Break the Fast

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on June 20, 2008 · 0 comments

Want to be thinner, smarter and healthier? Eat breakfast! Skipping breakfast to save time or a few calories actually increases your risk for weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. You’ll also be less sharp at that morning business meeting or learn less at the computer training session. Why? Because your body needs that AM meal.

After fasting all night, eating breakfast kick-starts your body into action. We don’t know exactly why, but morning calories are more powerful than calories eaten in the evening. A morning meal increases calorie-burning and fat utilization, both of which contribute to weight loss or weight stabilization. People who skip breakfast make up for the lost calories, plus more, later in the day.

Who eats breakfast regularly? Little kids and those over 55 are more likely to be breakfast eaters, with teens and younger adults more likely to skip. Traditional breakfast meals contain cereal, milk, fruit or juice. When you skip breakfast the nutrients found in these foods are skipped as well and few of us make them up later in the day.

Most people eat only one fruit serving a day, and it’s typically at breakfast. Cut out breakfast and you’re down to no fruit. Fruits and fruit juices, such as orange juice, are rich sources of vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and health-promoting phytochemicals. Milk and cereal are two of our main sources of calcium and whole grains. Breakfast skippers rarely get enough calcium and most don’t eat enough whole grains later in the day. So why is this important?

Calcium from food is more absorbable than calcium from supplements. Missing that morning dairy serving is important to bone health. But dairy foods do more than just provide calcium. Those who regularly eat dairy foods are slimmer, have less fat storage in their midsection, and burn fat more effectively. Dairy foods improve glucose tolerance, which lowers the risk for diabetes by reducing insulin resistance. Dairy foods also reduce blood fats, most notably triglycerides and contribute to lowering blood pressure.

The whole grains typically found in cereal or even in toast, come with fiber, B vitamins, and minerals. They are low in cholesterol and fat, as well as filling and nutrient dense for a very reasonable calorie load. The fiber keeps you feeling fuller longer, promotes regularity and lowers cholesterol. When you choose cereal for breakfast it’s likely to displace other high calorie, high fat choices like pastries, omelets, bacon, and sausage.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey looked at the most frequently reported breakfast foods and the amounts consumed. Let’s look at what they found out.

Ready-to-eat cereal—adults typically consume 2 ounces for breakfast, which translates into a typical soup bowlful or 2 servings. If you choose whole grain you are two-thirds of the way toward eating your recommended 3 servings per day.

Bagels, bread, English muffins and rolls—we eat 71% white, 27% multigrain, and 2% rye. Switching from refined to whole grain is an easy way to get more fiber and more nutrients. Whole grain bagels, bread, English muffins and rolls are readily available today. Some brands are beginning to offer whole grain white flour. It’s made from a variety of wheat that is more golden and less chewy than traditional whole wheat but still rich in fiber and nutrients. Look for it in the bread aisle if you are a white bread diehard.

Eggs—we typically eat two as a serving. Though high in cholesterol, eggs don’t seem to raise blood cholesterol as much as the saturated fat found in meat, butter and cheese. You can cut the cholesterol in half by having one egg or using a whole egg plus an egg white. If your cholesterol is normal, 6 to 8 eggs a week are fine. Even those who need to watch their cholesterol can enjoy 4 eggs a week. A scrambled egg sandwich on a whole grain English muffin makes a healthy, portable breakfast choice; just skip the bacon or sausage.

Fruits – we typically eat a medium fruit at breakfast. Fruit is always a better choice than juice because it is richer in fiber and takes longer to eat, leaving you more satisfied. Most typically drink a cup or 8 ounces. A serving is 6 ounces or 3⁄4 cup, so breakfast juice offers a least 1 1/3 servings. Stick with 100% juice rather than fruit drinks which have less juice and more water and sweeteners. Typically, we choose citrus juice 82% of the time and noncitrus juice 18%.

When we pour milk on our cereal in the morning we normally drink more than a cup, closer to 1 1⁄2 cups, getting us halfway to the recommended 3 cups a day. Fifty-one percent of breakfast milk goes on cereal, 40% is drunk as a beverage and 9% winds up in coffee.

One unsettling statistic the Food Survey Research Group discovered was that many people drink soda for breakfast, averaging a 13⁄4 cup serving. Seventy-six percent drink regular soda and 24% diet. Choosing the average 14-ounce serving of regular soda as your breakfast beverage can add close to 250 nutrient-empty, sugar-loaded calories to your day.

Eat better—eat breakfast, but skip the soda.

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