugar in a lot of the breakfast foods we eat every single day (everything from bread, to cereal, to fruit juice, to protein powder).

So, I pivoted my approach to breakfast, taking inspiration from biochemist and Instagram sensation Jessie Inchauspé, who shares her Glucose Goddess hacks daily. Her morning breakfasts are normally veg, protein and healthy fat-packed, with the occasional addition of wholegrain carbohydrates. 

I'm by no means encouraging you to cut out sugar - and let's be clear, I haven't either. Life isn't about fad diets, rather, working out a healthy lifestyle that works for you and your body. That said, eating too much added sugar comes with a whole host of health risks spanning inflammation and, in turn, stress on the heart and blood vessels. 

I didn't realise how much sugar I was actually eating until I switched to savoury breakfasts in January - and I can't quite believe how much better I've felt since. To read how, plus tips for giving it a go yourself, keep scrolling. Don't miss my first person on the inflammation diet, while you're here. 

Eating savoury healthy breakfasts has boosted my energy, metabolism and more

1. I have more energy

Does the sound of 4pm energy slumps, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and alertness late at night sound familiar to you? Despite working in the wellness industry and running marathons for fun, me too. 

My natural energy levels were at an all-time low at the end of last year, but I wasn't entirely sure why. I thought that I was opting for a "healthy" breakfast most mornings (80/20, and all that) - normally overnight oats, porridge, a protein yoghurt pot with granola, a fruit smoothie, or protein pancakes. 

Yet come February, I found out that those kinds of breakfasts were actually doing more damage to my body than good. I was lucky to wear a Levels blood glucose tracker in my arm for a month and, in doing so, discovered that a lot of the "protein" supplemented foods I'd been starting my day with were actually quite high sugar, meaning they were all spiking my blood sugar a crazy amount.

While I hadn't thought to check the label - the fact it had 15-20g of protein got an automatic yes from me - now, I make sure to check the labels of the foods I'm eating and question the obvious branding.

For example, I still eat yoghurt bowls regularly but opt for unflavored Greek yoghurt with unsweetened peanut butter, flax, chia and sunflower seeds over a protein-boosted yoghurt and processed granola. Now, I normally start my weekdays with eggs, vegetables - either grilled mushrooms and peppers, or a spinach, rocket and avocado salad - and rye or sourdough. I have way more sustained energy and fewer slumps throughout the day, meaning I can focus on work more.

2. I'm fuller for longer

While I'll be honest and say that starting my day with smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese on rye or a frittata took some getting used to at first, it's quickly become something I looked forward to every morning purely because of how much better I feel.

It's a simple formula: aiming for a balance of protein, fat, fibre and carbohydrate at every meal but making sure the protein, fat and fibre are the heroes. As Sasha Parkin, nutritional therapist at Wild Nutrition, explains, most women need around 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight each day. Do note, though: for those with PCOS or for those who workout regularly, your protein requirement will be higher. "This is very individual, but a rough guide would be 1-1.7g per kg of body weight," she shares. 

So, why is hitting your protein target so important? It's the macro which boosts satiety, first and foremost. But not just that - "protein provides building blocks for your cells, which are known as amino acids and are essential for the production of antibodies, collagen, muscle, enzymes and some hormones," she adds. "These all perform crucial roles within the body."

One of the biggest perks of eating a protein-packed, savoury breakfast has been how much fuller I am until lunchtime. Come 11am, I used to be reaching for a snack or counting down the minutes until lunchtime - yet now, because I eat foods that keep my blood sugar stable, I'm satiated and full. 

This means I snack less and can concentrate on work more throughout the day.

3. My skin is clearer

This one has been huge for me. As someone who's struggled with PCOS and in turn acne her whole life, I couldn't imagine a world where what I ate could impact how I looked (read: I honestly felt like I'd tried everything).

The changes I've made this year have changed that, though. My skin is the clearest it's ever been and the breakouts I get are nowhere near as angry or severe. 

How can what you eat impact your skin, I hear you ask? As Inchauspé explains in her book, flatten your blood glucose spikes and you lower inflammation in your body, which is one of the main causes of acne, weight gain and more. 

Making sure every meal I eat is a balanced meal of all three macronutrients - that is, protein, fat, and carbohydrate - has not only left me feeling more energised and full, but impacted my skin in a way I never thought possible. 

4. I'm no longer on a blood sugar rollercoaster

The biggest change I noticed on my blood glucose tracker, while wearing one, was how different my blood sugar spikes were if I ate sugar or sweet foods first thing, compared to eating a protein and veg packed alternative.

Simply, high sugar or carb meals meant a blood glucose spike, and more balanced meals didn't. When my blood sugar spiked, I had less energy - when I kept it stable, I felt more switched on. Fresh fruit juice, for example, massively spiked my blood sugar, as did fruit smoothies without any added nuts Or seeds to add fat and protein. 

Now I've worked out which foods don't spike my blood sugar - a full list, below - I can opt for a combination of these safe in the knowledge that it'll make me feel better both short and long term.

5. I'm getting more nutrients

Plus, I know I'm getting more vitamins, nutrients and minerals from my morning breakfasts than I used to thanks to embracing morning meals with more vegetables.

6. I've lost weight

Last but by no means least, eating less sugar and more savoury breakfasts this year has actually resulted in me losing a little weight. I had no intention of doing so, but a combination of eating more vegetables, protein and healthy fat paired with balancing my blood sugar levels means I've lost fat around my stomach, hips, and face.

I feel healthier than I've felt in years. Now, I don't even notice my savoury breakfasts - they're a part of my routine and I embrace them for how good they make me feel. Now, question: will you give them a go? 

Not sure what constitutes a savoury healthy breakfast?

Good question. Nutritional therapist and specialist in hormonal imbalance Lauren Johnson Reynolds shares her go-to's below, but advises opting for a combination of protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates. 

She explains that your cortisol is at it's highest in the morning, so eating a breakfast that exacerbates what she calls a "blood sugar rollercoaster" will only result in a crash later on in the day. 

  • Scrambled eggs and vegetables
  • An omelette with sourdough
  • Boiled eggs and vegetable soldiers
  • Smoked salmon, avocado and rye bread
  • Avocado on sourdough with rocket and spinach
  • Sweet potato hash with eggs and vegetables
  • Shakshuka 
  • Tofu muffins with vegetables and feta
  • Non-flavoured Greek yoghurt with seeds and nut butter 
  • Chia seed pudding with blueberries and nuts
  • Nut butter on rye bread
  • Scrambled tofu breakfast tacos with beans
  • Cottage cheese with blueberries, seeds, and honey
  • A veg-packed protein smoothie.
Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.