By Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist
Here’s something you’ve probably heard on repeat: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! With almost 20% of Americans reporting skipping this first meal, is it really that important? Let’s take a moment to break down the science of breakfast. The overwhelming majority of research supports that breakfast is more than something your mom nagged you about; it turns out to actually be an important daily behavior for good health. While breakfast is a good idea for just about everyone, there are two groups who may benefit most; adults looking to lose weight and school children.
Does More Breakfast = Less Inches?
The National Weight Control Registry is tracking over 10,000 Americans who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time. Eating breakfast has been identified as one of four key behaviors of success, with 78% reporting having this meal daily. Other large studies have linked to decreased waistlines and BMI.
Skipping breakfast may turn out to be one of the worst sabotages to your weight loss efforts, for certain individuals, by leading to increased amounts of late-night snacking. Those who eat breakfast tend to consume healthier foods all day long, and less added sugars, cholesterol, fats and sodium.
But other research shows that it depends on the person and their context, not everyone will make up the extra calories later at night, depending on the details of their environment. Last year you may have read that skipping breakfast isn’t so awful for your waistline. Sorry breakfast-skippers, in looking at the details, the studies were small and the participants were already at a stable, healthy weight and physically active. These limitations mean the results may not be generalizable or apply to a broader population who are most likely trying to lose weight. It’s simply more evidence that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work for wellness, weight management or breakfast habits.
Does Breakfast = Better Behavior & Happier, Healthier Kids?
Children report being hungrier after skipping breakfast, but in fact may not make up the calories later on, which for kids at a healthy weight, isn’t necessarily a good thing for growth and development. Benefits of breakfast go way beyond physical aspects of health. There are strong and consistent links to increased bullying victimization with skipping breakfast in both boys and girls. Malnutrition and lack of specific nutrients like B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D are also linked to aggression and problem behaviors.
Academic performance is associated with eating breakfast in children and teens, including improvements in reading, math and science. The School Breakfast Program (SBP) in the US which began in 1966 as a pilot project then made permanent in 1975. The SBP currently serves over 89,000 schools and over 12 million children received breakfast in 2011. The intent of SBP was to improve the nutritional needs, especially for low-income school children, “in recognition of the demonstrated relationship between food and good nutrition and the capacity of children to develop and learn.”
Nutrition can improve cognitive function, and deficiencies of key vitamins and minerals like B’s, Vitamin E, and iron are linked to decreased concentration and cognition, while lack of zinc and omega-3s are linked to difficulty in attention. Lack of these nutrients and others can lead to issues with long-term cognitive development during this critical time period of growth. The SBP has found not only improvements in kids’ overall nutrition, but also in school attendance which is vital for academic performance.
Does What I Eat for Breakfast Matter?
Breakfast is defined as consuming nutrients within the first two hours of waking up. Yes, I said nutrients, so move over doughnuts. This puts juice in a perfect position for breakfast. It’s light, easy to digest, packed with nutrients and excellent for energy when you’re not-so-hungry at daybreak. For Gavin, his success story shares how replacing his usual breakfast with juice led to significant weight loss and wellness benefits.
And don’t feel like you need to enjoy something that is known to society as a breakfast food. Sweet pastries and bagels aren’t the ideal day-starter. Do what my kids do and go for a non-traditional breakfast; they’ve coined it “dinner breakfast,” which is basically leftovers. Besides ease of preparation, these meals may be better balanced in terms of protein, phytonutrients, fiber and sugars. Here are some awesome breakfast recipes – many are easy to make ahead of time for a quick grab-and-go in the morning rush out the door.