Power of Breakfast

I had the chance to participate in a webinar called "The Science Behind Breakfast: An Up-to-Date Review", hosted by Today's Dietitian and sponsored by Kellogg's. I point out the sponsor, because some of the research was specific to eating cereal for breakfast. But, the conclusions and outcomes of the research were independent. Here is a list of the studies, for your personal reference. 

You've probably heard the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Is it really more important than lunch or dinner? Eh, I don't necessarily think so. Before you breakfast skippers scream "I knew it!", let me point out that it is certainly not less important. I would really recommend eating four times a day, not going more than 3-5 hours between eating. But that's another post for another day.

The benefits of breakfast are significant! Breakfast eaters tend to have better diet quality, improved energy balance (i.e. weight management), and improved performance in school.

Specifically, people who eat breakfast get more fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamins A and C, and the B vitamins. That's a lot of quality nutrition.

One habit of people who lose weight and effectively keep it off? You guessed it - eating breakfast. In addition, kids who eat breakfast are less likely to become overweight as adults. Children, young adults and women all are less likely to be overweight if they consume cereal for breakfast. Kids and teens that skip breakfast have greater risk of being overweight and obese. 

Skipping breakfast is also connected to obesity and overweight. This might seem counterintuitive. Two reasons why this isn't the case. (1) Your metabolism gets messed up because you're fasting for too long and consuming your calories in a short amount of time. (2) Your sense of hunger can get out of control, and you overcompensate at your next meal or throughout the day.

Finally, there is evidence that eating breakfast is related to improved performance in school. Most of this research is connected to kids and teens. But I would guess we can translate that into improved work performance as adults. Focus, cognition, energy, alertness - these are all things my employer desires from me on a daily basis :)

There are some issues in compiling studies for greater impact and sample size. Specifically, there is no standard definition of breakfast. When is it consumed - both time of day and in relation to waking up? How much food is consumed? Does it still count if it's not eaten before leaving home? It's hard to compare studies, or compile them, when there isn't a standardization on how the term breakfast is used.

This is a large enough problem, in fact, that the presenters announced their research - published this coming December - will define breakfast. So here it is:

Breakfast is the first meal of the day that breaks the fast after the longest period of sleep and is consumed within 2-3 hours of waking; it is comprised of food or beverage from at least 1 food group, and may be consumed at any location. 

Note what this definition doesn't say. It doesn't say it must be eaten in the morning (shift workers and college students rejoice). Or even that it must be eaten immediately upon waking. It doesn't state that it must be a well-balanced meal (but a cup of coffee or can of soda doesn't count!). And it can be eaten at home, on the commute, at the office, at a restaurant, etc.

And if you're going to make the effort to eat breakfast, you might as well eat a quality breakfast. Here are some quick guidelines on building a better breakfast.

  1. Consume between 15-25% of your daily calories at breakfast. For most of us, simply keeping breakfast around 300 calories will be fine. For a more detailed look at calorie levels:
    • 1200 calories = 180-300 calories
    • 2000 calories = 300-500 calories
    • 3000 calories =  450-750 calories
  2. Choose from at least one of the following food groups:
    • Low-fat dairy
    • Lean protein (meat, legumes) or good-fat proteins (seeds, nuts, nut butters)
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole - or enriched - grains and cereals
  3. Hit all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein
    • Carbs - energy, help your body break the fast
    • Fat - encourage stabilizing blood sugar, stay full longer
    • Protein - feel satisfied, spreading protein throughout the day is best for muscles

Lots of you wrote on my Facebook page with your questions, concerns, and frustrations with breakfast. Stay tuned for part 2, where we will discuss how to turn this into practical advice and actual meals. 

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Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.