It can be tempting to skip or skimp on breakfast, but even if you don’t eat first thing upon waking, it still is an important meal to work into your morning.
“Malnutrition is a problem as we age and not eating breakfast may make that worse,” says registered dietitian Erin Morse, chief clinical dietitian, UCLA Health. “When you eat is very individual. Some people can wait an hour or so after waking. What matters most, however, is food quality.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Offset age-related malnutrition risk with a hearty breakfast.
- Eat a morning meal to help regulate food intake throughout the day.
- Choose nutrient-dense foods, such as eggs, or Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit.
- Avoid sugary, highly processed baked goods like donuts and coffee cakes.
- Try nontraditional foods, such as stews, or stir-fried veggies with eggs.
The morning meal may regulate how much you eat the rest of the day and how you feel, according to some studies. One recent report compared three groups: subjects who skipped breakfast, those who ate a nutritious meal (e.g., dairy, grain-based cereals), and participants who consumed poor-quality foods (e.g., sugary commercial baked goods). Those who ate a high-quality breakfast had better health-related quality of life (HRQOL) scores and lower levels of stress and depression compared to those who ate no breakfast or a poor- quality meal. Interestingly, breakfast skippers had better HRQOL scores and lower levels of stress and depression compared to those who ate poor- quality foods. These findings, published in the August 2018 edition of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, indicate that the highest benefit is received from eating high-quality breakfast foods. Participants who ate low-nutrient foods fared the worst.
Not All Calories Are Equal
When it comes to health, all calories are not created equal. For example, a large peach and 5 ounces of non-diet cola both contain about 65 calories, but the peach offers fiber, vitamins A and C, potassium and other nutrients. The peach is the more nutrient-dense choice, providing greater nutrition per calorie compared to cola. The cola offers mostly added sugar, a useless, nutrient-poor ingredient. Nutrient-dense food champions, any of which can be enjoyed for breakfast, include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, dairy products and eggs. Not surprisingly, the losers include popular processed commercial breakfast foods, such as white-flour bagels, sugary donuts and muffins, many of which also have the disadvantage of having been super-sized. A banana nut muffin may sound healthy, but it’s likely to be a calorie and sugar bomb containing 600 calories or more. Similarly, white flour pancakes slathered with butter and syrup aren’t exactly going to supply the mojo you need for your day. Quite the opposite. Those nutrient-poor foods can make the body and mind sluggish.
A Wealth of Healthy Choices
Morse advises her patients to expand their idea of what breakfast can be. “Don’t just think of breakfast cereal, bacon, and heavily processed foods,” she says. “Think plant-based meals, for example, avocado toast and whole grain bread with tomatoes and spices, or a Greek yogurt parfait with mixed berries and walnuts. Those are easy and quick breakfasts that don’t require cooking.”
Smoothies can also be appropriate breakfast choices. Add protein, such as almond or peanut butter, for more nutrition. Frozen or fresh fruits can work well, and so can vegetables. “Frozen spinach doesn’t change the taste of say a mango smoothie, but it does add nutrients, and of course the color changes to green,” says Morse. “My kids call it the Hulk smoothie.”
Thinking beyond the traditional breakfast foods can transform morning choices. Leftover stir-fried veggies can be complemented with scrambled eggs or folded into an omelet. A steaming bowl of lentil soup can be enjoyed with thick hearty whole-grain toast. And some classic breakfast foods can be made over into nutritious dishes (see the oatmeal pecan waffle recipe). Skipping breakfast has been a somewhat controversial topic in nutrition research. Some research advocates for it as a weight-loss strategy in those who are obese or with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that increase risk of heart attack, diabetes, and stroke). However, other studies have shown that skipping breakfast alone may not be enough to influence weight loss (some show weight gain can result). Either way, what can suffer is the intake of nutrients that become ever more important as we get older.
OATMEAL PECAN WAFFLES
Ingredients for waffles:
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup unsalted pecans, chopped
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 11/2 cup fat-free (skim) milk
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Ingredients for fruit* topping:
- 2 cups fresh strawberries, halved
- 1 cup fresh blackberries
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
*All berries may be substituted with frozen, thawed
- Preheat waffle iron.
- Combine flour, oats, baking powder, sugar, and pecans in a large bowl.
- Combine egg yolks, milk, and vegetable oil in a separate bowl, and mix well.
- Add liquid mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir together. Do not overmix; mixture should be a bit lumpy.
- Whip egg whites to medium peaks. Gently fold egg whites into batter.
- Pour batter into preheated waffle iron, and cook until the waffle iron light signals it’s done or steam stops coming out of the iron. A waffle is perfect when it is crisp and well-browned on the outside with a moist, light, airy and fluffy inside.
- Add fresh fruit and a light dusting of powdered sugar to each waffle, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings. Serving size: 3 small (2-inch) or 1 large (6-inch) waffle (depending on waffle iron size).
Calories 340, Total Fat 11 g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Cholesterol 107 mg, Sodium 331 mg, Total Fiber 9 g, Protein 14 g, Carbohydrates 50 g, Potassium 369 mg.
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