The Truth About Breakfast
by Ruby Bayan
Breakfast is whatever you put in your stomach within four hours of waking. Most people can't jumpstart their day without a full meal, complete with orange juice and a banana. Others come alive with just a hot cup of coffee with the morning paper. A few will say, "Breakfast? What's that?" -- and rush off to deal with the world on an empty stomach.
Some weight-watchers think that skipping breakfast is the best way to lose those extra pounds. Some believe that breakfast makes you feel hungrier, so you eat more all day. And more people are starting to wonder if it's true that "breakfast foods" can actually help fight cancer.
Well, wonder no more -- here are the basic truths about that first meal of the day:
1. Skipping breakfast won't make you thinner. Missing breakfast, or practically missing it by taking just a cup of coffee, pushes up your inner hunger clock. The result: you eat a lot more for lunch. You can't wait for that lunch hour and end up bingeing on too many calories at once, and where do the excess calories go? Straight to your waistline.
Dr. Paul Lachance, professor of nutrition and food science at Rutgers, suggests that the best strategy for keeping weight in check and energy level high is to fuel yourself evenly throughout the day. Eat a light breakfast, a light lunch, and a balanced dinner, with light snacks in between, if and when you feel hungry. And stop eating when you've satisfied your hunger. That way, you'll take in calories as you need them. No excesses.
2. Breakfast makes people perform better. In an extensive survey at the Nutrition Cognition Initiative at the Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy, Tufts University, results showed that children who skip breakfast are less able to concentrate and their abilities to perform complex tasks is impaired. The effects were similar in adults. So, why risk being sluggish, half-awake, or incompetent during the first half of the day? Eat breakfast and be your best!
3. The favorite "bacon-and-eggs" breakfast is unhealthy. Bacon is prepared with nitrates and nitrites -- those cancer-causing preservatives in preserved meats. And bacon, even the leanest you can find, is mostly saturated fat, the type that raises blood cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease. One egg has about 6 grams of fat. If you simply must have an egg a day, cut down on other sources of fat (lose the bacon!). If you prefer, you can eat only the egg whites -- that's fat-free and high-protein.
4. Cereals and fruits are ideal for breakfast, and for overall health. According to the National Cancer Institute in America, we need 20 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily. The institute emphasizes that "Diets high in fiber and low in fat, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals, may reduce the risk of cancer."
Insoluble fiber, the kind found in wheat bran, whole wheat bread, and wheat-based bran cereals, helps lower the risk of colon cancer and speeds up digestion ("transit time"). Soluble fiber, the type found in oat bran and fruit, helps lower blood cholesterol, and may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Phytochemicals, terpenes, and carotenoids are present in many fruits and fruit juices. These antioxidants rid the body of disease-promoting compounds called "free radicals." These free radicals are known to damage arteries and promote cancer, cataracts, and general aging.
5. It's what you put on your pancakes and waffles that are fattening. Many pancake mixes are low fat or even fat-free. It's the butter topping, the whipped cream, and the whole milk that makes the pancakes and waffles fattening. The trick is to use a non-stick pan or a light spray of vegetable oil when you're making pancakes. And top it with nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit.
6. Skip breakfast and the foods you load up on later in the day aren't likely to be nearly as healthy. All-bran cereals, whole wheat bread, granola bars, oat meal, fresh fruit juices, fruits of the season, nonfat milk, and tea (instead of coffee) -- these foods that have been generally branded as breakfast foods are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. You can, of course, choose to eat them any other time of the day, but since they've already been associated with breakfast, you might as well take them to jumpstart your day -- not only for the good boost for the 24 hours ahead, but also to ensure that you've taken only the best for your health, over the long term.
[Also published in PowerHouseGym.com, 2001]