By Lynn Yoffee
The importance of breakfast can't be denied. But some people avoid breakfast to cut down on calories. Others say they're just not hungry in the morning. And then there are those who don't like breakfast foods. However, if you skip this key meal after 8 to 12 hours of fasting, you're denying yourself the fuel you need for a sharp mind and productive body.
Breakfast: Still the Most Important Meal of the Day
The American Dietetic Association reports that people who don't eat breakfast tend to be tired, restless, and irritable in the mornings. Those who do eat breakfast are better able to concentrate and have more strength. The importance of breakfast boils down to this: Breakfast eaters are simply more productive people and have better attitudes at work.
"We've known for years that kids' concentration is better and their academic performance is better if they eat breakfast," says Susan Finn, PhD, dietitian and president of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition. "With adults, and especially with people trying to control their weight, it's the meal you omit to cut calories. But it's much more appropriate to eat small meals more frequently to avoid hunger and keep a steady blood glucose level than to skip a meal. It gives the energy that keeps us moving forward."
One study from Michigan State University that looked at the connection between breakfast and body mass index in adults found that those who eat a morning meal, particularly cereal, were better able to manage their weight.
Another study from the Maryland Medical Research Institute on the importance of breakfast found that teenage girls who ate cereal at breakfast were better able to maintain their weight, too. They took in more fiber and calcium along with less cholesterol and fat — eating cereal includes milk, and all the nutrients that go along with it.
Finn pointed out that even though breakfast is often treated as the smallest meal of the day, it should be larger, with less food at night.
"Other countries, in Europe particularly, have a more substantial early morning meal and they have lower obesity rates," Finn says. "If you've gone without food for a long period of time, it can suppress appetite, but once the hunger sets in, you can overeat. It's much better to balance out your food intake. Frequent feedings avoid the dips and increases in blood glucose so that you have enough energy throughout the day and avoid a ravenous appetite."
What's for Breakfast?
A good breakfast should include grains, fruit, and protein. Finn says there's nothing better than an egg for pure protein, but note that's just one egg. Eat it along with whole grain toast, fruit juice, and a glass of skim milk for a perfect breakfast at home. Here are some other ideas:
Try a new twist with cereal by mixing it with dried fruit and yogurt.
Don't like breakfast foods? Have a grilled cheese on whole grain toast with sliced tomato and low-fat or fat-free cheese — just go easy on the butter or oil for grilling.
Make a shake with frozen fruit, such as strawberries and banana slices, plus skim or low-fat milk. Enjoy it with a whole grain or whole-wheat bagel for a quick breakfast.
For kids (and adults too!), try making banana dogs. On a whole-grain hot dog bun, spread peanut butter, add a small whole banana, and top it off with a sprinkling of raisins.
Another fun choice is the breakfast taco. Put cheese, such as Monterey Jack, on a corn tortilla. Fold, microwave for 20 seconds, and then top with salsa.
Breakfast on the Run
The importance of breakfast doesn't diminish even with a busy schedule that keeps you from sitting down for a hot meal. Try these ideas:
- Make and bag your own granola ahead of time for on-the-go breakfast. Do-it-yourself mixes with dried fruits, nuts, and seeds help you limit the additional sugars in some pre-packaged varieties.
- Make and freeze low-fat breakfast muffins that you can grab as you run out of the house. They’ll thaw by the time you reach your desk.
- Slap together a good-for-you breakfast sandwich, such as a whole-wheat English muffin or pita pocket with one ounce of lean turkey or ham and mustard. Add a piece of fruit along with a yogurt drink.
- Cut open a small bran muffin and top it with a spoonful of yogurt and fresh berries for a muffin sandwich to go.