Breaking for Breakfast
Breakfast... the meal at the beginning of our day that we enjoy, avoid, or rush through depending on the time available and our personal inclination. For many families, the pace of modern life means breakfast becomes a short span of time between shouts of "You're going to be late!" or a longer but no less harried time in the car on the freeway. Unfortunately, gobbling down an inadequate breakfast or skipping it altogether has become a standard routine.
Although we've all heard that breakfast is important, many of us haven't taken that information and turned it into action. So here it is again — a good, nutritious breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gives us the nutrition and energy we need for a good, healthy and productive day. Here are some explanations to help you understand why and some simple tips to help you get off to a healthy start.
When we rise in the morning, our bodies have fasted since the previous evening's meal — up to ten or twelve hours. Breaking that fast with a cup of coffee and a doughnut, or even a glass of juice and an energy bar, does not give us the nutrition and energy we need to make it all the way to lunch. Even though we may also be sleep deprived, trading breakfast for a few extra minutes of sleep is a poor bargain.
There is increasing evidence that skipping breakfast or eating an inadequate one contributes to weight gain because it promotes snacking and the consumption of larger meals later in the day. Plus, skipping breakfast may 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.
Balance those Nutrients The ideal breakfast should have lots of fiber and whole grains, some protein and good fat, and as little added sugar as possible. In other words, a good balance of healthy carbohydrates, protein and good fats. Such a breakfast promotes good brain function at a critical time of the day and helps prevent snacking later on, which can lead to weight gain. But exactly what are healthy carbohydrates and how does protein contribute to health? Read on for a brief explanation along with some tips on how to add them to your diet.
Carbohydrates Refined carbohydrates are quickly digested and the energy they contain is rapidly dispersed, ultimately leaving you with less energy than you had before you ate them. Refined carbohydrate foods, such as doughnuts, white bread, and sugary cereals, are generally high on the glycemic index, which is used to determine the effect of foods on blood sugar levels. By themselves, these foods are poor fuel for anyone who wants to be mentally alert and physically active for several hours.
Unrefined carbohydrates digest slowly, thereby releasing a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time. They generally rate low on the glycemic index and therefore promote stable blood sugar levels. Take full advantage of unrefined carbohydrates by choosing whole grain cereals and bread instead of highly refined products laced with sugar. Read the nutrition facts panel on the cereal box for those products that contain the lowest amount of sugars and the highest amount of fiber. Top whole grain cereals, toast or pancakes with berries, fruit or nuts. Offer a variety of non-sweetened fruit juices, naturally flavored, unsweetened milks and yogurts.
Protein With the exception of egg dishes, American breakfasts are usually low in protein. Adding protein to your breakfast (and other meals) is another 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
*Lowdown on Sugars
*While some foods, particularly fruit and fruit juices, contain natural sugars, there are many other packaged products that have added refined sugar. Eating refined carbohydrates, such as highly refined sugars, causes spikes or peaks in blood sugar levels. Because the body absorbs simple sugars very rapidly, these peaks quickly turn into valleys, which makes you crave even more sugar. This roller coaster phenomenon can lead to imbalanced blood sugar levels and other health problems.
After ten or twelve hours of fasting, the body is particularly sensitive to sugars, which is precisely why refined sugars should be avoided at breakfast.
What's the matter with these kids today? A nutritious breakfast is important for everyone no matter their age, but is especially critical for children and teenagers. The first two decades of life are ones of remarkable growth and change, and proper nutrition is essential to fuel this transformation from babe-in-arms to adult. A good breakfast each morning not only contributes to growing children's physical health, it also makes them more emotionally stable and mentally alert.
Recent studies1 show that, by late morning, the brain function of children who do not eat breakfast is drastically reduced. Eating a sugary breakfast, such as soda and a sweet roll, may be just as bad. A nutritious breakfast, including a balance of healthy carbohydrates as well as some protein and healthy fats, may help children learn better due to a slower and more sustained release of energy that helps maintain concentration until lunch. A study presented at the ninth European Nutrition Conference showed better performance and cognitive ability in breakfast eaters who ate carbohydrates with protein for breakfast (toast and beans in the study). Other studies have also shown that children who eat breakfast are more likely to meet their recommended dietary intake for vitamins and minerals.
Getting Them to Eat So, how do you get your kids — or your spouse — to actually eat a good breakfast? Most people will eat well if offered nutritious food and the time to eat it. But what about those who don't like traditional breakfast foods or have become 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 ever greater 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.
Breakfast reduces declines in attention and memory over the morning in school children. Wesnes KA, Pincock C, Richardson D, Helm G, Hails S. Cognitive Drug Research Ltd,