Why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day
In the rush to get up and out the door each morning, for goodness sake, don’t skip breakfast! More than just good advice your mom used to pound into your head, eating breakfast every day has been shown to significantly help protect against cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and dysmenorrhea (acute pain during a woman’s menstruation), among other conditions.
Not only does eating breakfast help ward off these chronic health conditions, it also has been shown to help improve body weight, boost energy and heighten mental acuity. Pursuit of these benefits has guided much of the research conducted on breakfast consumption, specifically in relation to children and adolescents. That said, a host of research studies has also shown both short-term and long-term negative health impacts among adults who regularly forgo a morning meal.
If true, why does 1 out of every 4 adults and 1 out of every 3 children regularly skip eating breakfast?
Common excuses include: don’t have enough time to eat, forgot to eat, and trying to control weight by cutting out a meal. Folks, if you fall into one of these traps, let us enlighten you with findings from a sampling of recent studies:
1. In a new research paper published this month in The Journal of Nutrition, University of Minnesota researchers discovered that adults participating in the study who ingested a daily breakfast meal had more than 50% lower levels of glucose coursing through their veins up to five hours after eating breakfast than people who did not consume breakfast. High blood glucose levels are strongly associated with diabetes and obesity.
One would think eating a meal would naturally boost glucose levels, especially compared to not eating at all, but apparently our bodies put breakfast calories to work immediately, quickly clearing sugar from the bloodstream. By comparison, researchers believe the absence of a morning meal causes the body to release stored sugars to compensate.
2. In a separate study published in December 2010, a group of Japanese researchers found that college-aged women who frequently skipped breakfast experienced significantly higher incidences of constipation, painful menstrual symptoms, and other reproductive cycle complications than women who regularly consumed a morning meal.
While scientists do not have a firm handle as to why skipping breakfast disrupts reproductive cycles among women, the researchers in this particular study speculated that the timing of food consumption (particularly early-in-the-day food consumption) is strongly correlated with healthy menstruation cycles.
3. In 2003, a group of University of Massachusetts researchers found that those who regularly skipped breakfast had a 4.5 times higher risk of obesity versus everyday breakfast eaters. The researchers noted that those who skipped breakfast ate significantly more calories during the day than consistent breakfast eaters, leading the study team to conclude that skipping the morning meal leads to more ravenous eating (hence weight gain) later in the day.
4. UK-based researchers in 2005 reported that women participating in the study who skipped breakfast daily had significantly higher total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, oxidized LDL and triglycerides in comparison with women in the study who ingested breakfast every morning. In fact, over the course of the study, women who omitted breakfast saw their blood lipid measures rise notably, while regular morning meal consumers saw theirs drop.
5. A 2009 Japanese study showed that current cigarette smokers who skipped breakfast (and 55% of the current smokers in the study did not eat breakfast) had a 4.7 times higher risk of developing diabetes than either current smokers who regularly ate breakfast or never-smoking regular breakfast consumers. That’s not a misprint — 4.7 times higher odds of developing diabetes!
There are many other studies echoing similar results in different groups of adults, adolescents and children. Therefore, if you are at risk for one or more of these conditions and you don’t regularly eat breakfast, you would be well served to reconsider your decision to pass on a morning meal.
Getting More Out of Your Breakfast
Healthy advice for regular breakfast eaters
Alright, presuming we’ve now convinced those of you who haven’t been eating breakfast regularly to add a morning meal to your daily routine, we’ll bet you’d like to know what breakfast foods offer the healthiest start.
Unfortunately, it’s not a whopping Belgian waffle with copious butter and syrup. It’s not even a bagel with cream cheese or butter paired with a glass of OJ, milk or cup of coffee. Nope, the No. 1 breakfast food correlated with better health is ready-to-eat cereals made from whole grains combined with low-fat milk. For those wishing to spice it up a bit, add some fresh fruit into the mix. [Insert pick of cereal topped with fruit]
Cereals made with whole grains typically have a higher fiber content, lower glycemic index value (glycemic index is a measure applied by dieticians to assess the blood sugar raising effects of various foods), and less harmful fats and oils. Before you start to groan imagining eating tasteless, coarse cereals, check out this list of healthy and unhealthy cereal choices developed by Dr. Diana Mirkin.
If you can’t see yourself chomping on bran flakes to start the day, at least try to avoid breakfast foods that have been shown to possess a high glycemic index. High glycemic index foods are strongly correlated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors. Some of the biggest breakfast offenders on this list include doughnuts, waffles, bagels and toast made from white bread.