Why Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day

by Jennifer G. Galea, MS, RD

Breakfast is exactly that, breaking the fast that began the previous night.  In addition to whatever activities occur after dinner, the body continues to burn energy while you sleep.  Proper refueling in the morning is essential for optimal performance during the coming day.  Remember, it has been many hours since your last meal.  Many studies have shown that eating breakfast helps to improve both physical and mental performance.  Adults are less likely to make mistakes at work and children do better in school after having eaten breakfast.

Breakfast is also another opportunity to consume much needed nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.  Studies have shown that children who skip breakfast do not make up during the day the nutrients they missed at breakfast.

When you skip breakfast, your body's energy tank runs low.  This causes cravings for sweets, usually far from nutritious.  Skipping breakfast also may cause overeating at the next meal.  And since you may crave sweets, your next meal may be high in sugar (and often high in fat as well).  In turn, ove3reating places undue stress on your body and can result in unwanted weight gain.  Skipping breakfast has no benefits for weight loss.

What makes a good breakfast?  Any foods that contribute to an overall balanced diet are fine; there are no rules.  They key is to select a variety of foods from different food groups.  Breakfast doesn't have to be cereal (stay away from the sugary varieties with their abundance of empty calories) or eggs (try to limit eggs anyway) or pancakes; it can be leftover pizza from last night's dinner.  Traditional breakfast foods are generally the easiest and quickest to prepare, but anything that would be a healthy lunch or dinner can also be a healthy breakfast.  Of course, you will want something that is also appealing to you in the morning.

For many busy families, breakfast may provide the only opportunity for a "family meal."  Good traditional choices for breakfast might be:  a glass of orange juice, whole wheat toast with all fruit spread, and a glass of skim milk; an orange or grapefruit, low-fat fruit yogurt, and herb tea with low fat graham crackers; whole grain frozen waffles toasted and served with fresh or frozen strawberries and a glass of skim milk.  And you may use a small amount of butter on your toast or have whole eggs occasionally.  Just make sure you're not overdoing your fat and cholesterol consumption.  (Remember, fat "hides" in many healthy foods that you eat.)

But if you don't have time for breakfast, try an easy "to go" meal, like a bagel with spreadable fruit, or a piece of fruit and a glass of milk; even a "breakfast bar" is better than nothing.  To save time in the morning, make your meal the previous night.  Just follow the general rules for a healthy meal:  low in fat, high in fiber and complex carbohydrates.  Mix and match.  Remember, variety is key to a healthy diet.