Breaking for Breakfast
Skipping breakfast — how bad can it be, really?
Pretty bad ... for real. It turns out that skipping breakfast can make you gain weight because you end up snacking and eating larger meals later in the day. More than that, it can temporarily dumb you down. It's true. A respected European study showed better performance and cognitive ability in people who ate carbohydrates with protein for breakfast. Other studies have shown that brain function in children who skip breakfast is drastically reduced by late morning.
And no, that muffin on the way out the door doesn't count as breakfast. We're talking a real breakfast here, with proteins and carbs, one that will stick to your ribs until lunch or later. So, like your mother said, breakfast really is important.
Think about it. When you get up in the morning, you've been fasting since the previous evening's meal — up to ten or twelve hours. Breaking that fast with a cup of coffee and a donut doesn't give you the nutrition and energy you need to make it all the way to lunch.
Skipping breakfast (or eating a poor one) can also lower your metabolic rate — your body has to compensate somehow for the lack of fuel, which means you will burn fewer calories throughout the day. Plus, children who eat breakfast are more likely to get the vitamins and minerals they need and be more emotionally stable and mentally alert.
Okay, so breakfast is important, but what kind of breakfast is best? One that's balanced with good carbohydrates, good fats and protein. The ideal breakfast should have lots of fiber and whole grains, some protein and good fat, and as little added sugar as possible. Here's a breakdown:
Choose complex or unrefined carbohydrates — like oatmeal and whole grain bread — that your body digests slowly, releasing a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time. Refined carbohydrates, like those donuts, are quickly digested and the energy they contain is rapidly dispersed, leaving you with less energy than you had before you ate them.
Good carbs include whole grain cereals, breads and pancakes topped with berries, fruit or nuts. Accompany them with a variety of non-sweetened fruit juices, naturally flavored, unsweetened milks and yogurts.
Bad carbs are foods such as donuts, white bread, sugary cereals, and high-sugar jams, jellies and syrups. Avoid sugary products in general along with those that contain high fructose corn syrup. After ten or twelve hours of fasting, the body is particularly sensitive to sugars, which is why they should be avoided at breakfast.
Everyone needs them and they make food taste good. The key is in knowing which fats are good and which are bad. For detailed information on fats, see our Guide to Cooking Oils.
Except for egg dishes, typical breakfasts are usually low in protein. Adding protein to your breakfast (and other meals) is a good way to lower your meal's glycemic index and prevent spikes in blood sugar.
Suggestions for adding protein-rich foods:
Eggs, cooked any way you like them (hard-boiled eggs are easy to have around for a quick protein boost)
Unsweetened yogurt or cottage cheese with berries
Refried beans spread on whole grain toast or tortillas
Burritos with eggs or beans and cheese on whole grain tortillas
All types of natural meat, such as breakfast steaks, lean pork chops or turkey bacon
Hummus on whole grain or corn tortillas
Add nuts to oatmeal, yogurt and hot or cold cereal
Cheese sticks with fruit
Cream cheese on whole grain crackers
Making it happen
So, how do get yourself — not to mention your family — to actually eat a good breakfast? Time is the key here, because most people will eat well if offered nutritious food and the time to eat it, so start by making sure enough time is available. But what about those who don't like traditional breakfast foods or are addicted to highly sweetened empty calories? To lure them over from the "dark side," offer them foods they like that normally aren't eaten for breakfast, such as pizza, smoothies, milkshakes and even leftovers. Homemade pizzas work well because they can be modified by substituting eggs or other breakfast fare and adding vegetables. Make the pizza the evening before and, come morning, reheat slices — they'll think they're getting away with something. To wean your family off sugary cereals, try mixing in gradually increasing amounts of unsweetened cereals until their taste buds have adjusted. A gradual change in breakfast fare from sweet to savory will do wonders for your family's health and well-being.
Variety is always good but it may have a special appeal at breakfast. One interesting study showed that people of normal weight tended to eat more varied breakfasts than people who were obese. No one likes to eat the same thing day in and day out, so create a little excitement and a sense of adventure to breakfast by thinking outside the cereal box.
Breakfast, like all meals, should be about wholesome food, not empty calories. Give yourself and your family a daily gift that keeps on giving all morning long — a good, nutritious breakfast. It will definitely make them healthier and probably smarter too.