Each day, a significant number of adults in skip breakfast.
And that, nutrition experts say, may be a mistake.
Not only does a morning meal provide the fuel you need to
start your day, but also numerous studies have found that eating breakfast
regularly is associated with a range of health benefits.
These include reduced risks for obesity, cardiovascular
disease, and Type 2 diabetes; as well as improved short-term memory in adults,
better school performance in children, and better diet quality overall, said
Kathryn Starr, a registered dietitian and associate professor of medicine at
Duke University School of Medicine.
“All of our meals are important; I don’t think breakfast is
the most important meal,” Starr said. But it “kick-starts the process for our
body to function properly.”
To maintain healthy blood sugar, energy, and fullness levels
until your next meal, getting the right balance of protein, fiber, and
unsaturated fats at breakfast is important, said Lauren Harris-Pincus, a
registered dietitian in New Jersey.
This roughly translates to at least 20 grams of protein,
eight to 10 grams of fiber, and 10 to 15 grams of unsaturated fats, totaling about
300 to 350 calories, Harris-Pincus said.
But it is important not to get hung up on the numbers, said
Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at the
Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
Your nutrient needs will depend on your weight, activity
level, age, and health conditions, Lichtenstein said.
More important, she said, is focusing on what you enjoy and
makes you feel energized and sated. “So many times we’ve tried to give people
formulas,” she said, “and if you look at dietary patterns and scores in the
U.S., we’re not doing that well as far as diet quality goes.”
“So what’s the ideal breakfast?” Lichtenstein said. “It’s
whatever makes your body work best.”
Pay extra attention to proteinOne thing to prioritize when planning your morning meal,
Harris-Pincus said, is protein. Many Americans consume more than enough protein
throughout the day, she said, but they often do not get enough at breakfast —
and instead, opt for foods high in refined sugars or other carbohydrates, such
as bagels, pastries, or energy bars.
If they do prioritize protein, Starr said, they frequently choose
foods high in saturated fats, such as bacon or sausage, which can increase the
risk for cardiovascular disease.
Your body needs protein to maintain your muscle mass,
metabolism, and physical strength (among other things), Harris-Pincus said, but
it can use only about 25 to 35 grams of protein per meal for those purposes. If
you consume more protein in one sitting, your body will either use it as
energy, store it as fat or excrete it.
So if you “skip breakfast or don’t eat protein at
breakfast,” Harris-Pincus said, “you lose that opportunity because you can’t
double up on protein later.”
Remember the ‘shortfall’ nutrientsCalcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber are commonly called
shortfall nutrients, Harris-Pincus said, because people in the US often do not
get enough of them.
Over time, deficiencies in such nutrients can lead to
problems including weak bones, poor gut health, and high blood pressure.
But it so happens that many healthy breakfast foods are
packed with those nutrients.
Most fortified cow’s milk contains calcium, vitamin D, and
potassium; most fortified cereals contain vitamin D (just be sure to choose
those high in fiber and low in added sugars); bananas, citrus, and many dried
fruits have potassium; and oats are rich in fiber.
“So when you think about something like a bowl of
whole-grain cereal and milk with some fruit, that really makes a dent in those
shortfall nutrients,” Harris-Pincus said.
Do not be limitedYou do not have to confine yourself to standard breakfast
fare to get a mix of nutrients in the morning, said Josephine
Connolly-Schoonen, director of nutrition at Stony Brook Medicine.
“Any whole, plant-based food is going to have lots of
phytonutrients,” she said, which are antioxidants that protect your cells from
damage. These foods also contain fiber, which helps you stay full and supports
Coffee and tea can also provide some antioxidants and be
part of a nutritious breakfast, Connolly-Schoonen said — just don’t overdo it
on the sugar or cream.
Connolly-Schoonen said that taking your time and enjoying
your food is important. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, she
And breakfast does not have to be first thing in the
morning. “If you wake up and go to an exercise class at 7:30am, you might have
a few bites of something if you’re hungry, go to the class, and come back and
finish breakfast,” Connolly-Schoonen said. “Whatever works for you.”
Get creative with recipes
Many breakfast ideas that nutritionists recommend are simple
to prepare, nutritious and delicious. Here are some options:
— Overnight oats made with milk, chia seeds, diced fruit,
and dried fruit.
— Whey protein smoothie with kale or spinach, fruit, and
— Whole-wheat toast with nut butter and sliced strawberries.
— Greek yogurt with slivered almonds or walnuts and berries.
— Whole-wheat breakfast burrito with a mix of eggs and egg
whites, cheese, beans and salsa.
— Steel-cut oats or high-fiber cereal with milk, whey
protein powder, almonds or walnuts and sliced melon.
— Whole-grain toast with cream cheese and lox.
— Tofu scramble with skim mozzarella cheese, veggies,
avocado, and whole wheat toast.
— Leftover grilled chicken, roasted potatoes and green
— Roasted potato slices on a bed of spinach, topped with an
— Leftover quinoa mixed with arugula, hummus, and cucumber.
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