How bad could it be to skip breakfast? After all, you're saving yourself some calories, right? Besides, most people eat breads and cereals first thing in the morning, which are really just "filler" foods, right? Well, according to recent research, skipping breakfast could make you gain weight, because you end up snacking and eating larger meals later in the day. In other words, skipping your morning meal will come back to haunt you.
More than that, though, passing on breakfast could temporarily make you less smart. Research has shown better performance and cognitive ability in people who eat carbohydrates with protein for breakfast. In a U.S. clinical trial, researchers found that brain function in children who skip breakfast is drastically reduced by late morning.
Of course, you need to eat a healthy breakfast to benefit from its brain-boosting effects. So, that muffin that you grab from the coffee shop isn't going to cut it. You need a "real" breakfast-one with proteins and carbs. This is the type of meal that will provide you with nutrients and energy until you refuel at lunch, or even later. So, like your parents may have said, breakfast really is important.
Ends the Fast from the Night Before
If you think about it, it makes sense that breakfast is an important meal. When you get up in the morning, you've been fasting since the previous evening's meal-for some, that means up to 10 or 12 hours. It's not hard to see how breaking that fast with a cup of coffee and a sugary Danish doesn't give you the nutrition and energy that you need to make it all the way to lunch.
Skipping breakfast-or even eating a poor one-could also lower your metabolic rate. When this happens, your body has to compensate somehow for the lack of fuel, which means that you will burn fewer calories throughout the day. Conversely, when you eat breakfast, even though you are adding some calories, you are more likely to get the vitamins and minerals that you need for fuel and to be more emotionally stable and mentally alert.
Okay, so maybe you've been convinced that breakfast is important, but what kind of breakfast is best? Make sure that you eat a morning meal that's balanced with good carbohydrates, good fats and protein. The ideal breakfast should have lots of fiber and whole grains, some protein and good fat and as little added sugar as possible. Here's a breakdown of the key nutrients to help you out.
Choose Good Carbohydrates
As much as you can, choose carbs that are low on the Glycemic Index. These are usually complex or unrefined carbohydrates that your body digests slowly, releasing a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time. You might be saying to yourself "when I eat refined carbohydrates like donuts, I get a boost of energy-what's wrong with that?" The problem is that refined carbohydrates are quickly digested, and the energy that they contain is rapidly dispersed, leaving you with even less energy than you had before you ate them. Low-glycemic foods also keep your blood-sugar levels balanced, so you avoid those energy peaks and valleys that disrupt your day.
Here are some good carbs to include with your breakfast meal: whole-grain cereals, breads and pancakes topped with berries, fruit or nuts. You can add a variety of non-sweetened fruit juices, naturally flavored, unsweetened milks (soy, rice and almond milk are all available at most grocery stores now) and yogurts.
Avoid bad carbs, such as donuts, white bread, cereals that are full of refined sugar and high-sugar jams, jellies and syrups. Try to avoid refined sugar altogether, and beware of those that contain high-fructose corn syrup. After 10 or 12 hours of overnight fasting, your body is particularly sensitive to sugars, which is why you'll want to avoid them at breakfast.
You Need Some Healthy Fats
Everyone needs some healthy fats in their diets, and besides, they make food taste good. The key is knowing which fats are good and which are bad. So, here's a quick primer on what fats are to help you understand why some are beneficial and some are actually harmful.
All fats are made up of "triglycerides." Triglycerides are the building blocks of fat, and each triglyceride, in turn, consists of a mixture of three fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Triglycerides also contain one glycerol molecule.
A particular fat is defined by the combination of fatty acids that make up its composition. The triglycerides in olive oil, for example, have more monounsaturated fatty acids than saturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids, making the oil a monounsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats are good for you. Researchers have determined that these fats are heart-healthy because they maintain HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, while lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated oils are generally considered to be the healthiest overall.
Due to their less stable chemical structure, polyunsaturated fatty acids are more susceptible to rancidity than saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are, especially after prolonged contact with oxygen, light or heat. Many experts don't recommend polyunsaturated oils for cooking, because they are so easily damaged by heat. They are best used in their raw form-and used quickly, before their expiry date.
Saturated fats are the most stable, giving them a long shelf life and the ability to withstand high cooking temperatures. Solid at room temperature, saturated fats are found primarily in animal fats and tropical oils.
Are animal fats bad? Not necessarily. In general, animal fats like butter and cream are saturated, but animal fats like lard, chicken fat and duck fat are predominantly monounsaturated, while fish oils are predominantly polyunsaturated. The fatty-acid composition of animal fat can vary, depending on the diet of the animal.
Avoid Trans-fatty Acids
Trans-fatty acids are chemically altered, man-made fats that are found in partially hydrogenated oils. The "hydrogenation" process injects hydrogen into vegetable fats under high heat and pressure. This saturates what was previously an unsaturated fat and results in a chemical that is not found in nature and is very rich in trans-fatty acids. This is done to make vegetable oils, which are normally liquid at room temperature, solid. The hydrogenation process also extends the shelf life of these fats, which benefits manufacturers and suppliers, but has absolutely no health benefits for you at all.
Trans fats are doubly harmful because they lower your HDL cholesterol and raise LDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, researchers have discovered that trans-fatty acids have an even worse impact on cholesterol levels than diets that are high in butter, which is a saturated fat.
Except for the traditional omelet, typical breakfasts are usually low in protein. Protein is great for giving you energy over a long period of time. Your muscles and bones need protein every day, too. Finally, adding protein to your breakfast (and other meals) is a good way to lower your meal's Glycemic Index, since proteins tend to score low on the list.
Protein for Breakfast Is the Way to Go
Make sure that you add some protein to your breakfast and fuel up for the whole day. Here are some suggestions:
- All types of natural meat, such as breakfast steaks, lean pork chops or turkey bacon
- Cheese sticks with fruit
- Eggs-cooked any way you like them (hard-boiled eggs are easy to have around for a quick protein boost)
- Nut butters
- Refried beans spread on whole-grain toast or tortillas
- Scrambled tofu
- Unsweetened Kefir
- Unsweetened yogurt or cottage cheese with berries
Making Breakfast Happen
So, how do get yourself to actually eat a good breakfast? It's not as time consuming as you think. A smoothie containing some carbs (fruit), fat (peanut butter) and protein (yogurt) can be whipped together in a blender in a minute. Here's another idea: homemade pizzas (buy a ready-made whole-grain crust). Substitute eggs or other breakfast fare and add a few vegetables-you'll be surprised at how steady your energy level will stay all morning.
If you're used to sugary cereals, try mixing in gradually increasing amounts of unsweetened cereals until your taste buds have adjusted. Alternately, you can wean yourself off of refined sugar buy adding a little honey or maple syrup. A gradual change in breakfast from sweets to a meal that is balanced with proteins, fats and carbs will do wonders for your health and well-being.
Variety is always good when it comes to diet, and it is especially important at breakfast. Research has actually shown that people of normal weight tend to eat more varied breakfasts than people who are obese. No one likes to eat the same thing day in and day out, so create a little excitement and a sense of adventure to breakfast by thinking outside the traditional toast and cereal menu.
Breakfast, like all meals, really needs to be about wholesome food, not empty calories. Empty calories are not going to help you have a good day mentally or physically. Give yourself a good, nutritious breakfast, and it will definitely make you healthier-and probably smarter, too!
in Alternative Medicine