Part 5 in our 12-month series on resolutions for real health improvement
By Dr. James Beckerman, M.D., Providence St. Vincent Heart Clinic – Cardiology, part of Providence Heart and Vascular Institute
Mom always said that eating a good breakfast is the best way to start the day. If only more of us had listened. Only about half of American adults younger than age 55 eat breakfast every day. Those who skip it often do so in the mistaken belief that it's an easy way to drop calories and weight. But research shows the exact opposite effect: people who skip breakfast weigh an average of seven pounds more than people who eat breakfast. Adding breakfast to your daily schedule can result in a weight loss of four pounds in just a few months.
One theory behind the breakfast effect is that people who skip breakfast end up making up for those missed calories by overeating later in the day, taking in more calories overall than people who eat a healthy breakfast. Another theory is that breakfast gets your metabolism going, while skipping it slows your metabolism. Whatever the cause, the research is clear: eating breakfast is strongly associated with a lower risk of obesity in men, women and children of all ages.
So that's your resolution for May: eat breakfast every day this month, and make it a healthy habit for life.
Obviously, I'm not talking about donuts and caramel lattes. This is about fueling your body and brain with good nutrition. If you need fast food, grab some low-fat yogurt, a piece of high-fiber toast, a small handful of nuts and a piece of fresh fruit. If you have a few more minutes, try a spinach and tomato scramble, a hearty breakfast burrito or a hot and satisfying bowl of oatmeal with nuts and berries.
Here are some additional suggestions to help you get the most out of the most important meal of the day:
- Eat more protein at breakfast. Protein fills you up and keeps your blood sugar stable so you'll be less likely to get the mid-morning munchies or to overeat at lunch. It's easy to incorporate eggs, tofu, black beans, lean turkey and nuts into your breakfast. Protein-fortified breakfast cereals like Kashi GoLean are another great option for the traditionalist. And don't forget about Greek yogurt, peanut butter and other nut butters (but watch the serving sizes).
- Eat eggs for breakfast twice a week. Eggs are a low-calorie source of high-quality protein. In a study that compared eggs to bagels for breakfast (at the identical number of calories), researchers found that eggs not only helped people lose weight, but also made them feel fuller. Even better: there were no significant differences in cholesterol between the two study groups. Concerned about the saturated fat in egg yolks? Just eat the whites, or scramble one whole egg with one egg white.
- Eat healthier bread. Bag the white bread and bagels and switch to whole-grain, high-fiber, lower-calorie breads for your morning toast. Whole grains provide more nutrients and fiber than white bread and are associated with lower risks of heart failure, breast cancer, colon cancer, diverticular disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and gallstones – not bad results for just making different choices in the bakery aisle. In addition, whole grains fill you up more than bread made from refined flour. Studies show that people who eat white bread are hungrier two hours later and take in more calories at the next meal than people who eat whole-grain bread. Look for breads that provide a minimum of 2 grams of fiber per serving (3 or 4 grams is even better) and that list "whole grain" or "whole wheat" as the first ingredient.
- Use spreads sparingly. Serving sizes are difficult to estimate when it comes to peanut butter, jelly, cream cheese, butter and margarine, but they make a big difference in terms of calories. Two level tablespoons of peanut butter deliver almost 200 calories. Cream cheese, jelly and spreads are not quite as excessive, but cutting your serving size by half will still help keep the calories down.
- Switch to a healthier breakfast cereal. If it has a cartoon character on the box, you probably shouldn't be eating what's inside. Sugary breakfast cereals are a bad choice for you, as well as for your kids. Look for cereals that are high in whole grains and fiber, choose those that contain less than 5 grams of sugar per serving, and avoid cereals with trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup (all of this information can be found on the Nutrition Facts label). When serving up your cereal, watch your portions. A typical serving size is one cup of cereal (less if you go for granola); fill the rest of your bowl with fruit and nonfat milk for a healthier breakfast.
- Fill up on fruit. Most of us should eat way more fruits and vegetables than we currently do. Start increasing your intake in the morning by including in your breakfast a whole apple, pear, orange or banana, or a handful of fresh berries. Talk about fast food – fruit is tasty, portable and ready to eat, with no preparation necessary. Just grab it and go – and have a great day.
James Beckerman, a cardiologist with the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Ore., is the author of “The Flex Diet.” You can learn more about him and his weight-loss philosophies at www.theflexdiet.com.