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Harvard Commentaries
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Food for Thought, Features, Your Work And Your Life Food for Thought, Features, Your Work And Your Life
 

Breakfast -- Don't Leave Home Without It


January 16, 2013


By Suzanne Proulx M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital

Eating a nutritious breakfast is a great way to jump-start the day, yet a tasty breakfast might not be finding its way onto your kitchen table. Rushed morning routines, trying to lose weight, and lack of appetite early in the morning are all reasons people skip breakfast. Nevertheless, mounting evidence supports the idea that breakfast may indeed be the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast Benefits

Studies examining eating habits suggest that the regular consumption of breakfast can:

  • Reduce risk of obesity and high cholesterol
  • Decrease insulin resistance (a condition that increases risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease)
  • Improve performance on memory-related tasks
  • Minimize impulsive snacking and overeating at other meals
  • Increase intake of essential nutrients that are rarely replenished by other meals of the day
  • Enhance school performance in children and young adults

Although it would seem to make sense that skipping breakfast would save calories, data suggest otherwise. In a study of nearly 3,000 adults who lost and kept off at least 30 pounds for longer than one year, close to 90 percent reported eating breakfast on most days of the week. Interestingly, the breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers consumed almost the same total daily calories; the breakfast skippers made up the missed breakfast calories throughout the day. In addition, researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that breakfast skippers are 4.5 times more likely to be obese than are breakfast eaters.

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Quality Counts

Before reaching for that doughnut or pastry, keep in mind that what you choose for breakfast is just as important as eating breakfast. Think of breakfast as the perfect opportunity to start accumulating the minimum five servings of fruits and vegetables and three servings of whole grains recommended for optimal health. Furthermore, the National Academy of Sciences recommends that adults consume 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day. This presents quite a challenge for those choosing low-fiber breakfast options or for those skipping breakfast altogether. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are the best sources of dietary fiber. High-fiber foods have the added benefit of warding off mid-morning snack attacks by creating a feeling of fullness. Likewise, adding some protein such as seafood, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry, egg or egg substitute can also aid in suppressing hunger.

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Beating The Breakfast Blues

Breakfast can be one of the most monotonous meals of the day, but with a little creativity, the first meal of the day can be one of the best. Variety can beat breakfast boredom, so don’t be afraid to include some unorthodox breakfast foods for a change of pace. Additionally, if you have abandoned breakfast due to a busy lifestyle, some of these breakfast ideas can be packed up and taken along for a delicious grab-and-go breakfast treat.

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Tips And Ideas

No Time For Breakfast?

    • Wrap a whole-grain tortilla around peanut butter and a banana and serve with low-fat milk or soy milk.
    • Stuff a whole-wheat pita with low-fat cream cheese or low-fat cottage cheese and canned sliced peaches.
    • Plan ahead and place whole-grain cereal (at least 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving) with dried fruit and nuts in a sealed bag. Grab in the morning along with a carton of low-fat yogurt or low-fat milk.
    • Try some whole-grain crackers, string cheese and grapes.
    • Mix instant plain oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts and a dash of cinnamon.
    • Spread peanut butter and jam on whole-grain bread and have with a piece of fruit and low-fat milk or soy milk.
    • Munch on a handful of unsalted mixed nuts served with an individual portion of low-sodium vegetable juice.
    • Top a whole-wheat English muffin with soy sausage patty and a slice of low-fat cheese.
    • Take along a piece of fruit, low-fat milk or soy milk and a homemade muffin made on the weekend and stored in the freezer. (Substitute at least half the flour in recipes with whole-grain flour and supplement the batter with vegetables, nuts and/or fruit.)

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Not Interested In Traditional Breakfast Foods?

    • Choose whole-grain varieties (check ingredient list for the words "whole" or "whole grain" in the first ingredient) of breads, tortillas, crackers, bagels or pita breads and top or stuff with any of the following:
      • Salmon spread made with low-fat cream cheese, canned salmon and your favorite herbs
      • Hummus with grated carrots and raisins
      • Leftover skinless chicken or turkey with light mayonnaise and cranberry chutney
      • Bean spread with lettuce, tomato and cucumber slices
      • Avocado, baby greens, roasted red pepper and a few chopped sun dried tomatoes
      • Low-fat feta cheese with walnuts and dates
      • Scrambled egg substitute or eggs with salsa
    • Freezer pops made from a mixture of low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk or soy milk mixed with 100-percent juice and fruit slices
    • Baked tortilla chips with salsa and cut-up vegetables
    • Grilled cheese sandwich made with whole-grain bread, low-fat cheese or soy cheese served with fruit. (For variety, stuff with grilled or sautéed vegetables made on the weekend and frozen as individual servings.)
    • Celery and sliced apple with peanut butter
    • Vegetables with low-fat dip and a hard-boiled egg
    • Soy hot dog or veggie burger in a whole-grain bun with lettuce, tomato, your favorite condiments and a side of baby carrots
    • Pizza made with whole-grain pita bread, spaghetti sauce and low-fat cheese served with fruit
    • A bowl of vegetable soup and whole-grain crackers. (Try low-fat pureed soups in a travel mug if eating on the run.)

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No Appetite In The Morning?

A lack of appetite in the morning may be the result of a large meal or snack consumed the night before. Perk up your morning appetite by eating lighter and earlier in the evenings. If a large breakfast is still not appealing, perhaps a breakfast smoothie may be the answer. Try blending a mixture of either low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt or soy milk with fruit, 100 percent fruit juice and your favorite spices or flavor extract. Oat bran, wheat germ or ground flax seed can be added for extra fiber.

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So start your day the healthy way by fueling up with a nutritious breakfast!

Suzanne Proulx M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a senior nutritionist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She is also a group nutritionist for the Women's Health Initiative, which is a landmark research study designed to investigate some of the major causes of disease and death in postmenopausal women. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Boston College and a Master of Science degree in nutrition from Boston University.

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