Breakfast: Meal of Champions
What did you have for breakfast today, if you had it at all? And no, coffee doesn’t count. If your breakfast lacked protein or wouldn’t be considered healthy (like waffles and syrup, for example), you may want to rethink your morning habits.
Long considered the most important meal of the day, breakfast is essential for many reasons.
Why Breakfast is Important
“Eating in the morning breaks the ‘overnight fast,’” says Angie Murad, Rd, LD, wellness dietician at the Healthy Living Program, Mayo Clinic. “Eating breakfast may help improve energy levels in the morning by providing needed fuels for our bodies.”
This, in turn, means an increase in morning physical activity, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People who ate breakfast consumed more calories throughout the day but didn’t gain weight because they were more active.
There’s actually a correlation between weight loss and eating breakfast. Murad cites the National Weight Control Registry, which she says is one of the longest and largest prospective studies of individuals who have both lost weight and maintained it for at least 5 ½ years. Of the participants enrolled in this registry, 78 percent of them eat breakfast daily.
Consumer Reports says that eating breakfast may protect your heart and lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Research shows that people who skip breakfast gain weight, which can lead to high cholesterol, blood pressure, and therefore increase the risk of heart disease. Additionally, eating breakfast helps prevent fluctuating glucose levels, which limits the risk of diabetes as well.
Another benefit to breakfast is that it might enhance memory, attention, speed of processing information, reasoning, creativity, learning, and verbal abilities, says Consumer Reports. This may be a function of breakfast stabling glucose levels.
Skipping a morning meal is a slippery slope. If you don’t have any food to start off the day, you’re more likely to eat more later, and chances are it will be unhealthy.
Women vs. Men
Because raised glucose levels can lead to diabetes, and because job stress has been found to raise glucose levels, women who work full-time are at greater risk, according to Consumer Reports. In this study, women under 65 who skipped breakfast even just a few times a week were 28 percent more likely to develop diabetes.
Other than these differences, eating breakfast is equally important for women and men, and there’s no evidence that shows whether women tend to skip breakfast more than men.
Skipping breakfast begins in adolescence and continues into adulthood due to busy schedules and early mornings, observes Murad. University of Missouri-Columbia researchers actually targeted teenagers for a hunger and satiety study because 60 percent of adolescents skip breakfast on a daily basis. This skipping becomes a habit. Working mothers in particular may have a challenge making healthy breakfasts for themselves and their families.
Protein, Protein, Protein
Breakfast can be a way to get in those essential vitamins and minerals when you include fruit (antioxidants), low-fat/skim milk (calcium and vitamin D), and whole grains (fiber) to your meal, says Murad.
Did you know that muscle mass begins to decline in your 30s? There can be a three to five percent decline in muscle mass per decade after age 30, says Murad. This means metabolism also declines. This can be prevented with physical activity and by eating high quality lean protein. Murad says consuming just 25-30 grams of protein at each meal is enough. Increasing protein at breakfast can also help increase absorption and preserve lean muscle mass.
And if breakfast includes lean sources of protein, you’ll feel more satisfied after eating. This will lead you to make better food choices throughout the day and help decrease the food you eat in general, says Murad.
Ashley Kraynak can testify to this. She has always loved breakfast foods, but never understood the importance of breakfast while growing up. When she entered her 20s, she started caring about what she put into her body. “Once I realized that eating healthy is a lifestyle, breakfast became my favorite and most important meal of the day (literally even says this in my Tinder profile – it’s that important),” she says.
Every day, Kraynak makes it a point to have Kombucha (a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar) or a very light green juice 15-20 minutes or sometimes up to an hour before eating, and then a healthy/balanced or protein-rich breakfast later on. If she doesn’t follow this protein-centric routine, she tends to get off-track and can screw up a whole day of healthy eating. “A bagel and cream cheese after a night of wine may taste amazing for breakfast,” says Kraynak, “but then I eat more throughout the day.”
Kraynak says this routine kicks off her day, gives her a sense of accomplishment, and makes her more likely to work out after a long day of work because she’s fueling her body with the right foods.
Murad has several suggestions: If breakfast isn’t a normal part of your routine, the best way to establish this new habit is to start slowly. Maybe just grab a piece of fruit to start. Planning ahead of time is critical if time or motivation is an issue.
Examine nighttime eating as well. Sometimes snacking late at night can cause you to feel full in the morning.
Try to include at least three food groups with a lean source of protein in your breakfast, which doesn’t have to be the typical breakfast foods.
Some healthy breakfast examples include:
- Whole grain cereal, skim milk, and fruit
- Whole-wheat toaster waffle, peanut butter, and banana
- Low-fat yogurt, granola, and blueberries
- Whole-wheat tortilla, scrambled egg, and shredded cheddar cheese
A couple of breakfasts that can be made ahead of time include overnight refrigerator oatmeal or baked oatmeal. You can even scramble eggs the night before and heat them in the microwave in the morning, or “scramble” eggs in a mug and then put in the microwave. “Even little things like setting out cereal and a banana on the counter the night before can help remind you to eat breakfast,” says Murad. “With a little planning and stocking your home with good food choices at breakfast, you can start the day off right,” she says.