Breakfast, a necessary “break” in the “fast”

Did your mom tell you to always eat your breakfast because it is the most important meal of the day? Well, she was right. Eating a healthy breakfast is important for both short term and long term mental and physical health.
On any given day, 10 to 30% of children skip breakfast. Although most parents tell their children that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, some of them may not be following their own advice. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, breakfast consumption is lowest among adolescents and young adults. Only 62% of men and 71% of women between the ages of 20 and 30 eat breakfast. So why do so many people skip breakfast? Well, some meal skippers think that it is a short cut to losing a few pounds. Others just don’t think that it is important enough to make time.

The word “breakfast” means to “break” the “fast”. If you eat dinner at 7’o clock and do not eat again until noon the next day, your body is going without any fuel for 17 hours. Breakfast is an energy source, so this extended fasting time can create issues with neurohormonal balance, which impacts many bodily functions including our cognitive processes. Therefore, eating breakfast does more than refuel muscles. It also refuels the brain.

Breakfast is also an important nutrient source. Even though breakfast typically accounts for only15 % of our daily caloric intake, numerous studies have shown that it is the most nutrient dense meal of the day. A study of young adults participating in the Bogalusa Heart study found that a higher percentage of breakfast skippers did not meet two-thirds of the RDA for vitamins and minerals. Their odds of overall nutrient inadequacy were 2 to 5 times higher than those who did eat breakfast.

There are long term impacts of chronic meal skipping. Skipping meals has been associated with everything from decreased energy, decreased metabolic rate, increased preference for fat in the diet, weight gain, decreased strength and performance, decreased bone density, decreased immunity, electrolyte imbalances, mood swings, disrupted metabolism and cognitive function.

When you skip breakfast, you are missing those essential nutrients your body needs throughout the day for so many crucial bodily functions and processes, such as cognitive functions. This is why many studies focus on the importance of breakfast for school age children and teens. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast pay attention, perform better on problem solving tasks, perform memory tasks better, behave better and get along better with their peers than those who do not eat breakfast.

In addition, skipping breakfast causes problems with the metabolism, which is essential to the operation of all cells in the body as well as weight loss efforts. A lot of people think that when they skip a meal, they are cutting calories.  However, a recent study has shown that skipping meals during the day and eating one big meal at night led to hazardous metabolic changes, such as elevated fasting glucose levels and a poor insulin response. The researchers cautioned that if this pattern continues over a period of time, these two conditions can contribute to the development of diabetes.

However, watch what you eat for breakfast! The typical American breakfast doesn’t offer a lot of healthy choices. Eating carbohydrates and simple sugars for breakfast will raise blood sugar rapidly then can lead to a sharp drop in blood sugar an hour or two later. This is what happens with many of the popular cereals. The ideal breakfast should include carbohydrates for energy, a low fat, heart healthy protein source to help sustain energy and dietary fiber to promote satiety while promoting digestive health and decreasing cholesterol. Dietary sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, breads, cereals and fruits and vegetables. Protein is a linear chain of amino acids, which are essential for growth, development and repair of body tissues as well as making hormones, enzymes, and components of our immune system. Dietary sources include soy, eggs, lean meats, fish and poultry as well as nonfat or low fat dairy products. A fast, yet nutritious breakfast could be a soy protein shake that includes adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fiber.

Not only can skipping breakfast backfire on weight loss plans, but it can also have a negative impact on physical health as well as mental performance and mood. Eating a healthy breakfast affects efforts to watch your weight, eat healthier all day and fuel a busy lifestyle.

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