September is Better Breakfast Month, so now is a great time to give some thought to the first meal of the day.
Whether you and your loved ones are starting a new school year or continuing with a busy work schedule, you can benefit each day from breaking your long overnight fast.
- Improved blood sugar regulation. In several studies, breakfast-eaters were more likely than breakfast-skippers to have stable blood sugar levels after other meals that followed. Eating within two hours of waking up seems to improve insulin sensitivity for the rest of the day. Insulin is the hormone your body produces to move blood sugar (glucose) into your cells; if the glucose stays in your bloodstream, you are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Protection against heart disease. Research shows that those who do not eat breakfast are more likely to gain weight and have high blood pressure and cholesterol. The reason may be partly due to overeating later, which leads to the next benefit of breakfast.
- Less overeating. People who eat breakfast are more likely to feel satisfied and less likely to overeat in the late morning or at lunchtime. Those who skip breakfast are likely to experience a larger increase in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that promotes overeating.
- Better nutrition. Surveys show that breakfast-eaters take in more fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grains, not just in the morning but throughout the day.
- Enhanced brain power. In both children and adults, eating breakfast enhances attention, memory and creativity while boosting reasoning, learning and verbal skills. It also improves grades and attendance for students, as well as decreasing behavior issues.
With all these benefits, it is important to tackle the reality of fitting it in. The most common reason for skipping breakfast is time. Planning ahead and a little environmental control can solve this issue. First, prepare the night before by arranging the table, setting out whatever food is not perishable and getting to bed earlier to make waking up a little easier. In the morning, keep televisions and computers turned off to avoid distractions and encourage everyone to get showered and dressed before eating; this will give your bodies a chance to wake up and be ready to eat, especially if this is a new habit. It is also important to have food on hand that can be eaten on the go as well as sitting down.
What to eat for breakfast? If you or your family do not usually eat breakfast, start small. A bowl of yogurt with fruit, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast, may be just enough. Then keep it simple. Eggs, pancakes and breakfast burritos are nice options if you have time, but if not, you can either make these the night before or choose easier options.
A good rule of thumb is to include two or more food groups, and make one of them high in protein, such as nuts, meat, beans, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt or milk. Pair one of these with a fruit, vegetable or whole grain. Skip the donuts, sugary drinks and sweet cereal bars. While they may be easy to grab, their quick energy jolt will soon lead to a crash, counteracting the benefits of eating breakfast in the first place.
There is a lot of truth to the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Push away the excuses and pull yourself up to a new healthy habit.
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.