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  health > diet & fitness > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Breakfast: The essential meal

November 2, 1999
Web posted at: 2:37 PM EST (1937 GMT)

In this story:

Why breakfast?

Energy drop

A breakfast primer


By Elizabeth Somer, R.D.

(WebMD) -- Your mother was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. People who skip breakfast tend to struggle more with weight problems and suffer low energy later in the day when compared to those who take the time to eat.

If you're a seasoned breakfast skipper, change your ways and start eating breakfast -- even if you aren't hungry. It takes two to three weeks to reset the appetite clock. After that, you should notice a boost in energy and fewer problems with overeating later in the day.

Why breakfast?

The eight or more hour time span between dinner and breakfast is the longest span between any of the three meals of the day. In the hours since dinner, and even while sleeping, the body still needs fuel to keep the heart beating, nerves transmitting, eyes blinking and cells dividing. Much of that fuel comes from the readily available stores of glucose in the blood, liver and muscles.

By sunrise, the body is essentially in a fasting mode, with more than half of the body's glucose usually drained by morning and needing the jump-start that comes from eating a carbohydrate-rich meal. That first meal of the day literally breaks the fast.

Energy drop

If you skip breakfast, you might feel fine, full of energy and ready to go for the first few hours after you wake up. That burst of energy typically comes from a mind and body refreshed after a good night's sleep. But this initial burst of energy wears off as the morning's demands add stress to a body already running on empty.

If you allow even four hours to pass between meals, blood sugar levels drop, resulting in fatigue, poor concentration, irritability and lethargy. Double the time to eight or even 12 hours and you can imagine the energy-draining effects of failing to refuel.

By afternoon, even if you eat a relatively good lunch in an effort to boost lagging energy levels, it's difficult to regain an entire day's worth of energy that you would have had if you had taken five minutes to eat breakfast.

A breakfast primer

What should and shouldn't you eat for breakfast? Avoid high-sugar breakfasts, such as doughnuts and coffee, which provide a quick boost, but leave you feeling drowsy within a few hours. Instead, choose meals with a mix of protein and starch. This will help you to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the morning.

Some good morning choices include:

  • Whole-grain cereal and milk
  • An English muffin with low-fat cheese and orange juice
  • Nontraditional breakfast foods, such as leftover pizza, soup and toast, or a sandwich
  • Egg substitute and toast
  • A whole-wheat toaster waffle topped with fat-free sour cream and fresh blueberries
  • A flour tortilla filled with cottage cheese and fresh fruit, warmed in the microwave
  • A low-fat whole-wheat bran muffin topped with applesauce and yogurt
  • An English muffin topped with one ounce of fat-free cheese and broiled until bubbly, served with a glass of orange juice.
  • Elizabeth Somer, R.D., is the author of several books, including "Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy," "Food & Mood," "Nutrition for Women: The Compete Guide" and "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals." She is editor in chief of "Nutrition Alert!" a newsletter that abstracts current nutrition research from more than 6,000 journals.

    Copyright 1999 webmed, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Nutrition and your health: Dietary guidelines for Americans
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    American Dietetic Association
    Action Guide for Healthy Eating
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