Importance of Choosing A Healthy Breakfast

Originally published: 01-23-14

A Healthy Breakfast is a Smart Start!

Last year, the media reported on new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham that questions the correlation between skipping a healthy breakfast and weight gain. Another study by the Harvard School of Public Health recently reported that fasting in the morning may lead to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes—all precursors to heart problems. Confusing? It certainly is. This isn’t the first time mixed messages have clouded the health industry, which makes weight loss expectations and goals hard to set and follow.

The truth is that eating a healthy breakfast is a vital part of maintaining weight loss. In fact, it’s one of the first guidelines I give my patients: DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST!

Jumpstart Your Metabolism!

When we wake up, our bodies are low in energy and dehydrated. By forgoing a healthy breakfast, we’re telling our bodies to prepare for the possibility of famine, according to an ancient human survival mechanism. Our metabolisms automatically slow down in order to preserve body fat for eventual use as fuel during famine.

The ultimate goal of losing weight is speeding up our metabolisms—in order to burn fat faster—by maintaining a healthy lifestyle through smart food choices and regular exercise. Skipping breakfast shuts down our metabolisms for the day, which causes our bodies to process other meals and snacks into fat mass. It has the opposite effect of what we’re trying to achieve.

Think about it this way: our bodies react to going off a weight loss diet by craving fattening foods to make up for all the calories we’ve deprived them of during the diet. This ultimately leads us to gain back the weight—often more than we lost. Skipping breakfast triggers a similar reaction.

As the day goes on, we get hungrier and more desperate for calories. Our minds actually get tricked into thinking we need more fattening foods to make up for the lack of calories and nutrients consumed earlier in the day. But our bodies still think we need to store those nutrients for future use as fuel since we’ve given the message that by skipping breakfast, food is not consistently being provided. The end result is our bodies processing lunch and dinner into energy stores in fat cells, which leads to weight gain.

Aside from preventing physical ailments, giving our bodies adequate nutrients in the morning helps us stay focused, clear-headed and provides a steady stream of energy, rather than a burst—which quickly crashes—from sugary snacks. Even if we don’t feel hungry, our bodies need fuel to get going for the day, and also to set the stage for how the rest of the day’s eating will play out.

Wholesome Breakfast Choices!

That doesn’t mean that eating anything for breakfast gets a green light. Eating the right foods is equally important. Avoid fattening foods like bagels, muffins, pastries, donuts, sugary cereals and processed high-fat meats. In our society, breakfast comfort foods like pancakes, waffles and French toast are high in carbohydrates and then are topped with sugary syrup, adding insult to injury. Other favorites like bacon, sausage and fast food breakfast sandwiches are high in fat and sodium.

“Stick to foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-or non-fat dairy and eggs.”
Of the three meals, a healthy breakfast offers the widest variety of food options. I’m the most lenient with what I consider good breakfast foods because the body has all day to burn off the calories. Most of us don’t have the time to prepare a gourmet, healthy meal—or have a personal chef to do it for us. The good news is that preparing a healthy breakfast doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming.

Start with one of the following starches:

one cup of cooked low-sugar oatmeal
one cup of low-sugar cereal with low-fat or skim milk, or unsweetened almond milk
one slice of whole grain bread with your spread of choice, for example almond or peanut butter or low-sugar jam or jelly
two slices of lower-carb bread with your spread of choice

Starches provide immediately available energy and wake up the body’s metabolism after 10 hours or so of not eating.

Add one cup of fresh fruit or a quarter-cup of dried fruit.

Ideally, we should be eating every 3-4 hours throughout the day. If a starch and fruit breakfast won’t hold off your hunger for that amount of time, add one of these options for a heartier meal:

fat-free Greek yogurt, plain or flavored
one or two eggs
low-fat cottage cheese
low-fat solid cheese

Following this routine each morning is especially important for people with diabetes. If you are on insulin, there’s a risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, when you skip a meal. It’s always important to work with a weight loss professional to help figure out which foods help regulate blood sugars and to customize a healthy breakfast and complete meal plan that works for you.

Dean Sloan, MD

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