Breakfast: How to Properly Fuel Up for the Day

by Leah Frankel, MS, RD |

We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but did you ever stop and wonder why? With so many wise tales out there suggesting why you should eat breakfast, it can be difficult to understand the real benefits.  Once you’ve decided that breakfast is a good idea, you’re faced with the task of deciding exactly what you’re suppose to eat in the morning for this vital meal. We’re here to discuss the benefits of eating breakfast as well as what to include in your well-balanced morning-starter. Finally, we’ll tackle some common excuses for skipping breakfast and debunk them with some helpful time-saving tips.

Benefits of Breakfast

There are a number of benefits you enjoy from eating breakfast including: increasing your metabolism, curbing your appetite later in the day, providing you with energy so you don’t have to rely on caffeine or sugar and setting the tone for the rest of the day’s food choices. Breakfast is also important since you haven’t eaten in over 12 hours! Although we usually focus on the taste of the food we eat, you have to remember that food is your body’s fuel, keeping your body moving and functioning normally.  You need food for the same reason your car needs gas: to run properly.  If you left your car running all night you’d invariably need a jump-start in the morning.  Yes, we realize that you don’t run around all night but that doesn’t mean that your body turns off when you hop into bed.  While you don’t run around all night, your body continues to burn calories while you sleep meaning that when you wake up, you need breakfast to refill your tank.

As we mentioned earlier, breakfast helps provide energy so can we function optimally throughout the day. A study looking at the effect of eating breakfast in 11-13 year olds found that breakfast consumption had a beneficial effect on attention, concentration, memory and school achievement (1). In addition, the children who consumed breakfast regularly reported they did not feel sleepy during their morning classes when compared with the children who only ate breakfast occasionally or who never ate breakfast. The most commonly reported excuse for not eating breakfast was not having enough time to eat breakfast regularly. Later we’ll discuss how to combat excuses for not eating breakfast, including the time factor.

While many people skip breakfast in order to help lose weight, studies show that this is actually counterproductive. Researchers found an inverse relationship between cereal intake and body mass index (BMI) in teenagers ages 12-17 years old (2). Those children who consumed cereal each morning had a lower BMI (indicating a healthier body weight) than those children who skipped breakfast. Breakfast skipping typically leads to eating larger meals later in the day since people tend to overeat and eat too quickly when they are extremely hungry. There are a few theories as to why there is a relationship between people who skip breakfast and being overweight or obese: on one hand it is possible that people who skip breakfast have poor dietary habits which leads to obesity. It  is also feasible that people who skip breakfast are already overweight and are skipping breakfast in an attempt to cut calories.  The jury is still out.

Best Foods for Breakfast

Hopefully we’ve convinced you of the value of a good breakfast but we need to discuss the key components of a well-balanced breakfast.  Let’s start with a breakfast classic: eggs.  In a study of adults with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), regular egg consumption was shown not to be detrimental, in terms of endothelial function (an indicator for the development of atherosclerosis) when compared to a breakfast of sausage and cheese (3). However, when egg intake was compared with egg substitute, the egg substitute intake led to significantly lower total cholesterol as well as lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. While many people are concerned about eating eggs due to their high cholesterol, studies such as this one suggest that eggs are no more detrimental than other high fat foods (in this case sausage and cheese), however, egg substitute or egg whites have a beneficial effect in terms of cardiovascular health.

Many of us choose to eat cereal for breakfast, typically because it’s easy and quick to prepare, but did you ever consider which type of cereal you should be buying? In a study comparing high fiber and low fiber breakfast cereals, the participants who consumed the high fiber cereal consumed fewer calories at breakfast and lunch when compared with the group consuming the low fiber cereal (4). In addition, the participants who consumed the high fiber cereal had lower blood sugar levels after consuming the cereal, which can be important for sugar control in diabetics. Not only is it beneficial to choose high fiber cereal at breakfast, but also to select high fiber foods throughout the day that are high in whole grains.  High fiber foods have been shown to improve digestion and weight control.

We’ve covered cereal and eggs but which one is a better breakfast choice? Researchers analyzed the effect of type of breakfast consumed on overall calories consumed and BMI (5). This study showed that people who consumed ready to eat cereal, cooked cereal or quick breads for breakfast had significantly lower BMI than those participants who skipped breakfast or consumed meat and eggs for breakfast. These results suggest that eating cereal is better for weight maintenance when compared to not eating breakfast or a breakfast of meat and eggs.

Now what makes up a well-balanced breakfast?  We want our breakfast to contain whole grains, lean protein and either a fruit or vegetable. Here are just a few breakfast ideas:

  • Instant oatmeal, made with milk and topped with nuts and dried fruit
  • A smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit, ice, and milk, topped with granola
  • Whole grain cereal with non-fat milk, topped with fresh fruit
  • Peanut butter on a bagel, topped with apples
  • Whole grain toaster waffle topped with fruit and a cup of yogurt
  • Egg white omelet with veggies on top of a whole grain English muffin

No More Excuses

Are you salivating yet thinking about all of the combinations of foods you could be having for breakfast?  We may have your mouth watering now, but we also realize that you are still concerned about not having time to eat breakfast.  Or maybe you’re just not hungry when you wake up. If you’re worried about not having time to make or eat breakfast in the morning you can prepare your breakfast the night before so you can grab it and go in the morning. Another approach is to keep your kitchen stocked with ready to eat foods so you can take your breakfast on the road with you on the way to work. Many people wake up in the morning and aren’t hungry when they first get up.  If you’re one of these individuals, try a small breakfast like a smoothie or yogurt and a piece of fruit followed by a mid-morning snack later in the day (this approach provides the same benefits as a full morning breakfast). Finally, if you’ve never been a fan of breakfast food, eat lunch or dinner for breakfast; no one ever said that you need to eat cereal or eggs in the morning.  A turkey sandwich or leftover stir-fry from dinner last night both make perfect foods in the morning. Remember, eating a quick breakfast, even if it’s just a bowl of cereal, is better than nothing!

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  1. Gajre NS, Fernandez S, Balakrishna N, et al. Breakfast eating habits and its influence on attention-concentration, immediate memory and school achievement. Indian Pediatrics 2008;45:824-828.2.
  2. Kosti RI, Panagiotakos DB, Zampelas A, et al. The association between consumption of breakfast cereals and BMI in schoolchildren ages 12-17 years: The VYRONAS study. Public Health Nutrition 2007;11:1015-1021.
  3. Njike V, Faridi Z, Dutta S, et al. Daily egg consumption in hyperlipidemic adults-Effects on endothelial function and cardiovascular risk. Nutrition Journal 2010;9:28-37.
  4. Hamedani A, Akhavan T, Samra RA, et al. Reduced energy intake at breakfast is not compensated for at lunch if a high-insoluble-fiber cereal replaces a low-fiber cereal. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;89:1343-1349.
  5. Cho S, Dietrich M, Brown CJP, et al. The effects of breakfast type on total daily energy intake and body mass index: Results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2003;22:296-302.


08 2010

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